21st-Century Viking: The Life and Death of Ex-Con, Tattoo Artist, and Heathen Warrior Jubel Dean Perkins

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About an hour after band practice on August 23, Phoenix police would find Perkins’ bullet-riddled corpse in east Central Phoenix, near 19th and Adams streets. Police spokesman Sergeant Jonathan Howard said the motive for the killing appeared to be “consensual criminal activity.”

Perkins’ family doesn’t know why he ended up in that decidedly sketchy neighborhood. Some close to Jubel Dean whisper that he’d recently fallen off the wagon and started using drugs again.

Law enforcement sources, who asked not to be identified, told New Times that Perkins had gone to a house in that neighborhood to score narcotics, and as he was leaving, interacted with a group of men who then shot him.

There are many unresolved questions about the crime. Rayney, Jubel Dean’s wife, says the driver of the car — whom she doesn’t know — called that night to tell her they were being shot at, without offering details. She says he drove all the way to the Perkins’ residence in northwest Phoenix before contacting the police.

Rayney says she, her sister-in-law Jones, and other members of the extended Perkins clan drove to the area of the shooting, where they watched police process the crime scene. Jubel Dean’s corpse lay in the road till early the next morning, when he was finally taken away by the county medical examiner. The ground was littered with shell casings.

Jones and Green both told New Times that members of the Arizona State Gang Task Force were present that night, expressing concern that there might be retaliation from Perkins’ friends, family, or allies.

“They’re just worried that because of the support we have that someone’s going to go out there and handle it themselves,” Rayney says. “I told them we were doing it as legal as possible ... We don’t need anybody going to prison. I don’t need anyone’s blood on my hands.”

She also said that Gang Task Force members followed up with her later and told her that they believe Wolfskin is a street gang. New Times contacted Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves, asking if the task force considers Wolfskin to be a gang. “The State Gang Task Force would rather not comment on whether [Wolfskin] is a gang,” Graves replied by e-mail.

Clearly, law enforcement was prepared for trouble after Perkins’ murder. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols Maricopa County’s lakes, showed up in force at the Bartlett Lake funeral. When a caravan of 100 vehicles departed from the Wolfskin studio on September 10 to Bartlett Lake, MCSO vehicles dotted the road and an MCSO helicopter buzzed overhead. At the lake, MCSO deputies monitored the ceremony and had boats on the water nearby.

(Interestingly, according to documents obtained from the MCSO through a public records request, some in the MCSO believed Perkins was a member of the Hells Angels, but this is incorrect. Wolfskin had been a vendor at some HA events, but Perkins was not a member, according to several sources.)

There are reasons for the intense law-enforcement scrutiny. Perkins and many in his kindred have done serious prison time and are considered multiple offenders. In the pen, Perkins and some kindred members were “STG’d” by prison authorities, meaning they’d been validated as members or known associates of a “Security Threat Group,” otherwise known as a prison gang — in this case the powerful race-based gang, the Aryan Brotherhood. Finally, Perkins and others in his circle have racist tattoos on their bodies.

One photo online reveals that Perkins had the numbers 14 and 88 tattooed on his chest, typical shorthand for the so-called 14 words of David Lane, a now-dead white supremacist, influential in an extreme form of Asatru sometimes called Odinism or Wotanism. Lane was sentenced to 190 years in federal prison for his part in the illegal activities of a group of neo-Nazis known as the Silent Brotherhood, or the Order.

In the 1980s, the Order cut a violent swath across the western United States, robbing banks and assassinating liberal, Jewish talk-show host Alan Berg in 1984. The group’s leader, Robert Jay Mathews, also reputedly an Odinist, was killed in a shootout that same year with federal agents. Lane died in prison in 2007, a prolific writer, best known for his 14-word credo: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

The 88? That is a standard racist notation for the eighth letter of the alphabet, standing for HH or “Heil Hitler.”

Rayney admits that her husband had “political ink” that he’d gotten in prison but denies he was racist, pointing out that he was one-quarter Native American and that he had half-sisters and other family members who are full-blood Native Americans.

Perkins also has cousins who are African-American, some of whom attended the Bartlett Lake ceremony, and could count as friends and customers Hispanics and blacks.

Rayney claims Jubel was never a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, though she says her husband told her that he had once been offered a chance to join but turned the AB down, knowing it was a dead end. Still, she says, because he had friends who were AB, prison officials associated him with the group.

Bill Lamoreaux, a spokesman for ADC, says that the department doesn’t disclose STG assignments for security purposes. ADC relies on a point system for validating whether an individual is STG, taking into account factors such as tattoos, self-identification, associations, court records, and so on.

One of Perkins’ best friends, Troy Nordby, is also an ex-convict and is brutally honest about his past and present. He says he’s spent most of his life in prison. He likes to tell the story about how he met Perkins long before he ever saw him, when the two would talk over a wall in maximum security, where both men were locked up 23 hours a day.

