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FTR #1097 Fascism: 2019 World Tour, Part 7 (Azov on Our Mind, Part 3)

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

Intro­duc­tion: This pro­gram con­tin­ues analy­sis of the Azov milieu’s net­work­ing with fas­cist indid­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions at an indi­vid­ual lev­el, at an orga­ni­za­tion­al lev­el and online.

Embrac­ing “lone wolf” fas­cists around the world, as well as net­work­ing with fas­cist orga­ni­za­tions and com­bat­ants who have joined the war in Ukraine’s East­ern provinces, Azov is reca­pit­u­lat­ing the “Inter­mar­i­um” con­cept, mint­ed by Pol­ish head of state Josef Pil­sud­s­ki in the peri­od between the World Wars. Work­ing with Croa­t­ians aligned with the “Neo-Ustachi’ milieu we have cov­ered in many past pro­grams, Azov is seek­ing to devel­op a nascent East­ern and Cen­tral Euro­pean alliance of fas­cist and reac­tionary ele­ments.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is the sig­nif­i­cance of the Ukrain­ian and Croa­t­ian fas­cist alliance, which will be explored at greater length in future pro­grams.

Oth­er pro­grams high­light­ing the return of the Ustachi to pow­er in the “new” Croa­t­ia include: FTR #‘s 49, 154, 766, 901.

Next, we note that The FBI arrest­ed a US Army sol­dier for plan­ning domes­tic ter­ror attacks. Jar­rett William Smith–charged with one count of dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion relat­ed to explo­sives and weapons of mass destruc­tion.

Smith has been in con­tact with the Azov Bat­tal­ion. As ear­ly as 2016, he talked about trav­el­ing to Ukraine to join Azov. He joined the US mil­i­tary instead in June of 2017. After join­ing the mil­i­tary, Smith used Face­book to con­nect with anoth­er Amer­i­can who had trav­eled to Ukraine in 2017 to 2019 to fight with a group sim­i­lar to Azov, which appears to be Pravy Sek­tor. This Amer­i­can report­ed­ly act­ed as Smith’s men­tor.

Using the encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing app Telegram, Smith dis­cussed with an under­cov­er FBI agent his plans for a car bomb attack against an unnamed major cable news network’s head­quar­ters and dis­trib­uted bomb-mak­ing mate­ri­als. He also talked about attacks against mem­bers of antifa and inter­est­ed in find­ing like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als to help him.

Look­ing ahead to oth­er arti­cles below, we note that: “. . . . Ear­li­er this month, for­mer FBI agent Ali Soufan, who runs the glob­al secu­ri­ty firm the Soufan Cen­ter, tes­ti­fied that 17,000 for­eign­ers, includ­ing from the U.S. have trav­eled to Ukraine in recent years to gain para­mil­i­tary skills there. They fought along­side far-right groups like Azov and were return­ing home with those new skills. . . .”

Updat­ing the sto­ry of Jar­rett William Smith, we note:

  1. Smith’s appar­ent men­tor is Craig Lang, anoth­er US Army vet.
  2. Craig Lang joined Right Sec­tor, and then the Geor­gian Nation­al Legion in the Ukrain­ian civ­il war.
  3. Lang, along with fel­low Army vet Alex Zwiefel­hofer, is accused of rob­bing and killing the cou­ple in an effort to get mon­ey to trav­el to Venezuela to “par­tic­i­pate in an armed con­flict against the Boli­var­i­an Repub­lic of Venezuela.”
  4. After leav­ing Right Sec­tor he joined the Geor­gian Nation­al Legion, which is also fight­ing in Ukraine.
  5. In pre­vi­ous pro­grams, we have high­light­ed the appar­ent role of Geor­gian snipers in the Maid­an provo­ca­tion, the tem­po­rary role of for­mer Geor­gian pres­i­dent Saakashvili as gov­er­nor of Odessa, as well as UNA-UNSO com­bat activ­i­ty in Geor­gia’s war with Rus­sia. (UNA-UNSO is a branch of the UNA.)
  6. Zwiefel­hofer also fought with Right Sec­tor.
  7. The arti­cle below states that Lang and Smith were in con­tact in 2016, which is a year before Smith joined the US Army.
  8. The pre­vi­ous Vice arti­cle stat­ed that the FBI said Smith got into con­tact with Lang after he joined the US Army in June of 2017.
  9. Accord­ing to a June 23, 2016, con­ver­sa­tion between Smith and Lang, Smith wrote, “No for­mer mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence, but if I can­not find a slot in Ukraine by Octo­ber I’ll be going into the Army … To fight is what I want to do. I’m will­ing to lis­ten, learn, and train. But to work on firearms is fine by me too.”
  10. Lang respond­ed, “Alright, I’ll for­ward you over to the guy that screens peo­ple he’ll most like­ly add you soon[ … ] Also as a pre-warn­ing if you come to this unit and the gov­ern­ment comes to shut down the unit you will be asked to fight. You may also be asked to kill cer­tain peo­ple who become on the bad graces of cer­tain groups.
  11. It appears that Lang was prep­ping Smith both to fight against the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, if nec­es­sary and to be pre­pared to com­mit assas­si­na­tions.
  12. Giv­en every­thing we know about this case at this point, it appears that Right Sec­tor was send­ing a poten­tial recruit into the US Army to learn the kinds of skills that would be use­ful for neo-Nazi ter­ror cam­paigns and that recruit was arrest­ed for dis­sem­i­nat­ing those skills and plan­ning exact­ly that kind of ter­ror cam­paign.

Against the back­ground of 17,000 for­eign fight­ers gain­ing para­mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence in Ukraine, a Vice piece from July notes that Ukraine real­ly is becom­ing a nexus for the inter­na­tion­al far right. That is pre­cise­ly what the Azov Bat­tal­ion has been work­ing on doing.

In that con­text we note that:

  1. For­eign fight­ers have tak­en the com­bat skills honed in Ukraine’s war to oth­er Euro­pean nations. ” . . . . Researchers warn that Ukraine is rad­i­cal­iz­ing far-right for­eign fight­ers in the same way Syr­ia has with jihadis — albeit on a small­er scale — cre­at­ing a glob­al net­work of com­bat-test­ed extrem­ists who pose a secu­ri­ty threat that is now begin­ning to man­i­fest itself. . . .”
  2.  ” . . . . [Kacper] Rekawek said Ukraine ful­filled the need, expressed by many ide­o­logues on the extreme right, for a ‘safe space’ for Nazis out­side the West, where they could net­work and orga­nize beyond the pry­ing eyes of domes­tic secu­ri­ty ser­vices. . . .”
  3. Russ­ian fas­cists have fought on both sides of the conflict–a har­bin­ger of pos­si­ble fas­cist sub­ver­sion of Putin should they gain the upper hand in Rus­sia after their return.
  4. ” . . . . Swedish neo-Nazis who joined on the Ukrain­ian side saw it as essen­tial­ly ‘the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Sec­ond World War on the east­ern front. You are white Europe and you’re fight­ing Asia, in the form of Rus­sia.’ . . . .”
  5. ” . . . . Joachim Furholm, a Nor­we­gian neo-Nazi and recruiter for Azov said their efforts would also help white nation­al­ist forces in the one coun­try where he believed they had the best shot of com­ing to pow­er. . . .‘It’s like a Petri dish for fas­cism… and they do have seri­ous inten­tions of help­ing the rest of Europe in retak­ing our right­ful lands,’ he said. . . .”

We con­clude by not­ing that House Democ­rats are lob­by­ing that the Azov Bat­tal­ion be labeled a For­eign Ter­rotr Orga­ni­za­a­tion. This would facil­i­tate attempts to neu­tral­ize com­bat­ants who had served with Azov upon their return to this coun­try.

Good luck with that!

1. We begin an in-depth exam­i­na­tion of the Azov inter­na­tion­al milieu. Embrac­ing “lone wolf” fas­cists around the world, as well as net­work­ing with fas­cist orga­ni­za­tions and com­bat­ants who have joined the war in Ukraine’s East­ern provinces, Azov is reca­pit­u­lat­ing the “Inter­mar­i­um” con­cept, mint­ed by Pol­ish head of state Josef Pil­sud­s­ki in the peri­od between the World Wars. Work­ing with Croa­t­ians aligned with the “Neo-Ustachi’ milieu we have cov­ered in many past pro­grams, Azov is seek­ing to devel­op a nascent East­ern and Cen­tral Euro­pean alliance of fas­cist and reac­tionary ele­ments.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is the sig­nif­i­cance of the Ukrain­ian and Croa­t­ian fas­cist alliance, which will be explored at greater length in future pro­grams.

