Neo-Nazi brotherhood: How American friends of Ukrainian fascists plotted a terror attack in the US and the media ignored the story
American far-right radicals – linked to neo-Nazis from the Ukrainian Azov Battalion – have been charged with conspiring to stage a terrorist attack in Baltimore, Maryland. However, US media reporting on the story does not mention connections between the group and the militants.
Additionally, the attempted terrorist act may only be the first signs of the threat that Azov members, and their foreign friends, pose to Western countries.
In early February, the US Justice Department announced the indictment of neo-Nazis Sarah Beth Clendaniel and Brandon Clint Russell for conspiracy to destroy energy substations in Baltimore. Authorities describe the pair’s plans as “driven by their ideology of racially-motivated hatred.” If convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Beginning in June 2022, though possibly earlier, the pair plotted a series of attacks against substations using balloons and rifle fire with the goal of shorting out power transformers and depriving thousands of residents of light and heat. They specifically aimed to carry this out “when there is greatest strain on the grid” and energy demand was highest.
Russell shared maps of planned targets with Clendaniel, outlining how even low-level strikes on electrical substations could cause a “cascading failure” across Baltimore’s entire electricity grid, an impact that would be maximized by hitting multiple sites simultaneously. Clendaniel envisioned the plan would “permanently completely lay this city to waste.” in supposedly encrypted messaging app chats.
To jail and back again
Russell is the founder of Atomwaffen Division, also known as the National Socialist Resistance Front, an international neo-Nazi terrorist network. In January 2018, he was jailed for possessing an unregistered destructive device and illegally storing explosives. An FBI bomb technician claimed the material was sufficient to completely destroy an airliner and prosecutors say he planned to use it in terrorist attacks targeting civilians, nuclear facilities and synagogues across the US.
While in prison, Russell issued a video message to his followers thanking them for their “undying loyalty and courage,” and promising his incarceration would not stop Atomwaffen’s mission. He also provided them with bomb-making instructions.
“There is no room in this world for cowardly people,” he declared, quoting Adolf Hitler. “The sword has been drawn. There is no turning back.”
Despite such pronouncements and the fact Atomwaffen adherents both in the US and abroad carried out increasingly serious crimes while he was jailed, including multiple murders, Russell was released early from prison. Furthermore, he was not subject to any order banning him from contact with other members of his neo-Nazi fraternity.
It is just as remarkable that a federal bust of a domestic terror plot involving leading members of a group – who clearly pose a huge threat to public safety – has basically been completely ignored by the mainstream media and US politicians alike. After all, President Joe Biden's administration has aggressively promoted the threat of far-right, racially-motivated extremism. Officials have even gone to the extent of carrying out secret social media witch-hunts targeting white conservatives to identify - or perhaps fabricate - evidence of this danger.
What accounts for the conspiracy of silence surrounding the indictment of Clendaniel and Russell? The incident should provide ample fodder for the White House, liberal pundits, and reporters. The answer may lie in Atomwaffen’s international connections – namely to Ukraine’s notorious, brutal Azov Battalion – and the inevitable consequences of Western training, funding and sponsorship of far-right elements in that Eastern European country for so many years.
A dark, but open secret
An investigation in 2020 by the West Point Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center found that Ukraine has long-held “a particular attraction for white supremacists–ideologues, activists, and adventurers alike.”
The abundance of nationalist groups involved in 2014’s US-led Maidan coup was “electrifying to far-right individuals and groups in Europe, the US and further afield,” the investigation records. Neo-Nazis the world over began flooding Ukraine, which they considered to be a new fascist state in the making. Of particular attraction was the Azov Battalion, which “enjoyed support from within the government of then President Petro Poroshenko and the security services, despite well-documented human rights abuses.”
This marked the first time since World War II anywhere in Europe that a neo-Nazi faction – “celebrated, openly organizing, with friends in high places” – had received warm state recognition and sponsorship. Quite a few of the neo-Nazi arrivals to Kiev joined the Battalion itself or received guidance and training from its fighters.
Among them were representatives of Atomwaffen, and the relationship between the two terrorist groups has strengthened and formalized in the years since. Its European division attended Azov training camps in Ukraine, as did several of its US-based members, who were subsequently jailed for plotting violent attacks and intimidation campaigns against journalists.
While the mainstream media for many years – post-Maidan – openly acknowledged and condemned Azov’s fascist nature, coverage of these groups has virtually disappeared. Since the Russian military offensive began, last year, this inarguable reality has either been ignored, or actively whitewashed. There has been a similar shift in political attitudes to the Azov Battalion. Once prohibited by law from receiving any US government assistance, now its members are hailed as heroic freedom fighters and invited to Washington to give inspirational talks.
Are more neo-Nazi issues on the horizon?
The media’s lack of interest in reporting the ties between the founder of Atomwaffen, Russell, and the Azov Battalion is certainly concerning, but could be easily attributed to covering for Biden's administration and it support for the Kiev regime. After all, it would be difficult to maintain public backing for an extremist group that threatens its own citizens that it deems insufficiently anti-Russian, if the public were fully informed . However, there are other issues to consider – that may be just as significant – linked to the training of neo-Nazis by Azov.
In July 2022, Europol forecast an “increase in firearms and munitions trafficked into the EU via established smuggling routes or online platforms” arising from the war, and warned, “this threat might even be higher once the conflict has ended.” Since then, there have been multiple reports of weapons sent to Kiev circulating in arms black markets and being used by criminal elements.
The huge amount of weapons being sent to Ukraine – many of them unaccounted for – coupled with the influx of extremist elements joining or training with the Azov Battalion should raise red flags for the US and EU countries. The Atomwaffen’s plot in Baltimore may be just the start.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.