This article first appeared on VICE Quebec.
Vinland Productions is known for its shows and workshops at medieval festivals, museums and elementary and secondary schools throughout the province of Quebec. Its actors come armed with swords, period helmets, and metal or leather armour. But their Viking imagery often resembles that used by neo-fascist groups. Its president, as well as at least one actor from the historical re-enactment company, are also involved in the activities of the ultranationalist group Atalante Québec and the skinhead band Légitime Violence.
With his Viking disguise, Nicolas Bergeron has all the physical characteristics of one of the great navigators who would have set foot in America 400 years before Christopher Columbus. The native of Varennes, Quebec has a bushy brown beard, a generous abdomen and an inquisitive look. He is the founder and president of Vinland Productions, "a company specializing in military and civilian historical productions from antiquity to the Second World War."
The word "Vinland" refers to the name given to America by the Icelandic Viking Leif Erikson around the year 1000. He would have visited the Gulf of St. Lawrence at that time.
Vinland Productions is a historical re-enactment company created in 2012. Its founder, Nicolas Bergeron, is dedicated to it full-time. On his LinkedIn page, he says he is able to provide "about sixty experienced and combat-ready fighters for movies or film projects."
According to its website, Vinland Productions is working with primary and secondary schools, to whom they deliver "a unique and interactive experience that meets the educational objectives of the Quebec Ministry of Education." On his Facebook page, there are photos of a visit to a Sherbrooke high school, in which Nicolas Bergeron and Mickaël "Limette" Delaunay can be seen participating in a workshop with students.
According to the Quebec Ministry of Education, the organization of such an activity is the responsibility of the school board or the private educational institution and staff.
"It is the responsibility of the organizers of the workshop to carry out the verifications deemed sufficient, particularly in terms of criminal record," spokeswoman Esther Chouinard told VICE. "It is also their responsibility to ensure that the workshop is compatible with the school's mission as well as with its educational project." The ministry has developed a guide for institutions to assist them in this process, which is provided for in the Education Act and the Private Education Act.
Vinland has organized shows for festivals such as Salaberry-de-Valleyfield's Feste Viking and the Huberdeau Agricultural and Medieval Festival in the Laurentians. The troupe also offers costume and stunt services to film crews. On his LinkedIn page, Nicolas Bergeron says he works with Cavalia, for instance.
But Vinland members also participate in Atalante's activities. Founded in 2016 in Quebec City, the organization claims to advocate for "community, sports, cultural and intellectual identity policy." Its members regularly parade through the streets of Montreal and Quebec, notably to call for "remigration"—the return of immigrants to their country of origin. Even if they are masked, Nicolas Bergeron and Mickaël Delaunay's tattoos are recognizable in the group's Facebook photos.
The president of Vinland, however, says he is not a member of the neo-fascist group. "They are acquaintances, I am not part of Atalante," he said. "What Vinland does and what I have as a project in my personal life, it has no connection. My modern political views have nothing to do with my historical recreation work. Atalante is a political movement that works for the good of the community. [...] Are you looking for trouble? Are you trying to destroy companies? Do not make links between Atalante and Vinland and it will be OK."
Reality often goes beyond fiction for Bergeron. He enjoys martial arts as part of the Vinland Elag. This "fighting branch" has about thirty members and has been celebrated for its "mastery of Viking martial art," according to his Facebook page. The company is part of the "Jomsborg Army," an international association of Viking historical re-enactment groups based in Poland.
When posing on the photos of Atalante's fascist boxing club, La Phalange, Nicolas Bergeron has the same look as when he's recreating Viking combat scenes with the Vinland Elag. He's pictured wearing a mask of the neo-fascist organization, in the company of Atalante leader Raphael "Stomper" Lévesque. "I'm doing boxing classes. I train, that's all," says Bergeron, before denying knowing the location of the club. "I do not know where this club is. It does not exist, it does not have an [organization]. I do not train with Raf Stomper. I know him, but I do not know where he lives."
The tattoos on the arms of the founder of Vinland leave no room for doubt as to his political allegiances. On his forearm, one can clearly read "Me ne frego," a phrase that means "I don't care" and which became a slogan of Mussolini's Black Shirts during the 1920s. We also see a black sun on the back of his hand, a symbol associated with Nazi mysticism consisting of three nested swastikas. "It's a Viking tattoo," says Nicolas Bergeron.
On his Facebook profile picture, he poses alongside a 9th century idol exhibited at the Krakow Archaeological Museum, wearing a sweater from the Schutzstaffel, or SS, the paramilitary unit of the Nazi regime.
On Facebook, Mickaël Delaunay also sports many of the same symbols, including Atalante's colors, the fascist slogan popularized by the Duce, and a black sun as a cover photo. He can also be seen participating in a La Phalange training.
In another picture posted to Facebook, Delaunay can be seen wearing a period outfit decorated with two swastikas. And if one had a doubt about the meaning of the symbol, Nicolas Bergeron quickly dispelled it in the comments, writing "Swastika and Glory." "It's history, it's historically plausible," says Vinland's president. "I would point out that swastikas are much older than 1942, swastikas. Do not make links between history and contemporary politics!"
When contacted by VICE, Mickaël Delaunay also denied being part of Atalante. "I've been doing historical recreation for 10 years with Vinland. As to the rest, I do not know why'd make such accusations."
Delaunay has since closed his Facebook account.
Ryan Scrivens studies the far right in Canada at Concordia University and is concerned to see people associated with Atalante Quebec in elementary and secondary schools.
"We are talking about an extremist group with the same approach as the American alt-right, through a softer rhetoric to be more appealing to the public," he says. "Seeing these people in schools and among the public is frightening. They are trying to reinvent themselves to be more acceptable."
However, Vinland did not invent anything by marrying far right and Viking worship. The Nazi party itself drew on this imagery, an ideal of white purity. Since the end of the 90s, neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups have also recaptured Odinism, in reference to Odin, the main divinity of this Nordic religion.
"It's much more subtle for them to use these images than to display a swastika or the SS logo," he says. "They do not want to be infiltrated by the authorities and attract attention or be attacked in the street by anti-racists. But they still want to show their support for the cause."
Soldiers of Odin, a group founded in Finland in 2015 by former neo-Nazi skinhead Mika Ranta, takes its name from the god of death and war in Norse mythology. The training, which has as a logo a Viking wearing a horned helmet, has a few dozen members in Quebec who participate in the activities of Atalante. The Northern Guard, another ultra-nationalist anti-immigration group created in Quebec last year, also has colours inspired by the Viking universe.
The runes, an alphabet associated with the writing of two thousand-year-old Germanic languages, used in particular by the Scandinavian peoples, are also exploited by far-right groups. Nazi mysticism itself has drawn heavily from the runic alphabet. For example, the SS symbol is from runes. In 2016, the National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi formation in the United States, abandoned the swastika to use the rune of Odal.
The Viking universe symbolizes the purity of a white race and a combative ideal for far-right groups, according to Scrivens. "They believe the Vikings were people who were protecting themselves from the infestation of other cultures," he says. "They see them as warriors and great characters, white and male, ready to go to war to defend their clan."
It's a mistaken vision, according to the researcher. "The descendants of these people are angry today at this appropriation by white racist nationalists," he says. "The Vikings did not believe in a pure white race. They were themselves a multicultural society."
Simon Coutu is on Twitter.