“Are we gang-related?” he asks rhetorically, over a beer at the Steel Horse Saloon, directly across a parking lot from Wolfskin. “Some of us, yes. Everybody’s got a past, bud. That doesn’t mean who you are in your future is your past. Everyone starts somewhere and ends up somewhere else. That’s life.”

Nordby, a member of Perkins’ Northern Roots kindred, avows that he is not a racist, citing as evidence that he proudly participates in Pagan Pride Day, an inclusive event that encompasses Wicca, Druidism, and other such faiths.

He agrees that the Asatru prisoners encounter behind bars “is cut with a bunch of hatred and racism,” but that the Asatru he and his kindred practice is “all about family, folk, and community,” and he regards as “ridiculous” the attention of the authorities.

“They’re wasting so many resources on something it’s not,” he says, “when they could be focusing on who the fuck killed this guy.”

In many ways, Perkins is himself emblematic of the ambiguity surrounding Asatru when it comes to race and ethnicity.

Photos online show Jubel traveling to Oregon in 2013 to introduce his new son to his then-ailing father, and later returning to Oregon to spread his father’s ashes in the wilderness. About a year after his father’s death, he posted a video of a Native American drum ceremony done in honor of his father in Oregon.

That’s not to mention a photo on Perkins’ Facebook page of his wife Rayney — who is so pale and blond she could pass for the younger sister of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones (if the Mother of Dragons had a younger sister) — arm in arm with a black female friend.

Needless to say, none of this would make the cut for an avowed white supremacist. Nor would an April 2015 post by Perkins talking about his “to each his own” attitude toward life, discussing the pitfalls of prejudice, writing that “too much time and negative energy is spent on bullshit like this.”

Yet much in the same way that many Asatruers take a laissez-faire stance toward the white supremacists in their midst, Perkins embraced and admired some individuals with an extremist pedigree, most notably 84-year-old Elton Hall, a member of Perkins’ Northern Roots, who attended the Bartlett Lake ceremony and participated in a ritual where those who loved Jubel Dean toasted him with a humongous horn of mead.

Hall’s significance in neo-Nazi circles cannot be overstated. He served as a stormtrooper under the charismatic American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell, who was assassinated in 1967 by a former member of his own organization. And he can regale listeners with tales of how the notorious racist would mess with the FBI agents assigned to shadow him by writing down notes on a piece of paper, tearing it up and defecating on the fragments in a hotel toilet, leaving it unflushed, knowing that dutiful FBI agents would have to sift through it in order to reconstruct the notes.

Interviewed by New Times at Bartlett Lake, the spry National Socialist, whose name is mentioned in scholarly tomes about neo-Nazism and white supremacy, said he learned about what came to be known as Asatru through reading the work of Alexander Rud Mills, an Australian fascist and proponent of Odinism.

Hall claimed that he “got Valgard [Murray] started” on Norse paganism back in the day and referred to Christianity as “a Zionist thing,” whereas Asatru was the ancestral faith of whites. He asserted that Asatru is “not about hate, it’s about love,” and talked about how blacks and whites were better off under segregation.

“We’re always talking about population control,” he said. “The mixing of the races causes reading deficiencies. Race mixing is nothing more than population control.”

Was there a connection for him between his religion and his politics? Hall quickly responded, “They are as one.”

Asked about Hall’s comments, Murray bristled at first, saying that his initial experience with Odin was through a vision he had of the god riding his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, through the heavens when Murray was 11. But he conceded that Hall had been a member of an organization in the 1960s, “more of a theosophical group” that he had attended.

“He may have introduced me to the gods, so to speak, after I’d already met Odin,” Murray told New Times. “So he was a contributor to my education in the old days, yes.”

Murray denied previously published reports that he had once been a member of the American Nazi Party, saying that “I can say I was influenced by it, but I was never a member.”

He said he became interested in ANP while he was a freshman in high school after being stabbed by an African-American at a bus stop, but he “straightened myself out after a while.”

These days, Murray says he is more of a “tribal anarchist” than anything. He pointed to the Asatru Alliance’s bylaws, published on AA’s website, which plainly state that “We do not practice, preach, or promote hatred, bigotry, or racism.”

Still, Murray is not above giving Elton Hall some credit for the latter’s contribution to Asatru. The cover of a 2015 issue of the Asatru Alliance’s Vor Tru magazine features a photo of Hall during a trip that same year to Butte, Montana, along with Perkins, Nordby, and author and ex-prisoner Kevin Puckett, founder of the group Asastrong, to meet with Wotanist icon Ron McVan. The photo’s caption reads: “Members of the Northern Roots kindred honor Elton Hall — center — founder of the Arizona Kindred.”

