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America’s Top Heathen

America’s Top Heathen
Michael Marsicano

On Tuesday, November 4, 2009, American political history was made, even though it was an off-year election, with few people running for high-profile offices.

A new political movement calling itself the Tea Party had put up its first crop of candidates. The upstart party helped deliver the first electoral defeat to the new American president, who had been inaugurated just months before with an 80 percent approval rating. By the end of the evening, the Tea Party had helped turn the governorships of two blue states red (Virginia and New Jersey).

What most political observers overlooked, however, was the most magical election of the night, featuring the most colorful Tea Party candidate in the nation, in the 19th City Council District in Queens.

That was where real history was made. Mayor Mike Bloomberg squeaking into a third term was inconsequential compared with Daniel Halloran, a Theodish heathen, becoming the first openly elected heathen in the nation.

Halloran was no garden-variety pagan. He was the “First Atheling,” or prince, of his own Theodish tribe, called New Normandy. He had “thralls” who swore their allegiance to him. He didn’t just spend weekends reconstructing the religious activities of the pre-Christian Norse and Germanic gods—he led his flock, about 100 people at its height, in their polytheistic celebration of the gods (plural). They’d gather for “blot” (sacrifice and feast), “sumble” (“boast and toast of the gods”), and play games that, to the outside eye, looked like something from Dungeons & Dragons or a Renaissance fair.

Halloran was elected with the backing of the Conservative, Republican, and Tea parties.

When the polls closed that election night, a motley crew of Roman Catholics and pagans gathered at a bank branch in outer Queens to wait for the returns. Halloran’s campaign in the 19th against Democrat Kevin Kim—who had the advantage of a 3:1 registration ratio—had been bruising. The Kim campaign, Halloran’s camp repeatedly said, tried to use Halloran’s unusual religion to its advantage. Meanwhile, the Kim campaign alleged that Halloran’s supporters had hurled anti-Asian slurs at their supporters.

As one Halloran volunteer put it: “We were brought in to be white faces. In an off-year election, this one came down to: Who do you hate more? Koreans or pagans?”

Ultimately, heathen or not, the pale face won out. But while Halloran’s fans waited for his acceptance speech, they gleefully watched the results coming in from Virginia and New Jersey, their anti-Obama rage well-honed after just a few months.

“We’re going to take this country back!” they hooted and hollered.

Finally, the Prince of New Normandy was introduced with, “We’ve got a new city councilman!” Dan Halloran climbed up and addressed the crowd: America’s next top heathen.

But he said one thing that night that gave his fellow heathens in attendance pause, and, in hindsight, should have put the fear of Odin in them.

Thanking his law partner, Halloran said, “The next time you give me advice to take a website down, I’ll do it.”

He was referring to the website of his heathenish theod, New Normandy, which is now defunct. The Voice and others have used images from the site of Halloran in medieval garb, hoisting drinking horns and other regalia that he had apparently found embarrassing.

During the campaign, Halloran had promised a lot of things: to give up his day job as a lawyer (he said it was unethical for a lawyer to practice law in the city in which he was on the council); that religion, his own or anyone else’s, shouldn’t be a part of politics; that religious freedom was paramount; that he was against government pork and largesse, even for his district; and that he, like just about every Tea Party advocate at the time, was a fiscal and not a social conservative.

None of these would prove to be true, and within months, the members of his theod would largely disband.

But that election night, his speech made for a good sumble.

For his followers, the first sign of Halloran’s hypocrisy occurred during the campaign itself, when he penned a piece in the Queens Chronicle called “I believe in God.”

Heathens around the Internet became enraged when, responding to what Halloran called smear tactics from the Kim campaign, Halloran opened his op-ed with these words: “I was raised a Roman Catholic right here in Auburndale. I was baptized into the Catholic Church and took my confirmation at 13. I attended Jesuit schools.”

The piece said nothing about heathenry, New Normandy, or paganism.

“Pandering to monotheism,” one heathen who didn’t know Halloran put it to the Voice at the time.

Disappointment in Halloran by the members of his tribe, some say now, was instant: They’d already had their doubts while he was running for office.

