As President Trump goes through an impeachment trial in the US Senate for pressuring Ukraine to produce dirt on his political rival, the war in that country is exporting extremism back to the United States.
In early 2014, violent street protests in Kyiv forced the resignation of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Within four months, Russia had annexed Crimea and was backing separatists in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
Ultranationalist protest groups — instrumental in the toppling of Yanukovych government — transformed overnight into volunteer battalions like Right Sector and Azov, then rushed to the eastern front, where they were lauded as patriots for undertaking the heavy fighting while the under-resourced Ukrainian state military scrambled to mobilize.
Azov in particular has leveraged its social capital by integrating into the Ukrainian National Guard, where it wields outsized influence in Ukraine’s democratically elected government.
More than five years later, with the war locked in a stalemate, the seasoned fighters and street activists in the ultranationalist movement present a challenge to newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky if he is seen to be conceding too much in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The emergence of Azov Battalion and Right Sector in Ukraine in 2014 electrified the neo-Nazi movement in the United States, Western Europe and Australia, presenting a tangible model for how the far right could topple a government and wage a nationalist war to forge a new society in a predominantly white country.
Over the past five years, the Ukrainian nationalist cause has attracted an assortment of American volunteer fighters — veterans, inexperienced adventurers and hardened ideologues.
Some have gone in search of new wars, as the Ukrainian conflict has cooled in late 2016, while others have returned to the United States or stayed on in Ukraine and attempted to put down roots there . At the same time, extremists in the United States, like their counterparts in Western Europe, Canada and Australia, have looked to the volunteer battalions in Ukraine for inspiration and tactical advice in their desire to wage an insurrectionary war for white power at home.
Two former volunteers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Triad City Beat that many of the foreign volunteers suffer from mental-health disorders.
“They’re young kids, and they have no idea,” one of the former volunteers said. “They have PTSD. And they have mental issues. These guys are idiots basically… lost boys…. A lot of people have lost their way. They’re wanting to be accepted, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, fuck the Jews. Fuck the n****ers.’”
Through a review of leaked internet chats, public social-media pages and federal court documents, along with interviews with former volunteer fighters, TCB has uncovered new details of how the ultranationalist battalions in Ukraine have opened recruitment channels through US neo-Nazis and how American volunteers have participated in neo-Nazi flash rallies upon their return from Ukraine. TCB’s investigation particularly shows linkages between the Ukrainian volunteer battalions and two American organizations — Atomwaffen Division and Patriot Front. Azov’s relationship with the California-based neo-Nazi group Rise Above Movement, whose members visited Kyiv to participate in mixed martial arts competition in April 2018, has been previously reported.
The social-media posts and leaked internet chats by roughly a dozen former volunteers show a glorification of war coupled with memes inciting violence against refugees, nostalgia for the 1970s military campaign to preserve white rule in present-day Zimbabwe, slogans like, “America is a white nation,” and quotations by Julius Evola, a philosopher widely admired by fascists.
“Yes, these are indicators that these individuals may be going down a dangerous radicalization pathway,” said Jason Blazakis, a former State Department official under Presidents Obama and Trump in an email to TCB. “It is impossible to say whether they’d directly turn to violent acts, however. They very well could end up trying to spur others to commit acts of violence by working online to red-pill potential like-minded individuals to turn to violence.”
Blazakis now directs the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
The United States has backed the Ukraine in the war. And while a provision of the 2018 spending bill blocks US arms from going to Azov, many analysts believe it’s impossible to enforce, considering that Azov is part of the Ukrainian government. Meanwhile, President Trump faces impeachment over the question of whether he abused his authority as president by temporarily suspending military aid and withholding a meeting with President Zelensky in an effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to pursue an investigation into his political rival.
Azov, along with its political wing National Corps, and Right Sector both promote a concept known as “Reconquista,” a historic reference to Christians reclaiming control over present-day Spain from the Moors in the 1400s. While the Azov Battalion has been incorporated into the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior, Right Sector describes itself as a “national liberation movement” and operates outside the formal control of the Ukrainian armed forces and police.
In a July 2015 interview on the Azov podcast, Olena Semenyaka, a spokesperson for the National Corps, made a direct connection between Reconquista and the concept of loss — not just of Ukrainian sovereignty but also of Europe as a whole.
“We understand the development of the modern world, and we want to change it,” Semenyaka said. “We try to reconstruct the problem of this European decline, so to speak. And we want to start a revolt against it. Reconquista, revolt, revolution — of course all of them are homological concepts which are quite understandable to European right-wingers and other educated persons.
“And we talk about the space of Eastern Europe and the whole Ukraine, which undergoes revolution and now becomes the vanguard of this Reconquista,” Semenyaka continued. “From this space — Eastern Europe — it will expand to the Western European and the whole world because, of course, everything is connected today.”