Oth­er pro­grams high­light­ing the return of the Ustachi to pow­er in the “new” Croa­t­ia include: FTR #‘s 49, 154, 766, 901.

A thought: will the Azov for­eign legion might be inte­grat­ed into a future all-EU armed forces?

“Croa­t­ia Key to Ukrain­ian Far-Right’s Inter­na­tion­al Ambi­tions” by Michael Col­borne; Balkan Insight; 07/18/2019.

A far-right mil­i­tant move­ment in Ukraine is forg­ing ties with like-mind­ed politi­cians and war vet­er­ans in Euro­pean Union mem­ber Croa­t­ia, a BIRN inves­ti­ga­tion reveals.

Chain-smok­ing in a Zagreb cafe, 43-year-old Denis Sel­er would hard­ly stand out were it not for the word AZOV embla­zoned in Cyril­lic on the front of his grey sweater.

Sel­er is a native of the Croa­t­ian cap­i­tal and a vet­er­an of the 1991–95 Croa­t­ian war. But his sweater spoke to a more recent fight, and to Seler’s endur­ing alle­giance to a far-right mil­i­tant move­ment with Europe-wide ambi­tions.

In 2014 and 2015, Sel­er was among 20–30 Croa­t­ians who fought as part of the Azov vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion against Russ­ian-backed rebels in east­ern Ukraine, in a war that has killed some 13,000 and rum­bles on today despite an offi­cial cease­fire.

From the Balka­ns, Serb fight­ers sided with the rebels out of feal­ty to Serbia’s fel­low Ortho­dox ally Rus­sia, while Croa­t­ian nation­al­ists like Sel­er found com­mon cause with the far-right ele­ments of Ukraine’s resis­tance against Moscow.

But while the war in Ukraine’s steel and coal belt bor­der­ing Rus­sia may have set­tled into a tense stale­mate, Azov is build­ing in momen­tum, forg­ing ties with far-right extrem­ists beyond Ukraine’s bor­ders.

And Croa­t­ia, the newest mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union and a coun­try where con­ser­v­a­tive cur­rents are strong, is emerg­ing as a key stag­ing ground, accord­ing to the find­ings of a BIRN inves­ti­ga­tion.

Azov’s polit­i­cal wing is forg­ing ties with a right-wing Croa­t­ian polit­i­cal bloc that made a strong show­ing in Euro­pean elec­tions in May, and the Ukrain­ian move­ment will hold a con­fer­ence in Zagreb in Sep­tem­ber at which it may unveil plans for a ‘For­eign Legion’ of far-right sym­pa­this­ers, built with the help of a Croa­t­ian war vet­er­an.

“The Azov move­ment is grow­ing. And they’re grow­ing up fast,” said Sel­er.

Back in 2014, Sel­er described the war in Ukraine as part of a “strug­gle for the white Euro­pean race, its cul­ture and his­to­ry.”

Five years on, Azov’s ambi­tions have found fer­tile soil in Croa­t­ia, where Sel­er said the move­ment would fur­ther its dream of build­ing “a Europe of the nations”.

WWII revi­sion­ism

In 2014, after pop­u­lar protests brought down Ukraine’s then pro-Russ­ian pres­i­dent, the country’s army found itself help­less against a Russ­ian move to annex Crimea and foment war in the east­ern Don­bass region.

Vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions rushed to the country’s defence, among them Azov. The unit soon earned a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most bat­tle-com­mit­ted, but also for its open-door pol­i­cy to unabashed neo-Nazis.

Far-right groups in Ukraine grew in promi­nence with their role in the over­throw of Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, arm­ing bar­ri­cades in the caul­dron of Kyiv’s Maid­an Neza­lezh­nos­ti, Inde­pen­dence Square, dur­ing months of freez­ing cold and final­ly fatal con­fronta­tion with police.

Five years on, the bat­tal­ion is now for­mal­ly known as the Azov Reg­i­ment and is part of Ukraine’s Nation­al Guard, a gen­darmerie-type force that reports to the inte­ri­or min­istry. It also has a polit­i­cal wing, the Nation­al Corps, a para­mil­i­tary unit called the Nation­al Mili­tia, a Youth Corps, sports bar, gym­na­si­ums and a ‘social cen­tre’ known as Cos­sack House just off the Maid­an. The polit­i­cal wing is polling below the thresh­old to enter par­lia­ment in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in July.

In Ukraine, the far-right takes much of its inspi­ra­tion from Stepan Ban­dera, com­man­der of the under­ground Organ­i­sa­tion of Ukrain­ian Nation­al­ists, OUN, dur­ing World War Two. Many Ukraini­ans see the OUN as heroes who defend­ed Ukrain­ian inde­pen­dence, down­play­ing what a num­ber of lead­ing his­to­ri­ans of the Holo­caust argue was the group’s fas­cist ten­den­cies and the role of some OUN mem­bers in aid­ing the Nazi killing of Jews.

Like­wise, Croa­t­ia is grap­pling with WWII revi­sion­ism that has moved from the polit­i­cal fringes to the main­stream, ques­tion­ing the crimes com­mit­ted under fas­cist lead­ers of a short-lived inde­pen­dent Croa­t­ian state that was a pup­pet of Nazi Ger­many.

Nation­al­ists from both Croa­t­ia and Ukraine see much in com­mon in their coun­tries’ recent his­to­ries. For them, Croatia’s fight for inde­pen­dence in the ear­ly 1990s against Serb rebels backed by its larg­er neigh­bour Ser­bia has echoes in the ongo­ing fight against Russ­ian-backed forces in east­ern Ukraine.

“On a more sen­ti­men­tal, sub­con­scious lev­el for Croats, Ukraine is a friend,” said Tomis­lav Sunic, a Croa­t­ian-Amer­i­can writer described as the ‘intel­lec­tu­al guru’ of the Croa­t­ian far-right.

‘Between the seas’

Under Ole­na Semenya­ka, ‘inter­na­tion­al sec­re­tary’ of the Nation­al Corps, Azov has staged a num­ber of gath­er­ings and con­fer­ences and devel­oped rela­tion­ships and con­nec­tions with far-right groups across Europe, includ­ing the neo-Nazi Nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, NDP, in Ger­many and the neo-fas­cist Cas­a­Pound move­ment in Italy.

In March this year, the Soufan Group, a New York-based organ­i­sa­tion that con­ducts secu­ri­ty analy­sis, described Azov as “a crit­i­cal node in the transna­tion­al right-wing vio­lent extrem­ist (RWE) net­work.”

Azov hosts an annu­al ‘Paneu­ropa’ con­fer­ence for allies from west­ern Europe as well as an annu­al ‘Inter­mar­i­um’ con­fer­ence aimed at cen­tral and east­ern Europe, main­ly those coun­tries that were once behind the Iron Cur­tain or part of social­ist Yugoslavia.

In Sep­tem­ber, Azov is tak­ing the Inter­mar­i­um con­fer­ence on the road for the first time, to Seler’s Zagreb.

Inter­mar­i­um, or ‘between the seas’, is a region­al secu­ri­ty con­cept first tout­ed by Poland’s post-World War One leader Jozef Pil­sud­s­ki in the ear­ly 1930s.

Kyiv-based researcher Alexan­dra Wishart said Azov had giv­en the idea new life, pro­mot­ing it as a “spring­board” to build an east Euro­pean con­fed­er­a­tion of right-wing nation­al­ist “eth­no-states” free from what Azov per­ceives as the ‘cul­tur­al Marx­ism’ of the EU and the ‘neo-Bol­she­vism’ of Rus­sia.

Wishart, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Glas­gow and Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Kyiv-Mohy­la Acad­e­my, said Croa­t­ia was cen­tral to Azov’s plans.