“If you’re a Republican, and you’re a heathen, you’re shooting yourself in the foot!” says Valadia Kasandria Kristoffersen, an early member of New Normandy who goes by the name Kasidy. “I mean, if you’re a Republican, and you’re not a Christian, they don’t like you.” (Kristoffersen, who swore her oath to Halloran’s “Luck” as a member of his “Reich,” says she “defended him to death” for years. Now, she is more likely to call him “that slimy son of a bitch.”)

 

On the campaign trail, Halloran seemed to go back and forth about his beliefs. During a Tea Party speech from Bowne Park in Flushing right before the election, he said, “My gods!” (plural) at one point. At the end, though, he wound up screaming about “programs that never worked, never will, and ultimately come back to bite us in the ass,” and then slipped back into the singular deity as he yelled, “It’s our nation, one nation, under God, and indivisible with liberty and justice for all!”

If Halloran were ambivalent on the campaign trail, as an elected official, he seems to have abandoned his love of the Germanic deities altogether.

Kristoffersen expressed disdain that, as a councilmember, Halloran has been “giving his money to all of these religious charities, but he’s never given, one time, as far as I know, to any pagan groups,” a sentiment echoed by other former followers. In an interview with the website Pagan+Politics, Halloran said that he had “funded Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, mainstream Jewish, Lutheran, Protestant, Buddhist, and Hindu” organizations. He mentioned nothing about pagan groups and said nothing about his own New Normandy.

Kristoffersen describes the meetings of New Normandy in the Camelot days as being “the most amazing thing. It was like being family. It was like coming home.” With Halloran as their Atheling, for several years, Kristoffersen and others were excited to have a leader serious about the historical accuracy of heathenry. Under his leadership, this wasn’t lightweight fairy stuff like Wicca: This was the real deal, re-creating the life of their heathen ancestors.

Kristoffersen’s job was making the costumes, and she loved getting together for blot and sumble. “It was about boasting, but not about getting drunk,” Kristoffersen says. At its height, she says, there would be “50, 60 people at any one gathering,” and they’d be together until “3 or 4 in the morning.”

Now, she says, “not a single person from that era is still there.” No one the Voice spoke to in 2009 about New Normandy is still in the group.

“There is not a man who knows him well, not a one, who doesn’t hate his guts now,” another former follower says.

Still, even though the Republicanism seemed to bother some of them, many tried to give Halloran the benefit of the doubt when he stressed that he was, as Kristoffersen puts it, a “fiscal, not a social, conservative.”

That went out the window, too. Like Tea Party candidates who attacked Planned Parenthood funding, Halloran targeted abortion rights almost as soon as he was elected.

In early 2011, a legislative fight emerged in New York City over anti-abortion “pregnancy centers” advertising abortion counseling when they don’t actually offer abortions. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced a bill that would force such organizations to advertise that they don’t perform abortions and to disclose if they have any medical staff on hand. (Some centers reportedly had staff walking around in scrubs, even if they had no medical training, just for the effect.)

According to the Gotham Gazette and its “Councilpedia” tool, pregnancy center the Bridge to Life, in Queens, received $3,500 from Halloran in member discretionary spending.

Quinn’s bill would eventually pass overwhelmingly in the council without Halloran’s vote. According to Little Neck Patch, Halloran “did not see the issue . . . as a part of the decades-old debate over abortion rights.” (Still, through a spokesman, he also noted “the Council member is pro-life.”)

The episode infuriated some of Halloran’s former followers, who not only had known him to be pro-choice, but also to be “pro-abortion to nearly the point of endorsing infanticide,” as one put it. The Voice obtained a copy of a heathen Yahoo discussion thread from 2004, in which the issue of abortion came up. A follower of Halloran asked for guidance on it. (We have reached out to Halloran about the discussion thread. He has not responded to any of our interview requests.)

Halloran wrote that when it came to the idea of the soul, it didn’t start at conception, as most pro-life Christians argue:

The lore is fairly well established here. The soul complex does not attach to the fetus until the naming, three to nine days after birth. First, if it attached before the naming it would be impossible for the fetch or luck to manifest in the manner described/attributed to naming in the ausa vatni. Specifically, our forebearers believed that the ancestor the child was named for would be the source material for the soul component attaching, and thus possess some of his traits. The sagas confirm this belief.

 

When it came to abortion, Halloran wrote, “since the termination of pregnancy by herbal and mechanical methods was known, and not prescribed by Heathen law, it is presumptively not an issue in elder times . . . legal anthropology and folkloric study impute this.” A child who had not gotten its luck a few days after birth would be considered “‘wild’—the child would not be ‘fully human’ unless claimed by the clan/sibb/sipp/kindred.”

