Christopher Pohlhaus
© Stephanie Keith/Getty ImagesChristopher Pohlhaus leads a rally with neo-Nazi groups Blood Tribe and Goyim Defense League in Orlando, Florida, on 2 September 2023.
Like mainstream Republicans blocking military aid, American rightwing extremists are disavowing a war they once admired.

Two years into the war in Ukraine, once a destination for American extremists, many within the underground far-right movement in the US are avidly disavowing it and advising followers to stay away. Extremists now see the upcoming election year as tailor-made for activism on the home front.

At the outset of the war, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an intelligence bulletin that far-right American extremists were heading to the conflict and could use it to hone terrorist skills to bring back stateside.

After an open call for international volunteers, the Ukrainian military attracted nearly 20,000 fighters from around the world. Within weeks, there were already so-called American "Boogaloo Bois" flying out.

In a November 2023 audio message on Telegram, the ex-Marine Christopher Pohlhaus - the leader of neo-Nazi network the Blood Tribe known for its racist and homophobic protests across the US - recently told followers he was not allowing his "guys" to join in the conflict.

"I will still continue to support the struggle of the people there," said Pohlhaus before explaining how a disagreement with his personal ally and Russian militia leader fighting for Ukraine, Denis Nikitin (whom Pohlhaus infamously pledged allegiance to over the summer), caused the group to cut ties.

"I'm not going to allow our guys, my guys' efforts and blood to go towards [the war]," he said.

According to him, though several of his members had been "super stoked and preparing to go to Ukraine", they would pivot all of their money and resources to focusing on domestic activism, particularly their hate rallies, seeing no benefit to fighting in the war. In the same message, Pohlhaus, who confirmed the recording to the Guardian via text message, acknowledged that he was one of the last public-facing neo-Nazi leaders in the US to support the war in Ukraine.

For its part, the DHS did not respond to multiple emails from the Guardian on whether it was continuing to track rightwing extremists traveling to Ukraine.

Whether or not Pohlhaus was serious about the war is another question. Some within the broader US neo-Nazi movement have used the war in Ukraine as a sort of live-action role-playing scheme to build their militant credibility, even if tales of their exploits aren't true. Kent McLellan, a Floridian who worked with Pohlhaus and is known by the alias "Boneface", was outed for lying about his Ukraine war bonafides over the summer.

For its part, the Kremlin has been a relentless recruiter of neo-Nazis to its cause; the co-founder of the mercenary Wagner Group, Dmitry Utkin, not only named his organization after the Third Reich's favorite composer but had the logo for the Waffen-SS tattooed on both sides of his neck.

Comment: They're conflating the Wagner Group, mercenaries, with the Kremlin. They were not the same as anyone with two firing brain cells can see. Has the Guardian forgotten Wagner's attempted mutiny?


The war is also at a crisis point for Ukraine as the mainstream Republican party blocks aid to Kyiv in Congress over demands to first reinforce the southern border with Mexico and make draconian changes to the US's asylum system.

Within the wider web of neo-Nazi militancy, Ukraine chatter has all but evaporated with the conflict in Gaza and domestic issues outshining what was once a well-followed world event. Seeing no value in sending men to gain combat experience on the frontline, with too high a risk of death or arrest upon return, US rightwing extremists see Ukraine as a conflict with little upside.

In September, a prominent far-right publication, linked to the disbanded American neo-Nazi terror group Atomwaffen Division, boldly declared that the war not only "doesn't matter anymore to us", but it would "like to refocus" on American issues.

"Posting about a war half a world away while we have more pressing matters at home is frankly just not in our interests."

It's a sentiment that recalls statements from the Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy - who have all characterized the war as a faraway problem.

Comment: Rather transparently associating Republicans with Neo Nazis, LOL. Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy agree with Nazis! The Guardian is such a rag.

But only five years ago, Ukraine was seen as a fertile training ground for far-right extremists.

Rinaldo Nazzaro, the Russia-based former Pentagon contractor turned founder of international neo-Nazi organization the Base, told his group in a secret meeting that he saw the war as an opportunity for a potential training pipeline. And one former member of the Base, Ryan Burchfield (a Marine Corps dropout), made the trip to Ukraine in 2019 looking to join an ultranationalist militia. Not long after his arrival, Ukrainian intelligence deported Burchfield and another American for terrorist activities.

In texts to the Guardian, Nazzaro explained his view of the conflict.

"I think our guys can find adequate training elsewhere without risking their lives in Ukraine," he said, adding that the war wasn't being led by forces that had "our best interests in mind".

Joshua Fisher-Birch, an analyst of the extreme right for the Counter Extremism Project, has kept tabs on rightwing extremists and their fascination with Ukraine.

"Chatter among the American online extreme right regarding travel to Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion has decreased in the last year," he said, pointing out that in some cases talk about venturing to the war was "either never serious" or a blatant "attempt to raise money through crowdfunding, or was abandoned due to the brutal reality of the conflict or no longer seeing a goal for the American movement".

The threat of law enforcement has also acted as a major deterrent to rightwing extremists trying to join the Ukrainian war effort.

"It's also highly likely that efforts from both the US and Ukrainian governments made travel for these individuals more difficult," he said.

For European neo-Nazis, on the other hand, the conflict is on their doorstep. Unchecked Russian imperialism is still regarded as very much a close proximity threat by nationalist movements all over the continent. They see Americans and English speakers within their movement as ignorant to the reality of the Kremlin's propaganda machine.

"We do our best to be understanding of the fact that in the Anglosphere there is a different kind of echo chamber where mostly Kremlin propaganda dominates and that you have probably never even heard the truth," said one prominent European neo-Nazi account on Telegram in March last year, already noticing the slide away from the conflict among English speakers.

Comment: What planet are they living on?! Where in the 'Anglosphere' is 'Kremlin propaganda' dominating?

"With that said, there is still a limit to how much ignorance we can tolerate," the post continues. "Note that a lot of our guys have been on the frontlines themselves, and everybody here at least knows somebody who has."

European right nationalists from Scandinavia, Poland, Belarus and Russia, among other places, have served on the frontlines. But for many American extremists, the actual prospect of joining the conflict carries practical and logistical difficulties as well as involving a large degree of risk to life and limb.

"We mistake fascination with the conflict or for certain units among the far right online with their actual presence in Ukraine fighting," said Kacper Rekawek, a senior research fellow and programme lead at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and an expert on foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Rekawek said one of the major inhibitors for Americans joining the war, versus Europeans, is distance and language.

"It's far," he said, "it's in a very unknown language and it's cold out there ... It's lonely out there."