“Croa­t­ia is a key play­er with­in the Balka­ns and cen­tral enough to help neu­tral­ize Russ­ian or EU influ­ence there,” said Wishart, who attend­ed the Octo­ber 2018 Inter­mar­i­um con­fer­ence in Kyiv as an observ­er.

Sel­er con­firmed Zagreb would host the con­fer­ence, bring­ing togeth­er del­e­gates from Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, Nor­way, Den­mark and Swe­den, he said.

It will be a chance to cement devel­op­ing ties between Azov and the Croa­t­ian Sov­er­eign­tists, an alliance of far-right par­ties which came a sur­prise third in Croa­t­ia in Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in May with 8.5 per cent of the vote. The alliance has one MP in the Croa­t­ian par­lia­ment but is polling at almost six per cent with par­lia­men­tary elec­tions due next year.

The alliance’s sole MEP is Ruza Toma­sic, a for­mer police offi­cer who left social­ist Yugoslavia for Cana­da aged 15 and recent­ly made head­lines in Croa­t­ia when pho­tographs were pub­lished show­ing her in fas­cist uni­form while liv­ing in Cana­da and appar­ent­ly glo­ri­fy­ing Croa­t­ian WWII fas­cist leader Ante Pavel­ic. Toma­sic told a Croa­t­ian jour­nal­ist that she was “not ashamed” of this, but that she “[did] not stand by some of those things today.”

In a Jan­u­ary social media post, an account run by Semenya­ka said that “the coali­tion of Croa­t­ian nation­al­ist par­ties is tak­ing shape side by side with the progress in the prepa­ra­tion for the next Inter­mar­i­um con­fer­ence by Croa­t­ian and Ukrain­ian enthu­si­asts.”

Sel­er said the guest of hon­our would be Andriy Bilet­sky, leader of Azov’s polit­i­cal wing, Nation­al Corps, and an MP in the Ukrain­ian par­lia­ment, which he entered in 2014 as an inde­pen­dent. Semenya­ka did not con­firm the vis­it.

Azov allies in Croa­t­ian ‘Sov­er­eign­tists’

Bilet­sky pre­vi­ous­ly head­ed the open­ly neo-Nazi Patri­ot of Ukraine organ­i­sa­tion and spent 28 months in prison on attempt­ed mur­der charges. Nev­er tried, he was released and the charges were dropped under a par­lia­ment decree on ‘polit­i­cal pris­on­ers’ in 2014 fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion on the Maid­an.

Bilet­sky has made the Inter­mar­i­um con­cept part of the ‘offi­cial geopo­lit­i­cal doc­trine’ of the Nation­al Corps.

Sel­er said the pur­pose of Biletsky’s vis­it was to meet rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Croatia’s right-wing, par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­bers of the Sov­er­eign­tists.

Toma­sic ini­tial­ly said she was unaware of any planned vis­it from Bilet­sky but then appeared to con­tra­dict her­self and told BIRN that a Croa­t­ian man, whose name she did not recall, had approached her regard­ing a planned vis­it to Zagreb by Bilet­sky that would include a meet­ing with Toma­sic and oth­er Sov­er­eign­tist politi­cians.

“I said fine, I’m will­ing to talk to any­body,” Toma­sic said, but denied hav­ing any­thing to do with organ­is­ing the trip or the Inter­mar­i­um con­fer­ence.

Some Sov­er­eign­tists, how­ev­er, are less coy about their rela­tion­ship with Azov.

Sunic, a far-right author and trans­la­tor who ran unsuc­cess­ful­ly for the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on behalf of the Sov­er­eign­tists, told BIRN he plans to attend the Inter­mar­i­um con­fer­ence and that he is in reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Semenya­ka.

Denis Bevan­da, sec­re­tary gen­er­al of the Croa­t­ian Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty, one of the main par­ties with­in the Sov­er­eign­tists, shared a pho­to on Insta­gram ear­li­er this year of him­self along­side Sel­er.

The post referred to the Azov Bat­tal­ion in Eng­lish and Ukrain­ian and declared ‘Sla­va Ukrayi­ni!’ or ‘Long live Ukraine!’ – the bat­tle cry of the OUN dur­ing WWII and of pro­test­ers dur­ing the 2014 rev­o­lu­tion, and now an offi­cial greet­ing of the Ukrain­ian army.

Croa­t­ian-French nation­al­ist author Jure Vujic, sev­enth on the Sov­er­eign­tists’ par­ty list for the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, par­tic­i­pat­ed in a con­fer­ence in Zagreb in Decem­ber 2017 co-host­ed by Semenya­ka and Leo Mar­ic of Croa­t­ian iden­ti­tar­i­an group Gen­eraci­ja Obnove (“Gen­er­a­tion Renew­al”)

Croatia’s ‘Zulu’ pledges help

The head­line announce­ment of the Sep­tem­ber con­fer­ence, how­ev­er, will like­ly be the cre­ation of what Azov calls its For­eign Legion. While details remain vague, Azov, in its social media posts, has sug­gest­ed such a force would facil­i­tate for­eign­ers wish­ing to join its fight in east­ern Ukraine.

BIRN has dis­cov­ered that in Feb­ru­ary last year, a user of the voice and text app Dis­cord, which has invite-only chat rooms and became pop­u­lar with white suprema­cists and neo-Nazis before the app was hit by a series of leaks, wrote that Azov “will have the for­eign legion set up with­in the next 18 months or so.”

BIRN scoured hun­dreds of thou­sands of leaked Dis­cord mes­sages and found no short­age of Azov devo­tees. One user on the white suprema­cist site Storm­front mused that “the Nation­al Social­ist rev­o­lu­tion” may begin in Ukraine.

The fol­low­ing month, March 2018, in an inter­view with a mem­ber of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resis­tance Move­ment, Semenya­ka said the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment was hin­der­ing Azov efforts to bring in for­eign recruits for the war against the Russ­ian-backed rebels. “But in the future we hope to cre­ate a for­eign legion. There we could announce loud and clear when we seek vol­un­teers.”

Semenya­ka, after ini­tial­ly reply­ing to a request for com­ment, did not reply to fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Almost exact­ly 18 months on, the unit may be about to take shape – in Zagreb.

Bruno Zor­i­ca, a retired Croa­t­ian army offi­cer and for­mer mem­ber of the French For­eign Legion, has been repeat­ed­ly men­tioned in Azov social media posts as a key fig­ure in the unit’s cre­ation.

Known by his nom de guerre Zulu, Zor­i­ca com­mand­ed the Frankopan Bat­tal­ion, a spe­cial forces unit of the Croa­t­ian army, dur­ing the country’s war against Bel­grade-backed Serb rebels as the social­ist Yugoslav fed­er­a­tion dis­in­te­grat­ed in the ear­ly 1990s.

With oth­er vet­er­ans of the French For­eign Legion, Zor­i­ca trained Croa­t­ian army recruits dur­ing the war, telling the Wash­ing­ton Post in 1991: “We teach these recruits war is not Ram­bo movies… My peo­ple have a much low­er casu­al­ty rate in fight­ing than the oth­ers. They know when to fight and when to dig in.”

In 2001, Zor­i­ca was arrest­ed in a police oper­a­tion against a sus­pect­ed arms smug­gling ring. While there is no record of Zor­i­ca ever being charged or con­vict­ed of any crime, media reports at the time said the for­mer Legion­naire was sus­pect­ed of head­ing up an arms smug­gling ring that alleged­ly trans­port­ed the equiv­a­lent of more than one mil­lion euros of arms from Croa­t­ia into the Euro­pean Union, espe­cial­ly France.

Azov social media accounts have said Zor­i­ca has “promised to assist the devel­op­ment of the Ukrain­ian For­eign Legion” and that “coop­er­a­tion is promised to reach [a] new lev­el.”

After ini­tial­ly agree­ing to speak to BIRN, Zor­i­ca post­poned a planned inter­view then failed to show up and even­tu­al­ly stopped com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

In Octo­ber 2018, Zor­i­ca spoke at the last Inter­mar­i­um con­fer­ence in Kyiv, say­ing he was in “close com­mu­ni­ca­tion” with the head of Azov’s mil­i­tary school. “We are ready to share our expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge with the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary,” he said.

2. The FBI arrest­ed a US Army sol­dier for plan­ning domes­tic ter­ror attacks. Jar­rett William Smith–charged with one count of dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion relat­ed to explo­sives and weapons of mass destruc­tion.

