One of the more intriguing justifications Vladimir Putin gave for invading Ukraine was that it needed to be “de-Nazified”. The millions of Americans who never heard of Ukraine before 2022 found this to be hilariously ridiculous, since obviously if anybody was going to be compared to Hitler it was the Boomer Führer, Putin, not the toned and photogenic Ukrainian bossman Zelensky. This crew of sudden pro-Ukraine boosters is mostly of the left-wing variety in the US, albeit with a healthy dose of unrepentant W Bush neocon holdouts on the right side of the aisle as well. To these people, the “Nazi” canard was just that — an unjustified slur made up by Putin to justify his irrational war of conquest. And you can understand the attitude — Zelensky is Jewish, for gods’ sake, how could he also be a Nazi?
Of course, those of us who have paid some amount of attention to Ukraine for the past years have a different view. I first wrote about Ukraine back in 2014, during the Maidan coup, and even then there were news stories about scandalous connections between the pro-Western Ukrainian factions and various hardcore “neo-Nazi” activists like the Azov Battalion and Right Sector. However much American leftist ladies lubricate over Zelensky’s biceps, the fact is that he presides over a more-or-less right-wing civic nationalist government. Ukrainian nationalism doesn’t have much going for it in the way of ancient roots, but rather seems to define itself largely in terms of who it excludes — namely, Russians, who unfortunately comprise a large chunk of the country’s population. Russian-Ukrainians can provide a laundry list of anti-Russian policies the government has engaged in, such as the desecration of Soviet-era war memorials, the banning of Russian language instruction in schools — even in parts of the country where it is the only language people speak — and the persistent claims of violent persecution of ethnic Russians in the Donbass breakaway republics since 2014, much of which was allegedly committed by “neo-Nazi” paramilitaries like the Azov Battalion with the explicit support of the pro-Western government in Kiev.
Well, you can take that or leave it; all of it might be Russian propaganda, but it’s propaganda they’ve been consistently publishing for eight years, so kudos to them for staying on message that effectively for that long. But the question I want to address here is, is it fair to call Azov et al. “neo-Nazis”? Because as Americans on the right, a lot of us get called Nazis all the time — is it possible that Azov are just good ol’ Ukrainian patriots and Russian commie left-wingers are smearing them as Nazis, the same way the Democrats do to us? Well hey, it’s Hitler’s birthday today, so let’s find out!
With tongue firmly in cheek, may I suggest that there are six levels of Nazi-hood, and everybody falls into one of them. Let’s consider each one in turn.
Level 0 Nazis: This category is for actual communists, “democratic socialists”, and other leftist rabble. Unless you have a hammer and sickle tattoo on your skinny, pimple-covered, gender-fluid arm, you are at least a Level 1 Nazi.
Level 1 Nazis: You are a “centrist” of some sort. Maybe you think Mitch McConnell isn’t that bad, or that JFK kind of had a point wanting to do Castro in. You still think, even after the Summer of Floyd, that living in the West is probably better than living in the Congo. Most of the US political establishment falls into this category. Importantly, leftists will not distinguish between you and George Lincoln Rockwell, so you might as well go ahead and keep climbing the Nazi ladder to at least Level 2.
Level 2 Nazis: You are unabashedly right-wing, a nationalist and a patriot, just like Adolf Hitler himself. If you’re an American, you probably tear up at 4th of July fireworks and you might even unironically enjoy Lee Greenwood’s classic track “Proud to be an American”. You likely have American flag apparel, or perhaps you even fly a flag outside of your home. You probably like to shoot guns and think men should have muscles and women should wear makeup. You are absolutely intolerable to Level 0s who will likely lose control of their bladders in your presence. They will definitely call you a Nazi every chance they get. This category includes the MAGA movement and its orange autocrat, Donald J. Trump, as well as all the related worldwide movements such as Brexit, Front National, and so forth. To be fair to him, Zelensky probably fits in this bucket as well, but mysteriously American leftists give him a pass. Note that we’ve still got three levels to go, people, but this one was enough to plunge our country into a slow-motion civil war — whatever they are, the Azov Battalion is definitely higher up on the scale than this.
Level 3 Nazis: You are not only proudly right-wing and nationalist, but you are bold enough to notice that nations have biological dimensions. Maybe you aren’t a full-scale ethnonationalist, but you nevertheless understand that shared language, shared history, and shared culture are indispensable for the formation of a stable nation-state, and inevitably a group of people who share these three things will, generally speaking, also share a single, more-or-less cohesive biological heritage. In this level, you’re likely to find people who are capable of sympathizing with the movements that led to history’s most reviled political regimes (such as the actual Nazis). A typical statement you might expect from someone at this level of Nazi-hood is “Under the right economic and social pressures, you would have supported Hitler, too, and so would I.” You are not only utterly intolerable to the Level 0s, but they will be willing to forgive the Level 1 Nazis of their thoughtcrimes if they agree to pitch in with your cancellation (looking at you Mitt Romney).
Great examples of the “Level 3 Nazi” are plentiful and quite varied. Amongst relatively mainstream Americans, Pat Buchanan comes to mind — he has for decades been an unrepentant proponent of western civilization and its roots in the Western European diaspora, and his bold revisionist work Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War committed the cardinal sin of treating Hitler and Germany like human beings with real-world policy goals and incentives instead of preternatural demons who committed atrocities just for the lulz. Other examples include “far-right” writers of younger generations such as Moldbug and BAP.