In a Russian-language version of the podcast, Semenyaka more sharply articulated the racial dimensions of the movement.
“We are not resigning ourselves to the boundaries of thinking in terms of a single region,” Semenyaka said, according to a translation published by the UK-based investigative outfit Bellingcat.
“We defend not only the Ukrainian nation, national identity, but also the Slavic element, the European element, and in the end — the white race.”
Semenyaka did not respond to a Facebook message from TCB.
The recent release of the contents of the defunct Iron March website — a global forum for neo-Nazis that operated from 2011 to 2017 — provides further insight into how Azov and Right Sector energized neo-Nazis around the world, including within the United States.
“We need something that appeals to American history, to a sense of shared racial identity, but also to our mission and future goals,” an anonymous user wrote on Iron March in 2015, using language strikingly close to that of American Vanguard, a neo-Nazi group established in California in 2016. “I think we can take inspiration from Right Sector in this regard. I like there [sic] motto of ‘European Reconquista.’ It appeals to the shared past of Europe, a shared identity, and outlines their mission to carry on the work of European Christendom to drive out the foreign invaders.
“Wouldn’t the American equivalent be something like ‘Manifest Destiny’?” the post continues. “What do people think of that name? I feel it pulls from our past as a nation, a shared racial identity, a line of continuity from our ancestors who settled this country to us today, and shows we wish to carry on their mission. The mission to create a nation for the white man here on this continent as ordained by God and fought for by our ancestors.”
American Vanguard changed its name to Vanguard America in early 2017. During the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. a man named James Fields carried a Vanguard America shield and then rammed his car into a group of antiracist marchers, murdering Heather Heyer. In the weeks following the public-relations black eye, a Dallas native named Thomas Rousseau seized control of the organization and rebranded it as Patriot Front.
In a January 2018 discussion in the “Front and Center” channel, a forum for Patriot Front members, Thomas Rousseau, the leader of Patriot Front, outlined a vision of American society breaking down through a corrosion of trust in democratic institutions. The chats were part of a massive leak published by Unicorn Riot, a decentralized media collective.
“The territory map of the Balkanization, or whatever you would call it, is going to look a lot like the electoral one,” Rousseau wrote. “The United States as a government won’t survive, not as we know it, but the local systems of self-governing and the communities in that red [area] there will. From there it isn’t conventional warfare any more than it is cultural.”
Democracy is destined to fail, Rousseau argued, providing an opening for white supremacists to seize power.
“South Africa usually isn’t an example to follow, I am aware, but a very, very small minority of Boers and Afrikaners effectively ruled and sustained a society because they had power, and voting was not in the picture,” Rousseau said. “The failure came once power was a matter of counting heads.”
‘WE PRACTICE ALWAYS AT WAR’
The first inkling of the Ukraine conflict’s role in fueling transnational white supremacy came to many observers through reports that showed Brenton Tarrant, who live-streamed his massacre of 51 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019, wearing the “black sun” symbol, which is incorporated into Azov’s insignia, on his jacket. Tarrant indicated in his manifesto that he had visited Ukraine, although there’s no additional evidence to back his claim. (Azov has publicly condemned Tarrant, and declared that he has never had any contact with the organization.)
The Iron March leaks reveal that from July through September 2015, several members of the forum communicated with an individual who represented themselves as an emissary of Azov. And in February 2015, a user named “Palmer” referred a prospective recruit from Europe to Semenyaka, writing, “She is the person I was coordinating with.”
One of the Iron March users who reached out to Azov through the forum was Brandon Russell, a Florida Army National Guard member who founded the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division in 2015. Atomwaffen is linked to five murders, and requires prospective members to read Siege, a book by neo-Nazi James Mason that promotes an idea called accelerationism. The group’s propaganda utilizes shocking rhetoric and gory visuals to call for societal breakdown through escalating violence. In addition to the Third Reich, members glorify Charles Manson and claim to practice Satanism.
Using the name “Odin,” Russell greeted the anonymous representative on Iron March in July 2015, describing himself as “an avid supporter of the Azov Battalion.” He added, “I’d like some advice from you about my militia that I lead in the US.”
The anonymous user happily obliged, recommending running to keep in shape, night walking, coordinating artillery fire through radio communication and blowing up bridges, while also advising “to learn combat medicine.” They closed, “Also we practice always at war.”
Russell is now in federal prison at FCI Terre Haute in Indiana serving a five-year sentence for possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.
Another Atomwaffen member, Devon Arthurs, posting under the name “The Weissewolfe,” inquired about volunteering with Azov in August 2015. He exulted in January 2016 that Misanthropic Division — a group linked to both Azov and Right Sector — had vandalized a Holocaust memorial, writing, “Kiev will be cleansed.”
Arthurs, who caused controversy within the neo-Nazi movement by converting to Islam, is facing charges for the 2017 murder of two fellow Atomwaffen members, Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk.
