Ukraine has deported two men from a notoriously violent American neo-Nazi group who tried to set up a local branch and join a far-right military unit to gain combat experience in the war-torn country, according to two Ukrainian security service officials.
The men, both US citizens, are members of the neo-Nazi group known as Atomwaffen Division (AWD), one of the Ukrainian officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News. Both officials declined to provide the men’s names and other personal information.
It was not immediately clear whether the men were being deported back to the US. A video from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) showed an agent alongside the two men with their backpacks in tow at an airport check-in counter.
The deportation of the American neo-Nazis comes as US security officials warn that violent domestic extremists, including white supremacists, pose the greatest terror threat to the US and ahead of next month’s presidential election. During last week's debate, President Donald Trump gave a shoutout to one such group of extremists, the Proud Boys.
AWD is a neo-Nazi group that emerged in 2016 alongside the US alt-right segment of the white supremacist movement, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Members of AWD have already been connected to several killings in the group’s short history, the ADL added. Five senior members were arrested in February and charged with federal crimes. The Southern Poverty Law Center said AWD is “organized as a series of terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse.”
The SBU said in a statement on its website Thursday that the two Americans “produced a video promoting neo-Nazism and urging citizens to commit particularly serious crimes, including murder and terrorist attacks” in Ukraine. The SBU said the video, screenshots of which it shared online and showed the “Atom” in Atomwaffen, was spread across social networks. BuzzFeed News has viewed the video, which was originally published in 2019. It showed several men in masks and camouflage fatigues donning what appear to be assault rifles.
The Americans carried out “illegal activities” in the capital city, Kyiv, as well as the western city of Lviv and the eastern city of Kharkiv, the SBU said. Moreover, it said, they “tried to join one of the Ukrainian military units in order to gain combat experience, which the representatives of the group planned to use in illegal activities.”
The SBU did not say when the Americans arrived in Ukraine, but it banned them from reentering the country for three years.
The US Embassy in Kyiv, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The deportation of the American neo-Nazis comes after a DHS threat assessment report on Tuesday said white supremacist extremists will remain the deadliest domestic terror threat to the US.
Since 2018, white supremacists have conducted more lethal attacks in the US than any other domestic extremist movement, demonstrating a “long-standing intent" to target people of racial and religious minority groups, LGBTQ people, politicians, and those they believe promote multiculturalism and globalization, according to the report.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf wrote in the report released this week that he is concerned about any form of violent extremism. “However, I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years,” he said.
Terrorism experts have warned about Ukraine, which is fighting a war against Russia and its separatist proxies in the country’s eastern Donbas region, becoming a fertile training ground for Western white nationalist extremists. One group of particular concern has been the far-right Azov group, which began as a volunteer battalion when the war broke out in 2014 but has since grown into a movement consisting of a political party, a vigilante unit that works closely with police, and various NGOs. The Azov Regiment was officially incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard in late 2014.
One Ukrainian official confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the Americans tried to join the Azov Regiment. To become a member of the Azov Regiment, a Ukrainian or foreigner would have to go through official channels.
American white nationalists have tried to join the ranks of Azov in recent years. In September 2019, the FBI arrested Jarrett William Smith, a 24-year-old soldier who was stationed at Fort Riley and wanted to travel to Ukraine to fight the Azov Regiment, for plotting to bomb a US news network. He was sentenced in August to two and a half years in prison.