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  • It seemed like an odd way to spend a Saturday.

  • Watching the blood sports atfestival for far-right extremists.

  • This was the summer of 2019, and I had gone  to Ukraine to learn more about these groups.

  • From the crowds, one thing  seemed pretty clear about them

  • They weren't bothered by the fact that this  event was organized by the Azov movement,

  • a far-right group that has increasingly  been linked to violence around the world.

  • The shooter is linked to a 74-page manifesto  filled with white supremacist rhetoric.

  • FBI agents say he expressed a desire  to travel to Ukraine to fight with a  

  • far-right paramilitary group.

  • At least one member  of an American hate group also trained in Ukraine,

  • with Azov Battalion.

  • According to the FBI domestic  terrorists killed 39 people in fiscal year 2019

  • making it the most deadly year for domestic  terrorism since the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing.

  • The threat of white nationalism has evolved since  Oklahoma city where a domestic terrorist used

  • a truck bomb to kill at least 168 people. Police  don't tend to see such terrorists as lone wolves  

  • acting in isolation anymore. It's become clear to  law enforcement that these attackers often have  

  • links to a global network, one with common goals  and a shared ideology.

  • We are looking very hard

  • at white supremacists or Neo-Nazis here connecting  through social media online with like-minded  

  • individuals overseas and in some cases actually  traveling overseas to train.

  • Over the last few years experts in violent extremism have grown  especially alarmed about the Azov movement  

  • The group emerged from the revolution that  swept across Ukraine in 2014 and it has  

  • gotten a lot stronger amid the ongoing war  with pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine  

  • The fighting in that region has become kind of  ideal breeding ground for militias like Azov.

  • At their public events one thing that surprised  me was how many Ukrainians tend to see Azov  

  • not as militants or extremists but as war heroesIn Kiev, the capital, I watched an independence day  

  • parade where veterans of the Azov Battalion  marched alongside other volunteer militias  

  • surrounded by cheering crowds who thanked  them for defending Ukraine against Russia.

  • But even at the march there were signs of the  far-right ideology that's so common inside Azov  

  • The symbols on their flags have been especially  controversial Azov says it combines the letters  

  • I and N for "idea of nation" but extremism experts  see it as an emblem of Nazism.

  • The official symbol of Azov it's a version of Wolfsangel. It was one of the  symbols of one of the SS divisions during

  • World War II.It is one of more or less usual symbols for  Neo-Nazi groups all over the world.

  • And it's not just about their symbols when it was founded  in 2014, Azov drew many of its commanders and  

  • recruits from Ukraine's most notorious far-right  groups, including outright Neo-Nazis.

  • We basically recruited everyone who could hold weapons in  their hand when Ukrainian state was paralyzed  

  • and the defense of Ukrainian state was totally in  the hand of Ukrainian volunteers. So there were many  

  • war adventurers guys who believed that they're are on kind of an ideological tour  

  • to save maybe the future of the west and so on and  so forth so--

  • The future of the white race?

  • Yes, yes.

  • Azov's paramilitary wing is now a major  fighting force with its own bases and  

  • training grounds near the front lines of the war  against pro-Russian forces. After the veterans'  

  • parade in Kiev I interviewed Andriy Biletsky  who founded the Azov movement in 2014.

  • Azov's leaders have also tried to break into  politics. They failed to win any seats in  

  • Parliament during the most recent elections in  2019, but their plans in Ukraine are ambitious.

  • What worries officials in the west is Azov's  recruitment strategy. It's tried hard to build  

  • friendships with far-right groups around the  world especially in the U.S. and Europe.

  • During my visit in 2019, I spent a day at one of the  biggest recruitment events in Azov's history.  

  • Thousands of people showed up for a day  of fighting sports and blatant propaganda

  • There were Neo-Nazi symbols tattoos  and posters all over the place,

  • and many in the crowd seem pretty  receptive to Azov's far-right ideology.

  • Events like this also tend to attract recruits  from abroad. One of the ones I met was named  

  • Robin, who just arrived in Ukraine from Swedenwhere he told me he's wanted for hate crimes.

  • This is so hard to explain the surroundings for  someone who's watching this you know, it's surreal.  

  • It's like, I don't know, it's like something you  read about, the great Germany before, you know, in  

  • the 1920s. It's a revival of the inter-european soul. And it's all happening here in Ukraine.

  • Afterward we rode back to the Azov base in northern Kievwhere Azov commanders had allowed Robin to stay  

  • as a potential recruit.

  • We are aryans and we will  rise again. That's a-- that's a way of

  • life, you know, and after the war in Germany  we went back to the benches, uh school benches,

  • but now he will rise again.

  • Are they Neo-Nazis  as an organization? No. Have they had Neo-Nazis

  • in their organization? I would say look at the U.S.  Army and you would find Neo-Nazis as well.

  • Dave is an American expat and U.S. Military veteran who  has volunteered to help Ukraine's national guard,

  • and he's met a lot of the recruits who'd come to  join Azov.

  • You only need one of these guys to kind

  • of go home and and uh commit an act of terrorism  to then really damage the reputation of Ukraine  

  • in the eyes of the world, right? So that, I mean, that's really a risk that Ukraine faces. Do you  

  • think they're taking it seriously enough?

  • Now? Yes.

  • A few weeks later, Robin, the Swede

  • I met at that festival wrote me that he was  going to the front lines to join the fight  

  • With recruits like this, it's little wonder  that u.s officials see Azov as a threat.

  • Experts point out that the pace of white supremacist  terrorism has intensified with new incidents  

  • frequently filling the headlines. 22 gunned down  at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Two killed near  

  • a synagogue in Halle, Germany. Nine more in  an attack on two shisha bars near Frankfurt,  

  • and a series of arrests exposing far-right  terror plots across the U.S. and Europe.

  • One tally reported an increase of 320 percent in such  attacks in western countries between 2014 and 2019

It seemed like an odd way to spend a Saturday.

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Inside A White Supremacist Militia in Ukraine

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/27
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