Smith has been in con­tact with the Azov Bat­tal­ion. As ear­ly as 2016, he talked about trav­el­ing to Ukraine to join Azov. He joined the US mil­i­tary instead in June of 2017. After join­ing the mil­i­tary, Smith used Face­book to con­nect with anoth­er Amer­i­can who had trav­eled to Ukraine in 2017 to 2019 to fight with a group sim­i­lar to Azov, which appears to be Pravy Sek­tor. This Amer­i­can report­ed­ly act­ed as Smith’s men­tor.

Using the encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing app Telegram, Smith dis­cussed with an under­cov­er FBI agent his plans for a car bomb attack against an unnamed major cable news network’s head­quar­ters and dis­trib­uted bomb-mak­ing mate­ri­als. He also talked about attacks against mem­bers of antifa and inter­est­ed in find­ing like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als to help him.

Look­ing ahead to oth­er arti­cles below, we note that: “. . . . Ear­li­er this month, for­mer FBI agent Ali Soufan, who runs the glob­al secu­ri­ty firm the Soufan Cen­ter, tes­ti­fied that 17,000 for­eign­ers, includ­ing from the U.S. have trav­eled to Ukraine in recent years to gain para­mil­i­tary skills there. They fought along­side far-right groups like Azov and were return­ing home with those new skills. . . .”

NB: in the audio track of this pro­gram, Mr. Emory misiden­ti­fies Telegram as the UK news­pa­per “The Tele­graph.” A cor­rec­tion is made lat­er in the pro­gram.

“The FBI Just Arrest­ed a U.S. Army Sol­dier on Charges of Plot­ting to Bomb a Major News Net­work” by Tess Owen; Vice News; 09/23/2019

The FBI arrest­ed a mem­ber of the U.S. Army who alleged­ly plot­ted to bomb a major news net­work and shared bomb-mak­ing infor­ma­tion online.

Jar­rett William Smith, a 24-year-old sol­dier sta­tioned at Fort Riley, Kansas, was charged with one count of dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion relat­ed to explo­sives and weapons of mass destruc­tion. As ear­ly as 2016, he also dis­cussed join­ing the thou­sands of men trav­el­ing to Ukraine to fight along­side the far-right para­mil­i­tary group Azov Bat­tal­ion, accord­ing to the FBI.

“This is a Mid­dle East–style bomb that, if big enough or con­nect­ed to the right explo­sive, can dam­age or destroy U.S. mil­i­tary vehi­cles,” Smith told an under­cov­er FBI agent of car bombs, accord­ing to court doc­u­ments. “Most of the time, it can oblit­er­ate civil­ian vehi­cles and peo­ple near­by.”

Smith had risen to the lev­el of pri­vate first class infantry sol­dier since join­ing the Army in June 2017. If con­vict­ed on the cur­rent charges, he could get up to 20 years in fed­er­al prison and a max­i­mum fine of $250,000.

After join­ing the mil­i­tary, Smith con­nect­ed with an Amer­i­can man on Face­book who had already trav­eled to Ukraine between 2017 and 2019 to fight with a group sim­i­lar to Azov, accord­ing to the FBI. The man posi­tioned him­self as Smith’s men­tor and was help­ing him pre­pare to trav­el to Ukraine.

Court doc­u­ments include excerpts of a Face­book con­ver­sa­tion between Smith, the Amer­i­can man, and oth­ers, from Octo­ber 2018 — after Smith had enlist­ed in the Army. In the con­ver­sa­tion, Smith brags about his abil­i­ty to trans­form cell phones into explo­sive devices “in the style of Afghans.” He then pro­vides them instruc­tions about how to do it.

On August 19, Smith unwit­ting­ly spoke with an under­cov­er FBI agent online and told him that he was hop­ing to meet like-mind­ed “rad­i­cals” and aspired to kill mem­bers of antifa. He was also con­sid­er­ing tar­get­ing cell tow­ers or a local news sta­tion, accord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Days lat­er, he’d set­tled on his cho­sen tar­get: He want­ed to attack the head­quar­ters of a major Amer­i­can news net­work using a car bomb. The court doc­u­ments don’t reveal which net­work he want­ed to tar­get. Then, last Fri­day, he talked to an under­cov­er agent on Telegram and dis­cussed specifics on how to build a car bomb.

Smith was arrest­ed over the week­end and admit­ted to FBI agents that he knows how to make explo­sive devices and rou­tine­ly pro­vides instruc­tion on how to build those devices online.

“He admit­ted that he pro­vides this infor­ma­tion even to indi­vid­u­als who tell him they intend to use the infor­ma­tion to cause harm to oth­ers,” one FBI agent wrote. “Smith stat­ed that he did this to cauase ‘chaos.’ He told me that if chaos results in the death of peo­ple, even through infor­ma­tion he pro­vid­ed, it doesn’t affect him.”

Smith’s arrest came only days after DHS for­mal­ly rec­og­nized white nation­al­ism as a seri­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty threat and unveiled a new coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­e­gy to com­bat it. Since April, Con­gress has held sev­en hear­ings about the now-glob­al threat. Ear­li­er this month, for­mer FBI agent Ali Soufan, who runs the glob­al secu­ri­ty firm the Soufan Cen­ter, tes­ti­fied that 17,000 for­eign­ers, includ­ing from the U.S. have trav­eled to Ukraine in recent years to gain para­mil­i­tary skills there. They fought along­side far-right groups like Azov and were return­ing home with those new skills.

Smith’s case is yet anoth­er exam­ple of how cur­rent and for­mer U.S. ser­vice mem­bers have alleged­ly been recruit­ed or rad­i­cal­ized by far-right extrem­ists. Sev­en mem­bers of the U.S. mil­i­tary were out­ed ear­li­er this year as mem­bers of Iden­ti­ty Evropa, a white nation­al­ist group that cul­ti­vates a prep­py aes­thet­ic in an effort to go main­stream. In anoth­er case, a Coast Guard lieu­tenant and for­mer marine was alleged­ly plot­ting a large-scale attack against Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers and jour­nal­ists. He was arrest­ed ear­li­er this year on gun and drug charges. And, active duty ser­vice mem­bers were found to be involved with Atom­waf­fen, a vio­lent neo-Nazi group. . . .

3. Updat­ing the sto­ry of Jar­rett William Smith, we note:

  1. Smith’s appar­ent men­tor is Craig Lang, anoth­er US Army vet.
  2. Craig Lang joined Right Sec­tor, and then the Geor­gian Nation­al Legion in the Ukrain­ian civ­il war.
  3. Lang, along with fel­low Army vet Alex Zwiefel­hofer, is accused of rob­bing and killing the cou­ple in an effort to get mon­ey to trav­el to Venezuela to “par­tic­i­pate in an armed con­flict against the Boli­var­i­an Repub­lic of Venezuela.”
  4. After leav­ing Right Sec­tor he joined the Geor­gian Nation­al Legion, which is also fight­ing in Ukraine.
  5. In pre­vi­ous pro­grams, we have high­light­ed the appar­ent role of Geor­gian snipers in the Maid­an provo­ca­tion, the tem­po­rary role of for­mer Geor­gian pres­i­dent Saakashvili as gov­er­nor of Odessa, as well as UNA-UNSO com­bat activ­i­ty in Geor­gia’s war with Rus­sia. (UNA-UNSO is a branch of the UNA.)
  6. Zwiefel­hofer also fought with Right Sec­tor.
  7. The arti­cle below states that Lang and Smith were in con­tact in 2016, which is a year before Smith joined the US Army.
  8. The pre­vi­ous Vice arti­cle stat­ed that the FBI said Smith got into con­tact with Lang after he joined the US Army in June of 2017.
  9. Accord­ing to a June 23, 2016, con­ver­sa­tion between Smith and Lang, Smith wrote, “No for­mer mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence, but if I can­not find a slot in Ukraine by Octo­ber I’ll be going into the Army … To fight is what I want to do. I’m will­ing to lis­ten, learn, and train. But to work on firearms is fine by me too.”
  10. Lang respond­ed, “Alright, I’ll for­ward you over to the guy that screens peo­ple he’ll most like­ly add you soon[ … ] Also as a pre-warn­ing if you come to this unit and the gov­ern­ment comes to shut down the unit you will be asked to fight. You may also be asked to kill cer­tain peo­ple who become on the bad graces of cer­tain groups.
  11. It appears that Lang was prep­ping Smith both to fight against the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, if nec­es­sary and to be pre­pared to com­mit assas­si­na­tions.
  12. Giv­en every­thing we know about this case at this point, it appears that Right Sec­tor was send­ing a poten­tial recruit into the US Army to learn the kinds of skills that would be use­ful for neo-Nazi ter­ror cam­paigns and that recruit was arrest­ed for dis­sem­i­nat­ing those skills and plan­ning exact­ly that kind of ter­ror cam­paign.