In August 2016, Kent McLellan a Florida man whose Iron March profile described him as “a skinhead ongoing 16 years, politician and militarist fascist,” messaged the forum’s founder, a Russian man named Alexander “Slavros” Mukhitdinov. Attempting to smooth over a controversy among members concerning the Ukraine conflict, McLellan claimed that he was former leader of Misanthropic Division in the United States, adding, “I still work closely with the DUK on foreign recruitment and such. Needless to say, not too many people get through.”
DUK likely refers to Ukrainian Volunteer Corps — Right Sector, the military wing of Right Sector, known by its Ukrainian initials as DUK PS.
McLellan, 29, is currently serving a four-year prison sentence in Florida for multiple charges related to meth trafficking.
Right Sector could not be reached for this story.
‘TOO NAZI’ FOR AZOV
Nate Morris, who now lives in the US Northeast, was one of the first American volunteers in Ukraine, fighting with Right Sector from 2014 to 2016.
“I served reconnaissance with a three-man squad working up to 5 kilometers behind enemy lines up to five days at a time,” Morris told TCB in an email. “I also served medical assistance to soldiers and civilians.”
He shared Misanthropic Division posts multiple times on account on VK — a Russian social-media platform similar to Facebook — during his time in Ukraine. In response to questions from TCB about his affinity with Misanthropic Division, Morris used the analogy of rowdy fans who give their team a bad name. He heaped scorn on McLellan, adding that he had to google him to figure out who he was.
“If it’s that dude with the face tattoos, he looks like a real asshole,” Morris said. “And a meth-head on top of it? Pff, please. What a bonehead. Definitely not Right Sector material.”
In an Instagram comment to Craig Lang, another American volunteer, Morris described himself as “too Nazi” for Azov. Acknowledging the comment to TCB, Morris said his intention “was just to stop him from glorifying idiots.”
Morris said he had watched YouTube videos of Nick Griffin, a notorious British neo-Nazi who has made statements denying the Holocaust and called on the European Union to sink boats carrying migrants.
“I don’t identify as a Nazi or a National Socialist,” Morris told TCB. “My affiliation is pan-Germanism. I think National Socialism is a valid form of government, though, just needs to be updated.” He also said, “I believe Germanic culture is the best culture. America was founded by mostly German people.”
He said he believes the Germans were the victims, not the aggressors in World War II, while expressing a kind of watered-down Holocaust denial.
“I don’t deny Jews died in the Holocaust, that is just ignorance,” he said. “I do think there is a lot of misinformation behind a lot of events as justification to punish Germans, and create the Israeli state.”
Morris said his Facebook account was disabled because he posted a meme that said, “Save bees, not refugees.”
Although a variation popular on the far right says, “Help more bees… shoot refugees,” Morris contends that his post is not “extremist.”
“Give money to science, not people who can’t defend their own freedom and need to hide in our countries,” he told TCB.
Craig Lang, who grew up near Greenville in eastern North Carolina, was discharged from the US Army in 2014. A year earlier, he had been jailed after threatening to kill his wife, going AWOL from Fort Bliss and driving 1,800 miles to his wife’s home in Harnett County, where he was charged with assault for pulling a gun on her neighbor. According to his wife’s testimony, Lang had threatened suicide multiple times, and had to be hospitalized on base during one episode. The two are no longer married.
After his discharge, Lang struggled to find work and keep up with child-support payments. The war in Ukraine beckoned.
Lang traveled to Ukraine in 2015, fighting with Right Sector as early as June, based on a photo posted by a fellow volunteer on social media. That summer, according to news accounts, members of Right Sector attempted to disrupt the first LGBT Pride parade in Kyiv and later exchanged gunfire with police in southwestern Ukraine while maintaining a roadblock and demanding the resignation of the interior minister.
Valeriy Akimenko, an analyst for the Conflict Research Centre in the United Kingdom, told TCB that DUK PS, as Right Sector’s military wing is popularly known, “continues to function in a legal vacuum. It has no official status, but neither is it expressly outlawed. Some time ago, Ukraine’s military prosecutor likened it to an illegal combatant force, but rowed back immediately as he proceeded to talk about its heroes.”
Lang, the US Army veteran, was described in a Vice article — and by former volunteers who spoke to TCB on condition of anonymity — as a first point of contact in Ukraine for Americans hoping to join the fight against the Russian separatists in the east.
At the end of 2015, Right Sector’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, announced he was leaving, creating a split. The schism appears to have prompted some of the foreign fighters to look for a new arrangement. In early March 2016, Quinn Rickert, another American volunteer, indicated in a private Facebook message obtained by TCB that Lang had arranged for them to join Georgian National Legion, a battalion of foreign fighters under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces. But by the summer of 2016, Lang had rejoined Right Sector.
