The group has about 100 full members in Sweden and nearly 5,000 supporters, spokesman Mikael Johansson told Avesta Tidning newspaper.
Sweden is the fourth country to be ‘patrolled’ by Soldiers of Odin, which was created in late 2015. But although the group says it is protecting its chosen locations against “immigrant violence,” it has been accused of being a front for a Nazi organization – a claim which Johansson denies.
“Violent crime is rampaging, while police resources are on the decline. Before they get together any more resources, we help them the best we can,” he said.
However, according to the group’s Facebook page, the founder of Soldiers of Odin has “National Socialist views,” but “his writings are not the group’s writings,” YLE reported.
Johansson did acknowledge that some of the group’s individual members also have clear links to right-wing extremism, but maintained that those traits are part of their private lives, rather than a feature of Soldiers of Odin.
“The way the Soldiers of Odin is built [can be] compared with a motorcycle gang. It is structured in much the same way. We want to get the right people, but we do not want to get into right-wing guys who think they can go out and fight in the streets,” Johansson said.
The group made its appearance in Norway just last month, supposedly aiming to secure the streets from “delinquency” that police are “unable to address.” Its Norwegian debut prompted the creation of a rival group called “Soldiers of Allah,” formed by Islamists.
In Finland, the country where Soldiers of Odin was established, Interior Minister Petteri Orpo referred to the group has“extremist features” who “do not increase security.” Similarly, Estonia’s defense minister has stated that activists aiming to make the streets safer should not join anti-migrant patrols such as Soldiers of Odin, but should instead link up with the national volunteer police organization.
Soldiers of Odin, which derives its name from a Norse god, is part of an increasingly prominent anti-migrant movement that is gaining publicity in response to the EU refugee crisis. Sweden accepted record numbers of asylum seekers in 2015, before deciding to reintroduce border checks after authorities said they were struggling to manage the influx.