Halloran is then challenged on the idea that heathenism would have only one point of view or that a person’s authenticity as a heathen would depend on sharing his pro-choice views. Halloran responded:

If moral paradigms and consistency with tradition are not earmarks and defining characteristics of our religion, then how can we evaluate let alone define ourselves. Are we to become the same inconsistent rabble that the monotheisms are? Do our values and beliefs change to suit agendas and "feelings"? Or do we stand up for our ancestral ways and define ourselves by living in that manner and accepting that code of behavior because it is Recht and Seemly?

A heathen helped us with a translation: In the “old times, a child was born. And if it was sickly, they’d put it out on a rock. If it survived the night, it was strong enough to live, and if it didn’t, it didn’t. It wasn’t a big thing.”

That, the heathen says, was basically Halloran’s viewpoint on abortion: If the soul didn’t even come until days after birth, there was no problem with abortion. And since abortion was medically known “by herbal and mechanical methods” to ancient heathens, it was never a moral problem to them—nor should it be to modern heathens.

Halloran wasn’t just a casual practitioner. “He was our spiritual leader,” Kristoffersen says. “We were sworn to him.”

Now, some of his former followers admit, it’s OK for Halloran not to let his religious beliefs affect his political beliefs on abortion. But being heathen, Halloran could be the first elected official in the United States whose religion says abortion should be legal while his political compass says it shouldn’t. For him to “go from advocating infanticide to sponsoring a pro-life pregnancy center,” as one former follower put it, was beyond them.

And if he wasn’t willing to acknowledge his own religion publicly, “cloaking himself in monotheism” as another put it, the Muslims wouldn’t fare much better when Halloran took on their right to build a swimming pool with some meeting rooms attached in Lower Manhattan.

Halloran turned out to be quite a social conservative, but did he at least fulfill his promise to be a fiscal conservative?

Hardly, if you look at either his political or personal life.

In that interview he did with Pagan+Politics, Halloran boasted that of the two things he was most proud of during his first year of office, first was “raising the funding provided in my district to the highest levels in 10 years for both discretionary spending (community programs) and capital allotments (infrastructure, schools and parks).”

Halloran talked like a Tea Party candidate when it came to spending in other districts. In his own, the pork was turning out to be plentiful. Although he was bringing home the bacon to his constituents, he was proud of his efforts to “stop the Paid Sick Leave and Living Wage bills, which would have crippled small business, attack property tax increases, and push legislation to reform government transparency and funding policy.” If his political efforts were a bit inconsistent, his personal spending became an issue of its own.

According to a January 25, 2011, article in The New York Times, in the previous month, Halloran “requested a building permit for a $60,000 project to add a second floor onto his Cape Cod–style home. On Jan. 3, the Buildings Department denied the request, saying it would make the house too big for the area’s zoning.”

This was odd, the Times pointed out, given that “in January 2010, Wells Fargo began foreclosure proceedings on [Halloran and his wife’s] home. In November, Ms. Halloran, a registered nurse, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, seeking to wipe away $116,521 in credit card debt, while retaining a 2005 Jaguar and their home. Her debts include $14,777 owed to Home Depot, $29,000 on three Chase credit cards and $58,000 on two American Express cards. The couple has an annual salary of $166,660, according to bankruptcy records and Council salary rules.”

Halloran was, to quote a Tea Party talking point, the guy who had bought too much house and ended up in foreclosure. The Times noted Halloran’s spokesman said that the couple “was in the process of a divorce, though no public court records have been filed, and that they planned to sell their house.” (When the Voice called Cynthia M. Halloran, she declined to speak and referred to Halloran as “my husband.”)

 

Halloran might want the country to go on a spending diet, but he doesn’t seem to be taking that lesson home at night.

Halloran came into office saying that one’s religion shouldn’t be a factor in politics. On the stump, he even referenced the 1657 Dutch, or Flushing, Remonstrance, America’s first document of religious liberty, a petition asking New Netherlands Director-General Peter Stuyvesant to lift his ban on Quaker worship in the colony that would become New York City.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg also praised the remonstrance recently (and the place of Queens in America’s history of religious liberty). When he invoked it, he was saying that the Muslim community center—then called Cordoba House, though better known by the misnomer “Ground Zero Mosque,” and now called Park51—should be allowed to be built anywhere zoning legally permitted, including near the World Trade Center site.