Speaking to a reporter from Vice, Lang described himself as a “strict constitutionalist” and someone who despised communism. Other volunteers who spoke to TCB on condition of anonymity said that Lang is not particularly politicized or right-wing in his views. Unlike some other volunteers, he wasn’t known to throw Hitler salutes or bash Jews, they said. If anything, Lang didn’t seem to exercise much discretion in his personal associations.
In June 2016, while he was serving with Right Sector, Lang connected on Facebook with a South Carolina native named Jarrett William Smith. The FBI would later say the messages exchanged between the two “highlight Lang’s mentorship to Smith as he prepared for Smith to join him in fighting in Ukraine.” According to the FBI, Smith expressed a desire to join the Azov Battalion.
“Alright, I’ll forward you over to the guy that screens people; he’ll most likely add you soon,” Lang told Smith, according to the FBI. “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.”
The two men stayed in contact, and at one point, the FBI alleges, they met in person in El Paso, Texas, home to Fort Bliss.
Smith did not travel to Ukraine, but instead joined the US Army — his backup plan, he said, if he was unable “to find a slot in Ukraine” by October 2016.
In December 2018, while enlisted in the Army, Smith allegedly led a group chat on Facebook that included Lang, in which Smith discussed his ability to build IEDs.
“Oh yeah, I got knowledge of IEDs for days,” he reportedly said. “We can make cell phone IEDs in the style of the Afghans. I can teach you that….”
Smith now faces federal charges of distributing explosives information and threatening interstate communication.
A federal magistrate ordered him to be held without bond pending his trial, citing a report from Smith’s post-Miranda interview with the FBI finding that “he gives information out freely to people who may use it for harm, for the glory of Quayinism, and his religion of anti-kosmik Satanism. He wants to cause chaos, as it brings back the realm of his religious beliefs, through the destruction of the universe….
“Smith said the idea of chaos in the world is a disruption, and he can be an agent of chaos by enabling people with his knowledge,” the FBI report continues. “Smith said that if the death of people isn’t affecting him, he doesn’t see an issue. Smith said that if chaos results in the death of people, and he provided information to them, it doesn’t affect him.”
‘MAKE WAR, NOT LOVE’
Alex Zwiefelhofer, a Wisconsin native whose father is the chief of police for the town of Bloomer, went AWOL from Fort Bragg in 2016. After unsuccessfully attempting to join the French Foreign Legion, he made his way to Ukraine.
In contrast to his mentor, Craig Lang’s outward presentation as a laconic warrior, Zwiefelhofer’s social media posts display a younger generation’s predisposition towards irony and shock value.
Zwiefelhofer’s posts on Facebook and Instagram include a photo of a young American GI in Vietnam wearing a helmet inscribed with the words “Make war, not love,” a T-shirt with the words, “Help more bees… shoot refugees,” a photo of himself wearing a narrow Hitler moustache, and a racist meme depicting white mercenaries gunning down black people in thatched huts that references the armed struggle to preserve white rule in present-day Zimbabwe.
The cause of preserving white, minority rule in what was then called Rhodesia is an early example of transnational white-supremacist organizing, according to a recent report from the Soufan Center, which indicates that as many as 2,300 Americans, including members of the John Birch Society and neo-Nazis, traveled there to join the fight between 1965 and 1980. Harold Covington, a white supremacist who helped build the coalition of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members that carried out the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, had previously served as a volunteer in Rhodesia. And the Rhodesian cause has continuing resonance in the white supremacist movement: Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black parishioners at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, SC in 2015, looked to Covington for inspiration and created a website called “The Last Rhodesian.”
Zwiefelhofer and Lang appear to have grown bored as the war in Ukraine settled into a stalemate in late 2016, and in early 2017 they went looking for the next fight. They were detained by Kenyan authorities in 2017 while attempting to enter South Sudan to fight the Islamist group al-Shabaab, and were deported back to the United States. Zwiefelhofer was questioned by Customs and Border Protection officials when he flew into Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The authorities allegedly found child porn when they searched Zwiefelhofer’s phone, leading to state criminal charges.
After skipping his plea hearing in March 2018, Zwiefelhofer reportedly told WSOC-TV in Charlotte via Facebook that he was not guilty of the child porn charges, adding, “It’s best to keep a little tight-lipped when your home country calls you a terrorist for aiding a friendly nation.”
The following month Zwiefelhofer met Lang in Florida, and federal authorities alleged they planned a trip to Venezuela to join armed rebels in an attempt to overthrow socialist President Nicolás Maduro. The US government alleges that the two lured a Florida couple, Danny and Deana Lorenzo, to a church parking lot south of Fort Myers on the basis of a fake gun sale, and that one of or both of them gunned down the couple in the commission of a robbery.