“For­mer U.S. Sol­dier Who Fought With Ukrain­ian Far-Right Mili­tia Want­ed For U.S. Mur­der” by Mike Eck­el and Christo­pher Miller; Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­ty; 09/26/2019

A for­mer U.S. Army sol­dier who fought for a far-right Ukrain­ian para­mil­i­tary group and who has been linked to a bomb plot in the Unit­ed States has been detained in Ukraine on charges relat­ed to a dou­ble mur­der last year.

Craig Lang, 29, is one of two Army vet­er­ans impli­cat­ed in the 2018 mur­der of a cou­ple, accord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Flori­da, where the killing occurred.

The case is one of a grow­ing num­ber involv­ing for­mer U.S. vet­er­ans and U.S.-based extrem­ists and white suprema­cist groups who have cul­ti­vat­ed ties with Ukrain­ian right-wing groups in recent years.

Lang, who was being held in a jail in cen­tral Ukraine as of Sep­tem­ber 26, has also been linked to anoth­er U.S. sol­dier who was arrest­ed on Sep­tem­ber 21 in Kansas, and who had asked Lang for help with trav­el­ing to Ukraine to fight for anoth­er right-wing para­mil­i­tary group.

That sol­dier, Jar­rett William Smith, is expect­ed to make an ini­tial court appear­ance in a Kansas fed­er­al court on Sep­tem­ber 26.

Accord­ing to the Flori­da crim­i­nal com­plaint, Lang and anoth­er for­mer U.S. Army sol­dier, Alex Zwiefel­hofer, were accused of rob­bing the Flori­da cou­ple in 2018 and then killing them in an effort to get mon­ey to trav­el to Venezuela to “par­tic­i­pate in an armed con­flict against the Boli­var­i­an Repub­lic of Venezuela.”

The com­plaint said in Sep­tem­ber 2016, as Zwiefel­hofer was return­ing to the Unit­ed States, that he told agents from the FBI and U.S. Cus­toms that he and Lang had fought in Ukraine with a group called Right Sec­tor.

Orig­i­nal­ly an alliance of ultra­na­tion­al­ist groups that formed dur­ing the Euro­maid­an protests in Novem­ber 2013, Right Sec­tor trans­formed into a vol­un­teer fight­ing bat­tal­ion after Rus­sia foment­ed a sep­a­ratist war in east­ern Ukraine in April 2014.

The unit quick­ly earned a rep­u­ta­tion for being unruly as they fought along­side Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment forces. The unit even­tu­al­ly split in two, with one half brought under con­trol of the Defense Min­istry, and the oth­er remain­ing an unof­fi­cial, vol­un­teer group.

Zwiefel­hofer and Lang lat­er trav­eled to Kenya, where they sought to fight an Al-Qae­da-linked ter­ror­ist group Al-Shabab, but they were detained there and deport­ed back to the Unit­ed States.

The for­mer sol­diers were already on the radar of U.S. inves­ti­ga­tors after they were detained by Kenyan author­i­ties try­ing to enter South Sudan in 2017, accord­ing to the com­plaint.

The Flori­da com­plaint said Lang and Zwiefel­hofer faced charges includ­ing con­spir­a­cy to com­mit vio­lence, but not actu­al mur­der charges in the 2018 slay­ing of the cou­ple in Flori­da.

The com­plaint, which was unsealed ear­li­er this month in a Flori­da fed­er­al court, said Zwiefel­hofer was being held in a Wis­con­sin deten­tion cen­ter while Lang was in Ukraine.

‘Very Good Spe­cial­ist’

Ihor Skrit­sky, the uncle of Lang’s Ukrain­ian girl­friend in Kyiv, who is aid­ing the Amer­i­can, told RFE/RL that, as of Sep­tem­ber 26, Lang was in a jail and await­ing a court hear­ing in the cen­tral Ukrain­ian city of Vin­nit­sya.

Skrit­sky said that Lang has spo­ken to him about the mur­der case in Flori­da “but he denies any involve­ment.”

Mamu­ka Mamu­lashvili, who com­mand­ed a group of pro-Kyiv for­eign fight­ers in the Geor­gian Nation­al Legion and is in touch with Skrit­sky and Lang’s part­ner, said that Ukrain­ian bor­der guards detained the Amer­i­can as he was return­ing from Moldo­va some­time in the past sev­er­al weeks.

He told RFE/RL that bor­der guards had held Lang due to an inter­na­tion­al war­rant.

Mamu­lashvili said that, after leav­ing Right Sec­tor, Lang joined his legion of for­eign fight­ers. He called Lang “a very good spe­cial­ist.”

“He was not with us for long, but as a sol­dier I can’t say any­thing bad about him,” he said.

Mamu­lashvili said that he was unaware of Lang’s trou­ble with Ukrain­ian and U.S. law enforce­ment. He said that, before fight­ing with him in east­ern Ukraine, the Ukrain­ian Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice per­formed a back­ground check on him.

“They didn’t see any­thing wrong with the guy,” Mamu­lashvili said of the ser­vice, known as the SBU. “He was on a [Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary] con­tract.”

Lang’s name also appeared in the crim­i­nal com­plaint filed in Kansas ear­li­er this week against Smith.

Accord­ing to those charg­ing doc­u­ments, Smith, a 24-year old who had been sta­tioned at a near­by army base, dis­cussed on Face­book in 2016 and lat­er dates that he was inter­est­ed in trav­el­ing to Ukraine to fight with the Azov Bat­tal­ion, anoth­er para­mil­i­tary unit that has fought against Rus­sia-backed sep­a­ratists and also espous­es an ultra­na­tion­al­ist ide­ol­o­gy.

Human rights groups have accused the Azov Bat­tal­ion of com­mit­ting war crimes.

That com­plaint said Smith cor­re­spond­ed with Lang, as Smith sought help in trav­el­ing to Ukraine.

In one con­ver­sa­tion dat­ed June 23, 2016, Smith wrote: “No for­mer mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence, but if I can­not find a slot in Ukraine by Octo­ber I’ll be going into the Army … To fight is what I want to do. I’m will­ing to lis­ten, learn, and train. But to work on firearms is fine by me too.”

Accord­ing to the com­plaint, Lang respond­ed, “Alright, I’ll for­ward you over to the guy that screens peo­ple he’ll most like­ly add you soon[ … ] Also as a pre-warn­ing if you come to this unit and the gov­ern­ment comes to shut down the unit you will be asked to fight. You may also be asked to kill cer­tain peo­ple who become on the bad graces of cer­tain groups.

Pros­e­cu­tors also said Smith dis­cussed a plan to kill so-called “antifa” activists, mil­i­tant left-wing activists who often engage in vio­lent oppo­si­tion to right-wing groups.

Smith also alleged­ly described how to build a bomb that could be trig­gered using a cell phone. He also alleged­ly sug­gest­ed build­ing a car bomb and tar­get­ing an unnamed U.S. news net­work.

The issue of U.S. white-suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tions being drawn to Ukrain­ian groups is a con­cern that was raised by U.S. law enforce­ment as recent­ly as 2017.

That year, the FBI warned that Azov’s mil­i­tary wing is “believed to have par­tic­i­pat­ed in train­ing and rad­i­cal­iz­ing Unit­ed States-based white suprema­cy orga­ni­za­tions.” The state­ment came as part of a case against a Cal­i­for­nia man who trav­eled to the Ukrain­ian cap­i­tal, Kyiv, to par­tic­i­pate in a fight club with Ukrain­ian ultra­na­tion­al­ists.

