Neo-Nazis and white supremacists from the United States and Europe have traveled to Ukraine to fight on both sides of the war with Russia, providing these extremists with valuable battlefield experience as they seek to increase their violent operations domestically, according to a report from a watchdog group monitoring the situation.
Foreign fighters from at least 35 neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and ultranationalist groups based in the United States, Canada, and Europe "have members fighting on both sides in [the] Russia-Ukraine conflict," according to an analysis from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which has been tracking the flow of extremist groups into the region.
The groups are seeking to give their allies "combat experience, saying that the training and materials given to volunteers who travel to Ukraine will be useful in a future civil war in their home countries." Americans who have joined the conflict include residents of Texas, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee, according to the report.
Though the extremists account for a small fraction of the total fighters on each side of the war, their involvement could provide members with battlefield experience and help these groups commit more sophisticated attacks in their own countries. The presence of U.S. and European extremists in Ukraine shows that these groups are taking a page from the jihadi playbook, in which foreign fighters are sent into regional hotzones to develop critical combat experience. With this knowledge, North American-based Nazi groups could amplify their efforts state-side, making MEMRI's report a vital source of information for U.S. law enforcement organizations and others. Photographs and videos unearthed by MEMRI show neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups in Ukraine with AK-47s and other munitions.
For U.S. fighters on each side of the conflict, their participation is less ideological and more practical, according to MEMRI's analysis. One American neo-Nazi posted in an online chat group in late March that he and others are "focused on the benefits of gaining combat experience, [and called] for people to 'join a paramilitary so you can learn to make explosives and become a soldier like a boss.'" The comments further lend credibility to claims that these extremist groups are hoping to bring their battlefield experience back home.
Reporter Nolan Peterson posted an image in mid-March of two "American militants, one with tape showing the neo-Nazi Totenkopf symbol on his rifle butt, on the eastern Kyiv front," according to MEMRI. "It is unclear which units the Americans are fighting with."
Additionally, "the former leader of a U.S.-based accelerationist group announced in an interview published on March 15, that he is fighting for Ukrainian forces against Russia with an unidentified 'local militia,'" according to MEMRI's report, a full copy of which includes identifying information about these individuals that is being withheld for security reasons.
"Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and antigovernment extremists in North America have volunteered to fight with Ukrainian forces for various reasons: to defeat 'mongoloid' Russia, gain experience in combat, or to install a 'pro-white' government," according to the report.
Other North American neo-Nazis say they are fighting to depose Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A Canadian volunteer included in MEMRI's report announced on Telegram, a social media site used by extremists, that he traveled to Kyiv and "is fighting in the neo-Nazi 'Bratstvo' Battalion in Kyiv. In the accompanying video, the Canadian stated: 'If I kill any Russians, know that, to the Russian soldiers, that I love you. This is not about you. I am battling your terrorist government. Putin needs to be taken down.'"
These fighters are also sharing information on social media, such as instructions on the best routes into Ukraine so foreign allies can join the front lines.
Europe-based "pro-Russian neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and ultranationalist groups" also have joined the fight and are backing Moscow.
One such group "called for individuals to support the Russian war effort to support the Russian 'empire,' Orthodox Christianity, and to fulfill their 'duty,'" according to the report. "A Hungarian ultranationalist group posted a call for members to support a neo-Nazi pro-Russia militant group, stating: 'Tradition, Christian religion, Empire! The correct image of Russian propaganda looks exactly like this.'"