Nordby tells New Times that it was an honor to meet McVan, whose books on Wotanism both he and Perkins studied while in prison. Nordby says the large, wooden Thor’s hammer that he used to hallow the ground at Bartlett Lake during a ritual called, appropriately enough, a “hammer hallowing,” was handcrafted by McVan.

There seemed to be a bit of a mutual admiration society between McVan and Perkins, with Perkins contributing illustrations to the 2012 edition of McVan’s Book of Blotar: Wotans Holy Rites and Rituals. And upon Perkins’ death, McVan penned a warm tribute, a poem titled “18 Shells on the Ground: The Ballad of Jubel Dean,” which hails Perkins as “a warrior, a berserker, yet friendly, not mean,” who was “the life of the party” and did everything “Viking style” till “10 bullets in the back” laid him low.

The visit by Perkins and the others is memorialized online in a couple of videos. In one, McVan hails Hall as the “grandfather of Odinism,” and calls Nordby “a real Viking.” In another, to the beat of a drum of some kind, the five men, in dramatic, stentorian tones, read poetry praising the gods and ruminating on the Viking way of life.

All of which might seem harmless were it not for the collaboration of McVan with David Lane and Lane’s 14 Word Press, which published Lane’s anti-Semitic, white nationalist writings. They also collaborated on a form of Odinism called Wotansvolk. According to Lane’s introduction to McVan’s 1997 book Creed of Iron, WOTAN stands for “Will of the Aryan Nation,” and in the book itself, McVan espouses the view that “might is right” and that “the highest law of nature demands the preservation of one’s own kind,” which, for McVan, is the white race.

As you might expect, organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League take a dim view of McVan and regard Asatru with a critical eye.

Contacted for this story, Carlos Galindo-Elvira, regional director of ADL of Arizona, says that the ADL recognizes Asatru need not be racist, but says the ADL is worried about white supremacists who regard themselves as Asatruers, adding that most white supremacists “gravitate toward the more explicitly racial form of Asatru” known as Odinism or Wotanism.

Galindo-Elvira also points to a case from 2015 involving a group of white-supremacist Asatruists in Virginia, who were arrested for a plot “to attack Jewish and African-American religious institutions in an attempt to start a race war.”

Defenders of Asatru say this is like blaming all Muslims for the work of Islamist terrorists, or all Christians for the terrorist activities of the Ku Klux Klan. But when a prisoner exits a correctional institution with a swastika or some other white power tattoo, while hailing Odin or Thor, the ADL’s concern is understandable.

Arizona Department of Corrections figures show that 1,044 current prisoners have chosen Asatru as their religious preference, while 182 convicts identify themselves as Odinists. Taken as a whole, Odinists and Asatruers make up 2.8 percent of ADC’s population of 42,600.

Cory Young, Perkins’ business partner at Wolfskin, did 12 years in prison. He tells New Times that he and Perkins formed a friendship over their mutual love of art and drawing, and when Young got out, Perkins encouraged him to join Wolfskin as a tattoo artist.

Young, who has a swastika tattoo on his chest that he usually keeps covered up, said that in prison, you “have to follow your race and stick with your people no matter what.” When he was in stir, he says, “I was running with a lot of skinheads and the Aryan Brotherhood and stuff like that.” But since he’s been out, he claims that path is “a dead cause,” though he admits to having some of the same views as he did when he ran with that crew.

Now that he’s married, has a child, and is gainfully employed, he says he views Asatru as more about “loving your people and building yourself up.”

That was the side of Jubel Dean that New Times saw during a brief interview in early 2015. He was a genuinely funny and charismatic individual, as one can see in a number of videos online. And arrayed in battle dress, he was such a striking figure that one local artisan created a Jubel Dean action figure with removable helmets.

Children seemed to gravitate to him, perhaps, as his sister Annika says, because he was little more than a big kid himself at times.

He was also generous, holding fundraisers for any number of causes, from fighting breast cancer, to helping a friend whose house had been destroyed by fire, to his favorite, an organization called Wreaths Across America, which lays wreaths on the graves of soldiers nationwide.

Tarra Matyas, the volunteer location coordinator for WAA in Phoenix, tells New Times that in 2015, through Wolfstock and other events, Perkins helped raise anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000. “It is very significant,” Matyas says of Perkins’ contribution. “We’re missing him not just on a personal level.”

And yet there is no dearth of photos online that could be used to cast Perkins in an uglier light, such as one from 2011 where he’s wearing a blue shirt with SS lightning bolts over the left breast and the motto, “Support your local repeat offender.” Or another from the same year, where Perkins sports a black shirt with a white Celtic cross and the white nationalist slogan, “White Pride Worldwide.”

What can one make of such contradictions? That’s a riddle that may lie at the bottom of Bartlett Lake forever. Perkins is not around to answer questions about his beliefs, and it is now more impossible than ever to read his heart.

E-mail [email protected].

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons