Bottom Line Up Front
- Just this week, members of Ukrainian far-right groups were photographed attending protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government.
- White supremacy extremists likely traveled to Hong Kong to learn from and study the anti-government protests, riots, and resistance, even though they were not invited to join otherwise legitimate political protest movements.
- Protesters in Hong Kong have widely rejected the presence of Ukrainian fascists and the involvement of any extremist elements that could taint a legitimate political protest movement.
- The presence of white supremacist extremists in Hong Kong could be used by Russian and Chinese media to unjustly mischaracterize and smear pro-democracy demonstrators and infer that the protests have been hijacked by violent extremist elements, which is clearly far from the case.
Just this week, several members of Ukrainian far-right groups were photographed attending protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government. The individuals, who were not invited to Hong Kong by any people or groups associated with what are legitimate political protests, maintain linkages with Ukrainian groups that espouse neo-Nazi beliefs, including the National Corps. The group also included individuals who previously fought against pro-Russian separatists and are now former members of the Azov Battalion, a growing transnational network inspired by white supremacy extremism that has actively sought to recruit foreign fighters to its cause, including many from the West. It now seems that white supremacy extremists in Ukraine could be setting their sights on Asia as well. Known to travel extensively and representing the hooligan-based street protest movement Honor, these agitators have already visited Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Greece and elsewhere, while some members of the group also maintain contacts in the world of violent football hooliganism, which often adopts racist chants and ideologies.
In October, after a wave of negative press, the Ukrainian government began its so-called ‘demilitarization campaign’ to identify members of far-right militias and remove them from the ranks of the Ukrainian military and national guard. The leader of the National Corps, the political party of Azov, threatened the government with violent resistance unless the demilitarization campaign was suspended. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has labeled the National Corps as a “nationalist hate group” that has targeted Roma minorities in Ukraine with violence. Several of the individuals photographed in Hong Kong have obvious neo-Nazi tattoos on clear display. Described as mere ‘protest tourists’ in some media accounts, the presence of these individuals in Hong Kong could signal something far more sinister. Just as other violent extremists travel abroad to learn new tactics, techniques, and procedures, it is possible that these white supremacists traveled from Ukraine to learn from the anti-government protests, riots, and resistance in Hong Kong.
With globalization increasing unabated, and the transnational aspects of communication, transportation, and the exchange of information accelerating, protest movements are no longer confined to the geographic area where they occur. It is becoming increasingly common for individuals and groups engaging in protests or demonstrations to seek solidarity with counterparts abroad. The telegram channel associated with one of the white supremacists who traveled to Hong Kong shows a clear fascination with anti-government protests, posting imagery from the recent protests in Chile, Iran, Ecuador, and Spain. But as witnessed by the presence of white supremacist extremists from Ukraine traveling to Hong Kong, there will always be a nefarious component to be concerned about. Several of the Ukrainians were photographed wearing t-shirts with Molotov cocktails displayed, standing in front of Polytechnic University, recently the scene of violent clashes between protesters and police.
Previously, white supremacist extremists have relied on a range of activities, including mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting events, to bond and build rapport. At least one of the individuals participated in paramilitary training in Poland in 2016 and, together with another individual also present in Hong Kong this past weekend, instructed members of the National Corps in firearms training in 2017 and 2018. As violent white supremacists continue to look to expand their network abroad, individuals connected to the group are seeking to exploit unstable situations in other countries and recruit new supporters while trading best practices and lessons learned. The presence of white supremacist extremists in Hong Kong, even as interlopers, will likely be used by both Russian and Chinese media to smear the demonstrators and infer that the protests have been hijacked by violent extremist elements. Protesters in Hong Kong have widely rejected the presence of Ukrainian fascists and the involvement of any extremist elements that could taint a legitimate political protest movement.