Halloran didn’t agree.

In a video made by “Stop Islamization for America,” you can see Halloran seated on a dais near Pamela Geller before speaking at an event called “The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks.” He’s introduced by Sally Regenhard as one of only two elected officials who haven’t disappointed her on this subject.

“Let me apologize on behalf of the cowards in politics, who choose to stand up for special interests instead of doing what is right,” Halloran begins his speech.

Being right, in this case, involved demonizing all Muslims for 9/11. Halloran then proceeds to align himself with his Irish, Roman Catholic, and cop roots, pandering in the crudest possible way to the audience’s fears.

“Would World War II veterans stand for a Shinto Temple to be built on the Arizona Memorial? Absolutely not,” Halloran says. “The greatest generation would not stand for something like that, and it has nothing to do with tolerance.”

Halloran briefly points out that he’s not a Christian and that he’s in a “very minority religion.” But he doesn’t say what that religion is. (He also didn’t happen to mention that he was that tiny religion’s local high priest. An oversight.)

Halloran says one other thing worth noting during the speech. He boasts that “I have the dubious distinction of having been slimed by The New York Times in a front-page article because I dared to point out that certain members of the uniformed Sanitation Service slowed down the snow response. That was me.”

And it’s something he might regret, once the grand jury weighs in.

Despite highlighting his family history of cops and firefighters, Halloran makes no bones about being anti-union. He bragged the night of the 9/11 speech that he had the courage to be pro-Walmart. (And what says “Remember the 3,000” more than having the political courage to say you’ll stand up for a corporation?)

But his biggest moment as a councilman—and what could still get him in serious trouble—was coming down on the sanitation workers during “Snowpocalypse.”

Until last December’s snowstorm, few outside the Voice, other local political blogs, and the country’s tiny number of heathens had even heard of Halloran. But the blizzard changed all that. The storm, the sixth worst according to snowfall level in the past 141 years, became a black eye for Mayor Bloomberg: Some 600 buses were stranded across the city, 911 calls increased by more than 50 percent that day, and many streets went uncleared for days.

Halloran raised eyebrows when, on December 30, the New York Post quoted him saying that he’d met with three Department of Sanitation workers and two Department of Transportation supervisors who “were told to make the [m]ayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file.”

They were serious charges. So far, they’ve turned out to be completely unverifiable, if not completely untrue.

The New York City Department of Investigation found nothing to back up Halloran’s claims. The report did find other faults with the city’s response: not declaring a snow emergency and faulty equipment, for example. Most damning was, as the Times reported, that “a few workers were photographed buying beer or coffee when they were supposed to be cleaning the streets. The investigators said those workers were doing so only while stuck with broken-down equipment, and not as part of a labor slowdown, but the workers caught drinking now face disciplinary charges.”

Still, that had nothing to do with Halloran’s claims that the DOT supervisors had come to him to say they were told to “sit and wait” and not work, and to “slow down” what they were doing to “send a message” to Bloomberg for his budget cuts.

 

But the supervisors, in interviews with the DOI, could not have offered more different accounts.

One of the supervisors told DOI he was called into Halloran’s office by a mutual friend, Gary Bonelli; both had volunteered on his campaign. Bonelli arranged the meeting after hearing the supervisor talk about slowdown rumors (he had merely heard and read about).

But when he met with Halloran—taking along another supervisor who was with him at the time—and told him he knew nothing firsthand, Halloran got “upset.” The second supervisor, who hadn’t known they’d be dropping in on a councilmember, thought Halloran was “trying to get information out of him” and was “annoyed” they didn’t have any. According to the second supervisor, Halloran said, “If you don’t want to talk, I will find a disgruntled worker who is ready to retire who is,” as they left.

