Boogaloo Bois arrive in Ukraine

Far-right groups in the West see the war as an opportunity to gain military experience

REUTERS/REBECCA COOK  -   Members of the Boogaloo Bois celebrate an event billed as the Unity Rally outside the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, United States, 17 October 2020

The war in Ukraine has attracted large numbers of fighters from all over the world. Volunteers and veterans from Canada, the UK, the US and even Japan and Brazil have joined the ranks of the Ukrainian army in an attempt to halt the Russian advance.

While Russia assures that these "mercenaries" will not be considered prisoners of war if they are captured, analysts fear that certain fighters will become a threat to the national security of their respective countries when they return from Ukraine.

PHOTO/Dmytro Kozatski/Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office via AP - Ukrainian soldiers inside the Azovstal steel plant (Mariupol) on 7 May 2022

This includes far-right fighters who "could gain combat experience and training in Ukraine and then use it for terrorist attacks", as Colin P. Clarke, a senior fellow at the Soufan Center, warned CNN, referring in particular to far-right European extremists. 

AFP/MATHIEU LEWIS-ROLLAND - A member of the Boogaloo Boys in front of the Oregon State Capitol building during a nationwide protest called by anti-government and far-right groups supporting US President Donald Trump

The same is true of some of the US volunteers who have chosen to travel to Ukraine to fight, such as the Boogaloo Bois. According to VICE News, members of this US far-right movement are reportedly preparing to move to Ukraine to fight. In fact, one of the movement's leaders, Mike Dunn, has been in the country since last April. The 21-year-old Virginia native has been involved in the fighting around Donetsk and, until recently, was hospitalised in a Ukrainian military hospital due to a Russian heavy artillery attack. 

REUTERS/REBECCA COOK - Members of the Boogaloo Bois

Dunn himself confirmed to VICE that he had met a couple of Americans in Ukraine who were "active Boogaloo Bois" and that he was expecting more members to arrive soon. Many of those who will arrive have been recruited by Dunn himself, who is developing his own channel to facilitate other Boogaloos moving to Ukraine. "The Boogaloo, regardless of its stance against the US government, has always been about defending those who can't defend themselves," Dunn told the US media outlet. 

AFP/MATHIEU LEWIS-ROLLAND - Members of the Boogaloo Boys remain armed in front of the Oregon State Capitol building

For this group, however, the main reason for participating in the war would not be to help the Ukrainian army against the Russian offensive, but to gain military experience. "Some right-wing extremists have seen the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to gain combat experience that would otherwise not be available to them," Joshua Fisher-Birch, a far-right expert and analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, tells VICE. 

AP/ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO - A Russian soldier walks inside the Ukrainian Azov Regiment base adorned with the unit's emblems in Yuriivka

This military experience not only serves to enhance the capabilities of the fighters travelling to Ukraine themselves, but also "to pass those skill sets on to other members," Fisher-Birch notes. 

AFP/JON CHERRY - Armed members of the militia group Boogaloo Bois at Jefferson Square Park on 13 March 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky
Origin and objectives of the Boogaloo Bois

The group - characterised by being heavily armed and wearing Hawaiian shirts - began to gain notoriety in 2020 for its strong and violent opposition to the US government and its measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to being in the media spotlight, their plans and protests against the authorities also put the Boogaloo Bois in the crosshairs of US national security services. 

AFP/JOSEPH PREZIOSO - Armed members of the Boogaloo militia in Concord, New Hampshire, on January 17, 2021, during a nationwide protest called by anti-government and far-right groups supporting US President Donald Trump.

After the demonstrations against the COVID-19 confinements came the Black Lives Matter protests. Despite the fact that many of their members identify as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, the Boogaloo Bois tried to present themselves as allies of BLM activists, denouncing police brutality against African-American citizens. However, the Boogaloo Bois were only trying to defend their own interests and achieve their goals: to destabilise the country and incite chaos.  

AFP/JON CHERRY - A member of Boogaloo Bois at Jefferson Square Park on March 13, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.

During that year, the organisation was involved in several violent incidents against the authorities in Oakland, Nevada and Minneapolis, as the VICE report recalls. The Boogaloo Bois were also involved in the assault on the Capitol in January 2021.

One of the foundations of the Boogaloo Bois' ideology is the belief that a second civil war is looming in the United States. "While Boogaloo supporters advocate preparing for an upcoming civil war, some argue that government actions - such as gun confiscation - will provoke internal conflict; while more extreme members advocate direct action against the administration to provoke a civil war," notes Jared Thompson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

REUTERS/BING GUAN - A "Firearms Unknown" Hawaiian shirt, associated with the boogaloo movement, in a gun shop in California
Ukraine, the military school for far-right groups 

The war in Ukraine is in danger of becoming a frozen conflict where ultras from various parts of the world gain military experience and then put it into practice in their respective countries. This has much to do with the Azov Battalion, which, according to a US Customs and Border Protection intelligence report, is recruiting far-right groups from various parts of the world. The report also reveals that several extremists were questioned at New York's JFK airport in March while trying to travel to Ukraine. 

AFP/DIMITAR DILKOFF - Soldiers of the Azov regiment attend the funeral ceremony of Natalia Strebkova, a serviceman of the Azov regiment, in Kiev, 4 August 2022.

Although the links between extremist groups and the Azov Battalion predate the war. As VICE reports, in 2019 Ukrainian intelligence deported two US foreign fighters for terrorist activities linked to the far-right in the country.