The two men are charged with multiple federal offenses, including conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery; interference with commerce by robbery; conspiracy to use a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; conspiracy to kill, kidnap, or maim persons in a foreign country; and violation of the Neutrality Act.
Zwiefelhofer has pleaded not guilty and remains in federal custody awaiting trial.
Federal prosecutors in Florida issued a request for Lang’s extradition from Ukraine in late August 2019. Lang was arrested on Ukraine’s border with Moldova on a US international warrant, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty.
Dmitry Morgun, Lang’s lawyer in Kyiv, told TCB he is advising his client to not comment on the case. Morgun said Ukraine cannot extradite Lang under its laws because the United States has not made any guarantee that he won’t be subject to the death penalty. The lawyer also said the United States must agree that Lang will not be prosecuted for any crimes for which he has not been charged.
Mikael Skillt, a former neo-Nazi from Sweden who fought with Azov and now runs a global security consulting firm, told TCB that if the United States tries to extradite Lang, there will be repercussions in Ukraine.
“He has a lot of friends; he’s active in social media,” Skillt said. “He’s been involved in the war as long as anyone. If they would extradite him, there would be consequences in terms of a demonstration.”
That holds even though Lang is accused of a crime against civilians in the United States.
“The civil society, in my opinion, feels that those who helped when no one else did — in the beginning the US didn’t help — they feel they owe them something,” Skillt said.
IN RALEIGH: ‘AMERICA IS THE WHITE MAN’S LAND’
Dalton Kennedy was a member of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC, at Western Johnston High School in Benson and graduated in 2015. He began active duty in the US Army in August 2015, but left the service at the end of September, according to a status report from the Defense Manpower Data Center. The fact that Kennedy lasted less than two months in the Army means he didn’t complete Basic Training.
TCB has obtained video of Kennedy with other foreign volunteers in Ukraine, and four sources speaking on condition of anonymity have confirmed that he was in the country in 2016.
Posting in the “Front and Center” Discord channel under the name “Alfred NC” in January 2018, Kennedy, then 21 years old, said he had served in “two militaries,” although he didn’t mention his visit to Ukraine.
It’s unclear whether Kennedy actually joined a volunteer battalion or made it to the front in Ukraine. His familiarity with Alex Zwiefelhofer and Craig Lang is evidenced by Zwiefelhofer tagging Lang and Kennedy — under the username “Dalton Torni” on his now-disabled account — in a Facebook post mocking Vice magazine for its coverage of the Ukraine conflict.
In an exchange with other Patriot Front members in January 2018, Kennedy said “I did recon for a while, and that work puts regular infantry life to shame.” And he advised: “Shoot, move, communicate, kill. If you fail any of three, the fourth changes to die. Moving and communicating properly, and then shooting under said stress is hard.” He also shared: “I unironically worked as an EMT for a year via YouTube videos. Their power is astounding.”
Another user posting as “Puffing” on Discord indicated that he also had been in Ukraine.
Posting in November 2018, Puffing said he was 21 years old and had been “raised on a rural compound” in Montana, “then on a farmstead in rural NC,” and that he was homeschooled.
“I spent some time in the Third World trying to find myself,” Puffing said, evidently referring to Ukraine. “All I found was disease and death.” He added: “I felt the need [to] not only be in the Third World, but to be in a warzone.” Referencing his combat experience, “Puffing” specified that he had served in the Ukrainian Army.
Puffing acknowledged that he was “Alfred’s buddy from NC,” and the chats reveal that he and Kennedy participated in a torch rally with about 25 Patriot Front members at the University of Texas at Austin in November 2017, traveling to and from the rally with another Patriot Front member from Florida.
Kennedy appears to revel in his neo-Nazi beliefs in his posts in the “Front and Center” channel. He posted a photograph of himself giving a sieg heil straight-arm salute in front of a building at Campbell University in North Carolina while he and a friend were furtively posting fliers on the campus. And in one of his posts he identified himself as “natsoc,” short for National Socialism.
A string of posts in December 2017 particularly demonstrate the depths of Kennedy’s ideological commitment. He wrote, “HITLERJUGEND DID NOTHING WRONG,” and, “Only whites have souls because we’re higher creatures due to our Hyperborean blood.”
Patriot Front members discussed Balkanization — a concept embraced by many white supremacists — as a mechanism for achieving the whites-only society that they seek.
In addition to posting fliers at Campbell University, Kennedy’s posts on “Front and Center” chronicle him hanging a banner from an overpass in Raleigh on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018 declaring “America is a white man’s land.” And earlier that month, he told his comrades that he posted fliers at a Democratic Socialists of America office in Durham.
Later that year, in August, when antiracists toppled the Silent Sam Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill, Kennedy joined a crowd of angry monument supporters watching from the sidelines, according to an anonymous source with direct knowledge of the incident.