Host­ing fight clubs is part of Azov’s out­reach to like­mind­ed orga­ni­za­tions in the West, as RFE/RL report­ed in 2018.

The polit­i­cal wing, called Nation­al Corps, was found­ed by the for­mer com­man­der of the Azov Bat­tal­ion, Andriy Bilet­sky. It has been labeled by the U.S. State Depart­ment as a “nation­al­ist hate group.”

4. Against the back­ground of 17,000 for­eign fight­ers gain­ing para­mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence in Ukraine, a Vice piece from July notes that Ukraine real­ly is becom­ing a nexus for the inter­na­tion­al far right. That is pre­cise­ly what the Azov Bat­tal­ion has been work­ing on doing.

In that con­text we note that:

  1. For­eign fight­ers have tak­en the com­bat skills honed in Ukraine’s war to oth­er Euro­pean nations. ” . . . . [Kacper] Rekawek said Ukraine ful­filled the need, expressed by many ide­o­logues on the extreme right, for a ‘safe space’ for Nazis out­side the West, where they could net­work and orga­nize beyond the pry­ing eyes of domes­tic secu­ri­ty ser­vices. . . .”
  2. Russ­ian fas­cists have fought on both sides of the conflict–a har­bin­ger of pos­si­ble fas­cist sub­ver­sion of Putin should they gain the upper hand in Rus­sia after their return.
  3. ” . . . . Swedish neo-Nazis who joined on the Ukrain­ian side saw it as essen­tial­ly ‘the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Sec­ond World War on the east­ern front. You are white Europe and you’re fight­ing Asia, in the form of Rus­sia.’ . . . .”
  4. ” . . . . Joachim Furholm, a Nor­we­gian neo-Nazi and recruiter for Azov said their efforts would also help white nation­al­ist forces in the one coun­try where he believed they had the best shot of com­ing to pow­er. . . .‘It’s like a Petri dish for fas­cism… and they do have seri­ous inten­tions of help­ing the rest of Europe in retak­ing our right­ful lands,’ he said. . . .”

“Far-Right Extrem­ists Have Been Using Ukraine’s War as a Train­ing Ground. They’re Return­ing Home.” by Tim Hume; Vice News; 07/31/2019.

Five years on, Mikael Skillt still doesn’t know exact­ly what made him leave his con­struc­tion job and his girl­friend to fight in the war in Ukraine.

“I’ve done tons of soul-search­ing, and the more I think about it, the less I know why I came,” the 43-year-old told VICE News.

But an unde­ni­able part of the draw was that Ukrain­ian ultra­na­tion­al­ists, many with bare­ly dis­guised neo-Nazi or white suprema­cist views, had been a dri­ving force in the rev­o­lu­tion. Skillt, at the time a noto­ri­ous Swedish neo-Nazi with a 20-year his­to­ry in the extreme-right scene, felt com­pelled to join their fight.

“All guys who seek adven­ture dream about this, to cre­ate his­to­ry,” he said.

Skillt missed the rev­o­lu­tion, arriv­ing in Kyiv a few days after the ouster of Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych. Instead, he got a war. A Krem­lin-backed sep­a­ratist move­ment soon swept across the Don­bas, Ukraine’s south­east­ern region bor­der­ing Rus­sia. Skillt, who had served for five years in Sweden’s Nation­al Home Guard, signed up to fight with the Azov Bat­tal­ion, a new­ly formed far-right mili­tia with deep neo-Nazi ties, and head­ed for the front lines.

Through­out 2014 and 2015 he served as a com­bat sniper for Azov, fight­ing in major bat­tles in Mar­i­upol, Marin­ka, Ilo­vaisk and Shy­rokyne. “I man­aged to get most of the big ones,” he told VICE News.

Though he’s since dis­avowed his far-right beliefs, he says he still gets chills when he thinks of his time at the front.

“This broth­er­hood which comes when you share life and death, it’s a poi­son. I’ve nev­er been a drug user, but I can imag­ine the feel­ing is pret­ty much the same.”

Skillt is just one of many far-right extrem­ists, esti­mat­ed to num­ber between the hun­dreds and the low thou­sands, who have flocked to east­ern Ukraine to take up arms since fight­ing erupt­ed in 2014. Hail­ing from across Europe, North and South Amer­i­ca, and as far away as Aus­tralia, they’re drawn by the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fight along­side oth­er right-wing rad­i­cals on either side of the con­flict. Many see the bat­tle as a cru­cial train­ing ground for the defense of white Europe, where they can forge deep inter­na­tion­al links and gain com­bat expe­ri­ence they believe will be crit­i­cal at home.

When they return home, they’re bat­tle-hard­ened and more rad­i­cal­ized than ever, researchers say, and often fly below the radar of secu­ri­ty ser­vices more focused on the return­ing jiha­di threat.

“I believe Europe is in great dan­ger,” Alber­to Tes­ta, an expert on far-right rad­i­cal­iza­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of West Lon­don, told VICE News. He said east­ern Ukraine had become a crit­i­cal stag­ing ground for the inter­na­tion­al “white jihad strug­gle” of the far right, where extrem­ists could “train for what some would call racial holy war.”

Researchers warn that Ukraine is rad­i­cal­iz­ing far-right for­eign fight­ers in the same way Syr­ia has with jihadis — albeit on a small­er scale — cre­at­ing a glob­al net­work of com­bat-test­ed extrem­ists who pose a secu­ri­ty threat that is now begin­ning to man­i­fest itself.

“We’re very con­cerned,” said Mol­lie Salt­skog, an intel­li­gence ana­lyst at strate­gic con­sul­tan­cy firm The Soufan Group, who has tracked the mobi­liza­tion of far-right for­eign fight­ers. “You have indi­vid­u­als who are bat­tle-hard­ened, prob­a­bly more rad­i­cal­ized than before they left. You have a glob­al net­work of vio­lent white suprema­cists now who can eas­i­ly keep in touch on dif­fer­ent plat­forms and go back home, spread that pro­pa­gan­da, con­duct train­ing — or move on to the next fight.”

An over­looked threat

West­ern secu­ri­ty ser­vices haven’t tak­en the far-right for­eign fight­er threat seri­ous­ly enough, said Daniel Koehler, direc­tor of the Ger­man Insti­tute for Rad­i­cal­iza­tion and Derad­i­cal­iza­tion Stud­ies, large­ly because they’ve over­whelm­ing­ly focused on jihadist for­eign fight­ers return­ing from Syr­ia and Iraq in recent years.

“It seems that intel­li­gence agen­cies have not regard­ed them as even remote­ly as much of a risk as the jihadist fight­ers,” Koehler told VICE News.

But that’s slow­ly start­ed to change, as fight­ers return­ing from Ukraine make their pres­ence felt at home.

Ear­li­er this month, Ital­ian police inves­ti­gat­ing a net­work of far-right rad­i­cals who had fought in Ukraine uncov­ered a mas­sive trove of mil­i­tary-grade weapon­ry, includ­ing an 11-foot air-to-air mis­sile and rock­et launch­ers. Since Jan­u­ary, return­ing for­eign fight­ers dis­play­ing sep­a­ratist flags from the con­flict have sur­faced in France’s vio­lent “yel­low vests” protests.

In May 2018, Ukraine con­vict­ed a French far-right extrem­ist for plot­ting a string of ter­ror attacks against tar­gets, includ­ing a mosque and a syn­a­gogue, in France. Author­i­ties said the 27-year-old had been caught attempt­ing to smug­gle a huge cache of weapons back to France that he had report­ed­ly acquired through mil­i­tants in the country’s bat­tle-scarred east.

And in 2017, Swedish neo-Nazis car­ried out a bomb attack on refugee hous­ing in Gothen­burg. Accord­ing to reports, the attack­ers had received para­mil­i­tary train­ing from an ultra­na­tion­al­ist Russ­ian group that recruit­ed and trained vol­un­teers to fight for the sep­a­ratists.

Train­ing for race war

The extrem­ists have been drawn into the con­flict through a savvy recruit­ing net­work that appeals to like-mind­ed rad­i­cals on social media and in real-world meet-ups, estab­lish­ing the con­flict as a major ral­ly­ing cause for far-right net­works around the globe.

Azov, in par­tic­u­lar, has pro­duced ISIS-like pro­pa­gan­da videos, dis­trib­uted pam­phlets at neo-Nazi con­certs in West­ern Europe, and sent speak­ers to far-right con­fer­ences in Scan­di­navia. Though the group denies it is neo-Nazi, and pub­licly stat­ed in 2014 that “only 10 to 20 per­cent” of its forces iden­ti­fied as neo-Nazis, its first com­man­der and now leader of its polit­i­cal wing has a his­to­ry in neo-Nazi groups. Their recruit­ment efforts have tar­get­ed far-right net­works, includ­ing explic­it pitch­es of the war as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to gain bat­tle­field expe­ri­ence that can be passed on mil­i­tants at home.

“There’s a world­wide con­cern across the far right about Euro­pean coun­tries los­ing their white majori­ties through immi­gra­tion,” Mar­i­lyn Mayo, senior research fel­low at the Anti-Defama­tion League’s Cen­ter on Extrem­ism, told VICE News. “There’s a sense that there’s a bat­tle brew­ing to pre­serve white Euro­pean cul­ture, and that’s where the desire for learn­ing com­bat skills comes in.”

Joachim Furholm, a Nor­we­gian neo-Nazi and recruiter for Azov, used an inter­view with a U.S. white nation­al­ist out­let last year to encour­age U.S. extrem­ists to join him.

“I came to lead a small group of vol­un­teers from all over the West, gain some mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence, and hope­ful­ly be able to send some of these guys back home to pass on their skills and their knowl­edge,” he told Radio Wehrwolf.

In the inter­view, uncov­ered by the inves­tiga­tive web­site Belling­cat, Furholm said their efforts would also help white nation­al­ist forces in the one coun­try where he believed they had the best shot of com­ing to pow­er.

“It’s like a Petri dish for fas­cism… and they do have seri­ous inten­tions of help­ing the rest of Europe in retak­ing our right­ful lands,” he said.

Experts esti­mate hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of far-right for­eign fight­ers have par­tic­i­pat­ed in Ukraine’s war, fight­ing on both Ukrain­ian nation­al­ist and pro-Russ­ian sep­a­ratist sides of a con­flict that has seethed since Krem­lin-backed sep­a­ratists rose up in 2014.

Kacper Rekawek, head of defense and secu­ri­ty pro­grams at Slovakia’s Glob­sec think tank, said some recruits had seemed indif­fer­ent about which side they actu­al­ly fought on.

“Some­times it’s a mat­ter of acci­dent whether a fight­er ends up on side A or side B,” said Rekawek, who has exten­sive­ly inter­viewed for­eign fight­ers. “They just want to take them­selves to war, get this rush of adren­a­line.”

The fight­ers apply a dizzy­ing array of ide­o­log­i­cal lens­es to the con­flict to jus­ti­fy their involve­ment on either side.

Those who joined the Ukrain­ian far-right mili­tia typ­i­cal­ly saw them­selves as sup­port­ing fel­low Euro­pean ultra­na­tion­al­ists against Russ­ian aggres­sion. Rekawek said the Swedish neo-Nazis who joined on the Ukrain­ian side saw it as essen­tial­ly “the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Sec­ond World War on the east­ern front. You are white Europe and you’re fight­ing Asia, in the form of Rus­sia.” In some tru­ly baf­fling instances, extreme-right Rus­sians fought along­side Ukrain­ian nation­al­ists against sep­a­ratist forces backed by the Krem­lin, he said.

Mean­while, far-right for­eign fight­ers who joined pro-Russ­ian sep­a­ratists saw the bat­tle as defend­ing the sep­a­ratists’ right to self-deter­mi­na­tion against West­ern impe­ri­al­ism. Many were also drawn by a sense of alle­giance to Vladimir Putin, lion­ized by many on the far right as one of the last defend­ers of a white tra­di­tion­al­ist Chris­t­ian Europe.

“On the pro-Russ­ian side, there didn’t seem to be such a coher­ent ide­o­log­i­cal agen­da,” said Sara Meger, a lec­tur­er in inter­na­tion­al rela­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mel­bourne. While most of the for­eign fight­ers on the Ukrain­ian side were on a spec­trum from right to extreme right, those back­ing the sep­a­ratist side found them­selves fight­ing along­side a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of far-left for­eign vol­un­teers, who shared their view of the con­flict as “a strug­gle against U.S. hege­mo­ny.”

Rekawek said the divid­ed loy­al­ties of the far right when it came to the Ukraine con­flict meant that col­leagues from the far-right scene in Europe often wound up on oppos­ing sides of the front lines. “These guys all know each oth­er from before,” he said.

Car­o­lus Löfroos, a 30-year-old Finnish-Swedish dual nation­al who also fought for Azov in 2015 and 2017, told VICE News he had a cor­dial rela­tion­ship with a cou­ple of acquain­tances who fought for the oppos­ing side.

“Sure, I think they’re fuc king dumb,” he said. “But at least they’re act­ing on what they believe is right, even if they’re exposed to dan­ger in doing so, which is some­thing I can respect.”

Löfroos said while his opin­ions had “always been on the right side of the spec­trum,” he con­sid­ers him­self apo­lit­i­cal, and reject­ed the sug­ges­tion that Azov had neo-Nazi pol­i­tics. “I dont care if peo­ple call me far-right, Nazi or what­ev­er. I want­ed to fight… and Azov was at the time the sound­est choice of unit to aim at for doing so.”

The net­work

For many far-right for­eign fight­ers drawn to Ukraine, the out­come of the war is almost a sec­ondary con­sid­er­a­tion to oth­er, more com­pelling, pull fac­tors.

Rekawek said Ukraine ful­filled the need, expressed by many ide­o­logues on the extreme right, for a “safe space” for Nazis out­side the West, where they could net­work and orga­nize beyond the pry­ing eyes of domes­tic secu­ri­ty ser­vices.

Some, like Löfroos, sim­ply want­ed to fight. Speak­ing of his return to the bat­tle­field out­side Donet­sk in 2017, the for­mer sol­dier described it in terms that made it sound like a gap year or work­ing hol­i­day.

“I returned… to see some old friends, see how the war pro­gressed, and do some fight­ing for strict­ly recre­ation­al pur­pos­es,” he told VICE News. “War is like a phi­los­o­phy and sci­ence that is pleas­ant to study.”

Through the influ­ence of Azov, in par­tic­u­lar, Ukraine has increas­ing­ly played just such a role, emerg­ing as a key hub in a transna­tion­al extreme-right net­work. Since first form­ing in 2014 as a vol­un­teer mili­tia com­mand­ed by the for­mer leader of a neo-Nazi par­ty, with mem­bers drawn from the hooli­gan scene, Azov has devel­oped into an increas­ing­ly pow­er­ful three-head­ed beast. Ole­na Semenya­ka, Azov’s inter­na­tion­al sec­re­tary, boast­ed last year that the move­ment had “become a small state [with]in the state.”

Along­side the bat­tal­ion, which has been for­mal­ly incor­po­rat­ed into Ukraine’s nation­al mil­i­tary, it also boasts a polit­i­cal wing and a vig­i­lante street move­ment, which has been linked to attacks on pride events and Romany camps. (The U.S., which pro­vides mil­i­tary sup­port to Ukraine, has offi­cial­ly banned Azov from receiv­ing any mil­i­tary aid due to its white suprema­cist ide­ol­o­gy.)

Azov, which did not respond to VICE News’ requests for com­ment, has also cul­ti­vat­ed strong links with far-right polit­i­cal groups across Europe. Researchers say the move­ment now plays a key role in a dan­ger­ous extrem­ist net­work draw­ing new recruits from neo-Nazi mixed mar­tial arts and hooli­gan scenes.

Its influ­ence has extend­ed as far as the Unit­ed States. In 2018, three mem­bers of the vio­lent, Cal­i­for­nia-based white nation­al­ist group Rise Above Move­ment trav­eled to meet with Azov rep­re­sen­ta­tives dur­ing a con­tact-build­ing tiki-tour across the Euro­pean far right, even par­tic­i­pat­ing in a cage fight at an Azov-affil­i­at­ed fight club.

