TAMPERE, Finland — How do you make a mockery of the far right? In Finland, you send in the clowns.
It all started when the burly Soldiers of Odin, a new group of black-clad, far-right storm troopers popping up across Finland, began their first "neighborhood watch" in this south central Finnish city. On a recent frosty evening, their faces frozen in stern determination, the Soldiers marched across a main thoroughfare and toward the city center. Following a series of incidents including alleged rapes by asylum seekers across this Nordic nation, they were on a mission to send a message to the newcomers.
Beware. We are watching you.
But only minutes into their patrol, their determination turned to shock as a troop of clowns appeared out of nowhere. They tooted their horns and literally laughed in the faces of the Soldiers. Most of clowns came from the very group the Soldiers were purportedly on the streets to protect: Finnish women.
And so, for a while, there they were, "patrolling" the streets together, the Hells Angels-y Soldiers, trying desperately to look bad ass while being taunted by a loony horde of clowns.
The Loldiers of Odin, as they called themselves, were a feisty, fearless lot. One of the few males donned an outfit topped with Viking horns to mock the Norse god Odin, the inspiration of the Soldiers. At one point, the clowns held hands and danced around the Soldiers singing a Finnish nursery rhyme akin to Ring Around the Rosie. They teased the far-right Soldiers by highlighting a verse that roughly translated as the "fingers say 'tut-tut-tut', the shoe heels say K-K-K."
"They are trying to make us look like fools," griped one muscle-bound Soldier who declined to give his name.
The leader of the Soldiers in Tampere, a former nightclub bouncer who gave his name only as Jani, insisted they were not out to "target" asylum seekers that night. A record 32,000 of them, mostly from Iraq, arrived in Finland last year, with more than 4,000 being lodged in the Tampere area. But not a single one could be seen on the streets that frosty, 3-degree night.
Jani said he had no problems with "good" refugees who wanted to assimilate. "I have friends who are from Afghanistan and Syria," he said.
Yet nationwide, the group includes self-professed National Socialists as well as former criminals who authorities suspect may be behind a series of hate crimes against asylum seekers, including stabbings and arsons at refugee centers. In Tampere, some in the patrol made their sentiments on asylum seekers crystal clear. "They are all a bunch of animals," one of the Soldiers said. "They are going to ruin Finland if we don't do something," said another.
Like stubborn mimes, the Loldiers remained constantly in character as they sabotaged the Soldiers' inaugural patrol. They mostly refused to be interviewed, constantly insisting they were simply clowns on a night out. In a later statement, the group said they stand for "love, colors, funniness, violencelessness, freedom and love."
But in Tampere that night, they were also symbols of tolerance and disruptors of the far-right.
"They are clowns too, doing what they're doing," said one young clown who declined to give her name. "We are here to show tolerance, because these clowns," she said, gesturing toward the soldiers, "are the ones who are winning in Finland."