Several months later, on Memorial Day weekend in 2019, about 20 members of Patriot Front held a flash rally at the Unsung Founders memorial, which honors the black enslaved persons who built UNC-Chapel Hill. More recently, Patriot Front activists posted stickers in downtown Greensboro on Winter Solstice 2019 and Winston-Salem, Raleigh and Wilmington on Christmas Eve, part of an ongoing nationwide propaganda campaign.
On July 1, 2019, FBI Special Agent James Roncinske interviewed “DK” — who is likely Dalton Kennedy — in Buckhannon, W.Va., according to an affidavit filed last month. “DK” told Roncinske that he had communicated with Lang and Zwiefelhofer via Facebook Messenger in 2018, and that “DK” had declined two invitations from Lang to join him in a military expedition in Venezuela. Kennedy also reportedly told Roncinske that he met Lang and Zwiefelohofer in Raleigh in May or June 2018.
Kennedy could not be reached for this story. James Kennedy, his father, told TCB he had no knowledge of his son’s travels to Ukraine or his white supremacist activity.
“I mean, he wasn’t raised that way,” James Kennedy said. “He’s got black and Spanish and all kinds of things in his family. It’s weird to me.”
Matthew Ryan Burchfield, another individual confirmed by two sources to have been in Ukraine, attended a rally in support of Silent Sam shortly after the toppling. Burchfield was doxed in May 2019 by an anonymous group known as Atlanta Antifascist, which accused him of being a neo-Nazi.
Burchfield confirmed in a Facebook message to TCB that he is currently in Ukraine. Burchfield said he went to Ukraine as a food tourist and that his trip has nothing to do with far-right activism. But he declined to comment on the claim by Atlanta Antifascist that he’s a neo-Nazi. Asked about his presence at the Silent Sam rally in Chapel Hill, Burchfield responded: “Was in the area and figured I’d see what was going on.”
‘I DON’T FEAR DEATH AT ALL’
The footage shows two foreign volunteers dressed in military fatigues with caps bearing the Right Sector insignia outside a training camp north of Kyiv. The younger man, identified as “Ty,” shifts uncomfortably as the other man, a Norwegian former neo-Nazi and bank robber named Joachim Furholm, explains his motivation for joining the fight.
When it was his turn to speak, Ty, who had no previous military experience, told documentary filmmaker Emile Ghessen: “I would have full-on dreams night after night after night of being here, and serving here. And it just got to the point where I couldn’t get it off my mind.
“I don’t fear death at all,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if I die here or anywhere else in the world. You’re gonna die anyway. I know for a fact that if I didn’t come here, on my deathbed I’d regret not coming here.”
TCB has confirmed through Facebook posts and two anonymous sources who were in Ukraine that “Ty” is Ty Wingate Jones, a 22-year-old who grew up in Harnett County.
Jones’ Facebook page reflects a fascination with right-wing violence, including sharing YouTube videos made by a Nazi World War II re-enactor and a series of photos of the Rhodesian Army in combat, a news article about vigilantes kidnapping refugees on the Bulgaria-Turkey border, and a meme expressing admiration for Otoya Yamaguchi, a 17-year-old Japanese ultranationalist who murdered the head of the Japan Socialist Party during a political debate in 1960.
And in a thread on a family member’s Facebook page, Jones promoted racist stereotypes, characterizing “listening to rap,” “cussing,” “using drugs” and “being degenerate” as characteristics of “your mainstream black,” in contrast to a “normal” black person who “is no different from white.”
Later in his film, Ukraine — Europe’s Forgotten Ward: Robin Hood Complex, Ghessen conducted a second interview with Furholm, who had by that time been kicked out of the volunteer battalion. At the time, Furholm was staying at an abandoned holiday park on the outskirts of Kyiv that was owned by National Corps. He was angry at the Norwegian government, whom he blamed for his ejection from the volunteer battalion, and hinted that he would organize a group of supporters to take revenge.
“Let us say theoretically that I were to go on a terrorist, guerilla campaign against the government,” Furholm told Ghessen. “Then it would not be very clever to speak about my acts and intents and actions and plans for an interview so they can see it. I guess it will be a surprise. If I survive, we’ll find out, won’t we?”
It’s unclear whether Furholm and Jones have remained in contact. Jones could not be reached for this story, but a Facebook post by his mother indicates that he was working on a fishing operation in Alaska this past summer, and then joined his family for an elk hunt in Colorado in October.
‘WORK IN SUPPORT OF OUR UNCLE’
Aaron Harford was living in California and estranged from his wife and children in Arkansas at the beginning of 2016, and the 39-year-old’s marriage was falling apart. According to a criminal complaint filed by Investigator Jason Jackson — now the chief of police in Arkadelphia — prior to his return to Arkansas, Harford “sent numerous threatening text messages” to his wife “threatening to kill her with a knife, blow up their family home, and other threats of bodily harm.”
Harford told TCB he couldn’t remember making the statements, but Chief Jackson noted in his affidavit that he has copies of them.
“Is it okay to threaten someone with six months in prison over something on Facebook?” Harford asked in an interview with TCB.
In December 2016, with an arrest warrant hanging over him, Harford tweeted at Mikael Skillt, the Swedish former neo-Nazi who had served with Azov, indicating his interest in connecting. It’s unclear whether Skillt ever responded.
In June 2018, Harford emailed a judge, according to a document on file in the Arkansas state court system, apologizing for not showing up in court to face a charge of terroristic threatening.
“I am doing work in support of our Uncle, and am unable to comply [with the court order] despite my desire to do so and be legal,” Harford wrote. “The work means I will be out of contact for months, possibly years, but I will do my utmost to make my family proud, and hopefully someday both you and they will understand the path I am taking.”
Harford makes no secret of the fact that he is currently in Ukraine, and his LinkedIn page identifies him as a medical volunteer with “3rd Battalion DUK PS,” the acronym for Ukrainian Volunteer Corps — Right Sector. Harford told TCB that he attended a Dec. 8 protest in Kyiv to warn President Zelensky against making any concessions to Russia.
Harford said the idea that he’s a white supremacist is ludicrous, considering that he’s descended from Ukrainian Jews.
Asked about his statement to Judge Gregory Vardaman that he was supporting “our Uncle,” Harford told TCB that he meant was that he was “serving American ideals.” But he quickly added that he’s become disillusioned with the United States, which he said has become “repressive.”
“It’s become a police state,” he said. “I tried to deal with that system for two years…. It was almost impossible to deal with any of the demands that were put on me there. They bury you under a mountain of illegality and rules, and make it impossible for you to live your life.”
‘…UNTIL SOME KIND OF BOILING POINT IS REACHED’
A tip in late March 2019 led the FBI to Jarrett William Smith’s Facebook page, and the agency received a report that Smith had disseminated guidance on how to build IEDs and had spoken about his desire to travel to Ukraine to fight with Azov.
In addition to staying in touch with Craig Lang by Instagram in 2019, Smith befriended Joffre Cross, a Patriot Front member in Houston on VK. In 2007, Cross pleaded guilty to federal charges after admitting to stealing morphine and body armor from Fort Bragg, and offering them for sale to a cooperating source working for the FBI who was posing as a white supremacist. He currently faces state charges in Texas for illegally possessing firearms and body armor as a convicted felon. Cross participated in the “Front and Center” channel on Discord under the moniker “502ssOtto” during the same period that Dalton Kennedy was active on the channel.
An anonymous manifesto shared by Cross on his VK page and liked by Smith on Aug. 5, 2019 gives some insight into Cross’s ties to the wider neo-Nazi movement and the analysis shared by the two men.
Entitled, “Fourth Generation Civil War,” the manifesto predicts that American citizens who want to see a reduction in immigration will become radicalized by government inaction, and gradually come to support the goal of a white ethno-state. “As the cycle of disenfranchisement and radicalization continues,” the manifesto declares, “it is likely that the amount and frequency of violence will increase until some kind of boiling point is reached.”
On Aug. 19, 2019, Smith spoke to a law enforcement “confidential source” in an online chat group about looking for more “radicals” like himself, killing members of “antifa” and destroying cell towers or a news station, according to the FBI.
On Sept. 20, using the handle “Anti-Kosmik 2182,” Smith exhorted fellow white supremacists on the app Telegram to burn down the house of antifascist podcaster Daniel Harper. As the Daily Beast reported, one Telegram user published a video showing himself driving by Harper’s house in Michigan. That inspired this advice from Smith: “Ditch the car somewhere a few blocks away, take back alleys, trails in the woods, etc., and then come up on the house wearing a mask. I’m not saying do anything illegal, but I am saying it would be a real shame if all he has went up in literal flames.”
When news broke of Smith’s arrest on Sept. 23, Cross hailed him as a “POW” on his VK page, while lamenting, “We gotta be smarter than talking to people we don’t know thoroughly in real life about anything questionable.”
Michael German, a former special agent with the FBI who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, cautions that a history of committing crime, particularly violent crime, is a far better predictor of future violence than racist or extremist posts on social media.
German, who infiltrated white-supremacist groups as an undercover agent in the FBI, also discounts the radicalization theory, which US law enforcement has primarily applied to Muslim foreign fighters, as opposed to the white supremacists who are responsible for the largest share of domestic terrorist acts in the United States in recent years.
“If you look at research on foreign fighters, the concept is that once somebody has made that decision to fight in a foreign conflict, if they’re Muslim, their mind is altered in a way that is fundamentally dangerous,” German told TCB. “This concept of radicalization says that if someone has been exposed to this ideology, their mind is supposedly so radicalized that even if they’ve abandoned the battlefield, their mind is altered for the rest of their life. There have been studies of foreign fighters. They have not been found to be a significantly greater threat to their home country.”