Skillt, who today lives in Kyiv, has since pub­licly renounced his far-right alle­giances. But he says the war’s impact on for­eign fight­ers should not be under­es­ti­mat­ed.

“Just hav­ing that expe­ri­ence makes you more dan­ger­ous,” he said. “If you’ve been under fire and you have enough train­ing, then you’ll react on basic instinct.”

5. House Democ­rats are lob­by­ing that the Azov Bat­tal­ion be labeled a For­eign Ter­rotr Orga­ni­za­a­tion. This would facil­i­tate attempts to neu­tral­ize com­bat­ants who had served with Azov upon their return to this coun­try.

Good luck with that!

  “House Democ­rats Just Demand­ed These Neo-Nazi Groups Be Pros­e­cut­ed as Inter­na­tion­al Ter­ror­ists” by Tess Owen; Vice; 10/16/2019.

In response to the grow­ing glob­al threat of white nation­al­ist ter­ror, House Democ­rats are call­ing on the U.S. State Depart­ment to add three inter­na­tion­al far-right groups to its list of “For­eign Ter­ror Orga­ni­za­tions.”

This is sig­nif­i­cant: Since 9/11 the State Department’s ter­ror des­ig­na­tion sys­tem has been over­whelm­ing­ly focused on the threat posed by jiha­di extrem­ism, like al-Qae­da and ISIS. Adding inter­na­tion­al far-right groups to their list could give fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors more tools to go after rad­i­cals sus­pect­ed of con­spir­ing with those orga­ni­za­tions before an attack hap­pens.

On Wednes­day, New York Rep. Max Rose, who chairs the coun­tert­er­ror­ism sub­com­mit­tee, sub­mit­ted a let­ter to the State Depart­ment, co-signed by 39 mem­bers of Con­gress. It urged the depart­ment to des­ig­nate Azov Bat­tal­ion (a far-right para­mil­i­tary reg­i­ment in Ukraine), Nation­al Action (a neo-Nazi group based in the U.K.), and Nordic Resis­tance Move­ment (a neo-Nazi net­work from Scan­di­navia) as ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions.

“It’s clear that the threat we face today is of a self-rad­i­cal­ized gun­man,” Rose, a Demo­c­rat, told VICE News. “Some­body who has been rad­i­cal­ized online, whether it’s in accor­dance with jiha­di ide­ol­o­gy or a glob­al white nation­al­ist, neo-Nazi group.”There is cur­rent­ly no domes­tic ter­ror statute in the U.S. To charge a per­son with ter­ror­ism, pros­e­cu­tors have to prove that they’re affil­i­at­ed with one of the 67 groups labeled as a for­eign ter­ror orga­ni­za­tion (FTO) by the State Depart­ment.

The attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March was a major turn­ing point for the way extrem­ism experts approached white nation­al­ist ter­ror. The shoot­er, a white nation­al­ist from Aus­tralia, shared a man­i­festo online that was replete with memes and ideas traf­ficked by far-right extrem­ists around the globe. The man­i­festo itself was titled “The Great Replace­ment,” which is a white nation­al­ist con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry drawn from a book by a French author, and the inspi­ra­tion behind the chants of “You will not replace us” heard at the vio­lent ral­ly in Char­lottesville two years ago.

Since the Christchurch mosque mas­sacres, there have been sim­i­lar attacks at a syn­a­gogue in Poway, Cal­i­for­nia, a Wal­mart in El Paso, Texas, and most recent­ly, near a syn­a­gogue in Halle, Ger­many.
In all cas­es, the shoot­ers shared their own man­i­festos online that spoke to an inter­na­tion­al audi­ence of white nation­al­ist extrem­ists who share a com­mon goal of desta­bi­liz­ing soci­ety through vio­lence to estab­lish a “white home­land.”

In the sev­en months since Christchurch, there have been at least six con­gres­sion­al hear­ings on the issue of white nation­al­ist ter­ror. In those hear­ings, mem­bers of Con­gress have heard from intel­li­gence offi­cials and experts who have repeat­ed­ly stressed the seri­ous­ness of the threat posed by glob­al far-right ter­ror. Between 2009 and 2018, right-wing extrem­ists, like white nation­al­ists, account­ed for 73% of extrem­ist mur­ders in the U.S., com­pared to 23% by jihadis, accord­ing to the ADL. And last month, DHS unveiled a new coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­e­gy that, for the first time, placed a major empha­sis on fight­ing white nation­al­ist ter­ror.

Which is why Rose was sur­prised that not a sin­gle House Repub­li­can was will­ing to back the let­ter he sub­mit­ted to the State Depart­ment.
“I’m baf­fled as to why my Repub­li­can col­leagues have refused to sign on to this,” said Rose. “Not only are Azov Bat­tal­ion, Nation­al Action, and Nordic Resis­tance Move­ment direct­ly con­nect­ed to inspir­ing attacks in the home­land, they’re direct pur­vey­ors of anti-Semit­ic ide­olo­gies that inspire attacks against Jews. It’s curi­ous to me that the Repub­li­can Par­ty, for the bet­ter half of this year, are claim­ing they’re against anti-Semi­tism. Here they have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to label it, but they’re not will­ing to stand against it.”

For­mer FBI agent Ali Soufan, who heads glob­al secu­ri­ty research orga­ni­za­tion the Soufan Cen­ter, recent­ly tes­ti­fied before Con­gress about the threat, say­ing that the way white nation­al­ists were orga­niz­ing inter­na­tion­al­ly looked a lot like al-Qae­da in the 1990s.
Accord­ing to a recent report by the Soufan Cen­ter, some 17,000 for­eign­ers from 50 coun­tries — includ­ing the U.S. — have trav­eled to Ukraine to fight in the war there since 2014. Many of those fight­ers joined the Azov Bat­tal­ion, which embraces neo-Nazi sym­bols, and then returned to their home coun­tries with new para­mil­i­tary skills.
The U.S. State Depart­ment effec­tive­ly treats those return­ing fight­ers as noth­ing more than Amer­i­cans com­ing back from an extend­ed trip abroad.

But Azov has been impli­cat­ed in a num­ber of vio­lent inci­dents out­side of Ukraine. The Soufan Cen­ter has iden­ti­fied ties between the Christchurch shoot­er and Azov: The gun­man had trav­eled to Ukraine in the years pri­or to the attack, and he’d embell­ished his firearm with sym­bols asso­ci­at­ed with the reg­i­ment (Azov has refut­ed Soufan’s report­ing and stat­ed that the group had no rela­tion to the New Zealand shoot­er).

The Rise Above Move­ment, a U.S.-based street-fight­ing gang, sent some of its mem­bers to train with Azov in 2018, accord­ing to the FBI. And an Amer­i­can sol­dier was recent­ly arrest­ed for shar­ing bomb-mak­ing man­u­als online. Accord­ing to the fed­er­al com­plaint, he’d dis­cussed join­ing Azov. And as Rose’s let­ter points out, the gov­ern­ment is well aware of Azov’s extrem­ist lean­ings: In March 2018, Con­gress added a pro­vi­sion to its spend­ing bill that barred the U.S. from arm­ing Azov in the fight against Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists in Ukraine because of its ties to neo-Nazis.

The U.K.’s Home Office des­ig­nat­ed Nation­al Action as a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion in 2016 — the first time the British gov­ern­ment had flagged a far-right group as such since World War II. Researchers in the U.K. have iden­ti­fied rela­tion­ships between Nation­al Action and groups like Amer­i­can Van­guard, which the neo-Nazi who drove his car into a crowd of pro­test­ers dur­ing Char­lottesville report­ed­ly belonged to.
Here’s the State Department’s cri­te­ria for FTO des­ig­na­tion: A group has to be for­eign; have the capac­i­ty and intent to engage in ter­ror­ism; and threat­en the secu­ri­ty of U.S. nation­als, the secu­ri­ty of for­eign allies, or eco­nom­ic inter­ests in the U.S.

“There are numer­ous exam­ples of for­eign white nation­al­ist groups that fit these con­di­tions,” Rose wrote in his let­ter. “The Amer­i­can peo­ple deserve an expla­na­tion as to why these groups are not includ­ed on the FTO list.”

Rose and his 39 co-sign­ers asked the State Depart­ment to respond to their let­ter by Nov. 4.

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