Then there were the three workers, whom Halloran wouldn’t name. According to the report:

“Mr. Halloran stated that he wanted to first inform the witnesses that he . . . was going to provide DOI with their names. Later the same week, Mr. Halloran was again asked for the employee names, he stated, variously, that he only had the first names of the Sanitation workers and had been making unsuccessful efforts to contact them; that there were ‘friendships’ involved with the DOT employees; and ultimately with respect to the three Sanitation workers, he asserted those communications were ‘attorney-client’ privileged. Thus, Mr. Halloran refused to give DOI the names of the three DSNY employees because he stated the City Sanitation employees were seeking legal advice from him. Although Mr. Halloran asserted privilege, he had already provided the media with a description in substance of what the Sanitation and DOT witnesses had said to him.”

And, the report notes, “Mr. Halloran did not assert attorney-client privilege with respect to the two DOT supervisors.”

In a footnote, the report says: “DOI’s General Counsel discussed with Mr. Halloran the fact that the City’s Conflicts of Interest Law prohibits a public servant from ‘engag[ing] in any business, transaction or private employment, or hav[ing] any financial or other private interest, direct or indirect which is in conflict with the proper discharge of his or her official duties.’”

Halloran has also had to appear at an ongoing federal grand jury, which might yet be his biggest problem. But the footnote brings us to an interesting point: Halloran knows he can’t assert attorney-client privilege. The Voice saw him saying on the stump that he wouldn’t practice law after he became a councilmember exactly to avoid conflicts of interest with his city and private work.

Halloran was driving through Whitestone last year when he saw traffic cop Daniel Chu speed through a red light with his sirens on. Halloran followed Chu, knowing, he told the Daily News, “traffic agents don’t have no emergency they have to run to.” Halloran followed Chu to a Dunkin’ Donuts, where the cop was illegally parked, and confronted the officer, who had purchased a Coolatta. Chu wrote Halloran a ticket for parking illegally in a crosswalk. Halloran filmed their exchange on his phone and posted it on YouTube.

It was a strange story, the kind that has become typically Halloran: full of bluster, bullying, yelling, and over-the-top theatrics. It played into the Asian-white tension that simmered during his campaign. But, ultimately, it vindicated him. Officer Chu was later identified as “Big Bad Dan” by some in his neighborhood. After Halloran brought attention to him, others came forward with their stories of dealing with the unruly cop. The NYPD took away Chu’s car, reassigned him to foot patrol, and docked some vacation pay. (Chu is now suing Halloran for $6 million and saying that the councilman told him: “Go ahead and give me a fucking ticket. I know the police commissioner and your boss. . . .When you lose this job, you can go back to your old job, delivering Chinese food.”)

Another similarly charged incident occurred just last month. Halloran went to Star Nissan, an auto body shop in Flushing, to complain about the noise of the place because it would not keep its bay doors closed.

He did so in his usual calm manner, telling employees, “I’ll park every fucking city agency down here for the rest of fucking two years.” He added: “I’m not fucking joking. Either these doors stay closed, top to bottom, all the fucking time, or we’re gonna have a problem!” He then stormed off. Again, the exchange was caught on video.

The Daily News wrote, “The Department of Environmental Protection says it has gotten four noise complaints about the repair shop in the last two years—one of which resulted in a $350 fine.” In the video, Halloran looks like a bully and a tad intimidating for a councilman. Still, even if he was rough about it, he did have a point.

 

On his Facebook page, Halloran writes about the auto body shop and the “oblivious” News reporter: “The car alarms at Nissan were blaring in the background the WHOLE time I am ranting about the noise. . . .the very fact that you can barely hear me screaming about the noise over the air tools, car alarms, is priceless. . . .thank you for PROVING my point by giving us this video. . . .you just ‘won the case’. . . .Quad Erat Demonstrata. . . .You F*cking morons.”

“He always thinks he’s the smartest man in the room,” says one of his former followers. “Sometimes he is. But his thinking that can get in the way.”

He certainly isn’t afraid to show his contempt for his fellow New Yorkers. When he was valiantly addressing the anti-mosque 9/11 group, he ended his speech: “There are some of us who will never forget that day and who will never give up even the sinking ship of the City of New York because if there is one good person left, the city should get spared. I think somebody said that once in history.” (He actually seemed to be riffing on Genesis, not history so much. More pandering to monotheists.)

“Well,” he continued, “we’ll try to find that one person in New York,” he ended.

Only one good New Yorker? Well, if Halloran can find him, perhaps he can convince him to vote for his re-election. One thing’s for sure: Halloran can forget any more support from the mead and mutton crowd that so celebrated his initial campaign.

Prince of the city, indeed.


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