Nate Morris, the American volunteer who fought in Right Sector from 2014 to 2016, frequently posts photographs of firearms on his Instagram page, along with photos of himself with his dog, German beer, food and the construction sites that chronicle his work life. In October 2018, he also posted a photo of an Interstate exit sign for Newtown and Sandy Hook, in Connecticut, writing, “Storm Sandy Hook.”
It was a joke, he told TCB. Morris said when he saw the exit sign, he started thinking about a ridiculous theory promoted by the media provocateur Alex Jones blaming the US government for the Sandy Hook shooting because it took place less than two months after Hurricane Sandy. “I am not a Jones follower,” Morris said in an email message to TCB. “He’s a clown. I drove by the exit, and it reminded me of that idiot, of all things.”
Morris said he is not a terrorist. “I have a squeaky-clean record,” he said. “Not even a parking ticket. I’m not a violent person.”
Morris said his war has ended.
“I want to start a family and travel with them before I get too old,” he said. “I’m 36 in four weeks, and never married. I’m not a person to enjoy others’ suffering. Life is good. I really feel sorry for the civilians in Ukraine who have to witness war every day. It’s a miserable life, especially for the elderly.”
Another former volunteer who spoke on condition of anonymity took a philosophical stance, arguing that hate and love persist in the world simultaneously. But he acknowledged there is a segment of the foreign fighter population that causes him concern.
“It’s worrying that people who are free and easy in Ukraine, who recite from American History X and talk about putting your teeth on the curb. These people who are lost and they’re looking for a cause are out there,” he said.
“You’re having domestic citizens from the US coming over here and they’re bringing their crap back to your doorstep,” the former volunteer continued. “It’s not good. These guys coming out here waving guns — it’s easy. You can arrive at the airport in Kyiv, and before you know it you can be on the frontline.”
- Al-Shabaab — short for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, a jihadist fundamentalist group based in East Africa that’s aligned with al-Qaeda
- Atomwaffen Division — neo-Nazi group founded in Florida in 2015 that promotes societal collapse through chaos and violence, inspired by Charles Manson
- Azov Battalion — ultranationalist militia that is integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard
- Georgian National Legion — battalion of foreign fighters integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces
- Iron March — secret global neo-Nazi internet forum that was active from 2011 to 2017
- Misanthropic Division — worldwide neo-Nazi network with links to Azov and Right Sector
- National Corps — political wing of Azov
- Patriot Front — US neo-Nazi group formerly known as Vanguard America, and before that, American Vanguard
- Right Sector — ultranationalist militia that operates outside of the formal command structure of the Ukrainian military and police
- Devon Arthurs — Atomwaffen Division member facing murder charges in the deaths of two fellow Atomwaffen members
- Matthew Ryan Burchfield — American volunteer who has visited Ukraine
- Joffre Cross — Patriot Front member, U.S. Army veteran
- Joachim Furholm — Norwegian national who volunteered in Ukraine, active in the neo-Nazi scene in Norway before coming to Ukraine
- Aaron Harford — Right Sector medical volunteer from Arkansas
- Jason Jackson — chief of police in Arkadelphia, Ark.
- Ty Wingate Jones — American volunteer who has visited Ukraine
- Dalton Kennedy — American volunteer who has visited Ukraine, active with Patriot Front and other white supremacist groups
- Craig Lang — U.S. Army veteran who fought with Right Sector and Georgian National legion in Ukraine, now wanted for double murder in Florida
- Kent McLellan — neo-Nazi skinhead in Florida who claimed to recruit for Right Sector
- Nate Morris — American who volunteered in Ukraine with Right Sector
- Alexander “Slavros” Mukhitdinov — founder of Iron March, a global neo-Nazi forum
- Puffing — Discord username for Patriot Front member who claimed to have combat experience in Ukraine
- Thomas Rousseau — leader of Patriot Front
- Brandon Russell — founder of Atomwaffen Division
- Olena Semenyaka — spokesperson for National Corps
- Mikael Skillt — former neo-Nazi from Sweden who fought with Azov Battalion in Ukraine and now runs a global security firm
- Jarrett William Smith — U.S. Army soldier who faces federal charges for attempting to disseminate information about explosives
- Brenton Tarrant — Australian terrorist who murdered 51 Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019
- Viktor Yanukovych — former pro-Russian president of Ukraine who was ousted during the 2014 Maidan uprising
- Dmytro Yarosh — Right Sector leader who left the organization in 2015
- Volodymyr Zelensky — president of Ukraine, elected in April 2019
- Alex Zwiefelhofer — U.S. Army soldier who went AWOL and joined Right Sector in Ukraine, now in federal custody awaiting trial for charges related to a double murder in Florida