I would also include in this group a wide variety of “folkish” neopagans who think spirituality and religion should be particular to a given people and their heritage, instead of universal and cookie-cutter like the Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist traditions. I would further throw in people who enjoy a lot of other edgy esoteric stuff that borrows from the same well of Germanic imagery, folklore, and philosophy that the Nazis (mis)used: e.g., the writings of Julius Evola and Savitri Devi, or bands like Burzum and Death In June, and other “National Socialist Black Metal” or “Apocalyptic Folk” acts, many of which are really good. None of this stuff is “what made the Nazis bad”: no matter how much they might trigger squeamish normies, neither rune insignia, nor totenkopfs, nor the word “Aryan”, nor theories that Indo-Europeans came from Atlantis, nor “Hitler as Kalki”, nor pagan body-building clubs built Auschwitz or invaded Poland or sent the Gestapo to have you shot for missing work.
Perhaps tellingly, my favorite Ukrainian band Nokturnal Mortum, highlighted in these pages a couple months ago, has been considered “National Socialist” in the past — and my understanding is that the Ukrainian black metal scene is pretty influential amongst the more militant Ukrainian nationalist circles like Azov. Importantly, as I learned more about the “Ukrainian Nazis” like Azov, I learned that they at least dabble in the same religious traditions that I follow and make use of a lot of those edgy symbols and ideas described in the previous paragraph — for instance, they use the ancient “wolf’s hook” bindrune as their insignia, which despite its innocuous medieval roots would get you insta-cancelled if you wore it in the US because of the fact that the Nazi SS apparently used it at some point. They also apparently had an impressive Perun idol (that’s the Slavic incarnation of Thor) at one of their recently over-run Mariupol bases that looks straight out of this Arkona album cover:
Given all of that, it’s totally worth considering that the “Nazi” label applied to Azov is the same, more or less, as what leftists have tried to stick me and many like me with it — you’ve got weird spiritual beliefs, dig extreme music, and love your country and your ancestors, therefore you must be dangerous.
But, good readers, I don’t think that’s really where it stops with Azov, which brings us to…
Level 4 Nazis: In case it wasn’t clear enough, let me say explicitly that I don’t think any of the three levels above qualify in any meaningful way as “Nazis”. To be clear, I think the actual Nazis would have gassed 100% of the people who fit in Level 3 because who wants a bunch of jokers running around who are capable of thinking unapproved thoughts when you’re trying to run a modern Sparta and conquer the world? But here at level 4 we are going to cross over into the “Yeah, these guys are kinda Nazis” territory. We’re talking people with swastika tattoos, who think Hitler wasn’t just understandable but that he was awesome and did no wrong. In level 4, you believe simultaneously that the Holocaust didn’t happen but also that the Jews totally had it coming. In fact, you see the hand of “the Eternal Jew” in everything, even though you probably only rarely if ever encounter Jews in your day-to-day life. The jealous defense of your own ancestral heritage that drives the “Level 3” thinker has become an antipodal definition for the Level 4 — what we are, is not those assholes over there. And of course, the need to get rid of those assholes over there starts to become a priority.
Representatives of this group are pretty hard to find because they are so rare, but you can do it if you try because the ones that exist are usually quite loud. The Russell Crowe character from Romper Stomper is a solid representative of the type, but you could also run through the list of White Power outlaw celebrities — guys like David Duke, Andrew Anglin, David Lane, whatever. We’re well beyond ‘heritage’ and ‘aesthetics’ here, and into genuine political extremism. Governments are right to be worried when political extremist groups start flowering in their country; with all the usual caveats (e.g., people are more complex than any single opinion they hold, under the right social/economic pressures we’d probably be just like them, free people should try to understand extremists rather than repress them, etc.), you don’t have to be a jump-at-their-own-shadow Resister to think that Level 4s are at least a little bit dangerous. Our question is: do Ukrainian nationalists make it into this group, or are they safely down in the Level 3 edgelord territory?
Well, I guess it depends. There’s no question that Azov, Right Sector, and other right-wing paramilitaries in Ukraine have all the aesthetic accoutrements of Nazi-dom — the runes, the symbols, Nazi ink under their shirts, the belief in their own ethnic superiority, the focus on martial virtue as the epitome of nationalism. They also have the ethnic hate thing going for them, and it’s obviously all related to their militant politics, but I guess we have to ask: if you devote all your Nazi-dom to hating Russian speakers instead of the Jews, are you really as bad as the literal WWII Nazis? To be honest, I have no idea how Azov feels about the Jews; they seem content to work for a Jewish boss and don’t harass non-white Gastarbeiters too much AFAIK, so maybe they don’t fit into this bucket of ultra-deplorables. That doesn’t matter, though, because I’m pretty sure they make it to the next level —
Level 5 Nazis: How, you ask, can one be more of a Nazi than David “Fourteen Words” Lane? Well, by being a member of the actual NSDAP. In principle the NSDAP — the actual Nazi party of Hitler himself — was disbanded and made illegal after 1945, but in reality bits of it survived in a few political movements around Europe. One of those survivals was in the hero-cult surrounding Ukrainian badass Stepan Bandera. Bandera was a Galician, which was an Eastern European country in what is now far western Ukraine, and is the region that gives us the language currently called “Ukrainian” and whose culture “Ukrainian nationalism” apparently seeks to revive. In early Soviet times an anti-Soviet Ukrainian separatist nationalist movement arose that wanted to push out the Slavic Rus in favor of creating an independent, ethnically Ukrainian (i.e., Galician) state. When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the USSR, Bandera and the other Ukrainian separatists sided with the Nazis, going so far as to help them round up and exterminate Jews and even other ethnic Slavic groups. After the war, he apparently lived on as some kind of 1980s action-movie villain, terrorizing the apocalyptic post-war wastelands of Eastern Europe as a free-lance Nazi terrorist before finally being assassinated by the KGB in 1959.
So like I said, sort of a badass, but also kind of “problematic” as the kids say these days. One thing is for sure, though, the Azov Battalion and all the other hardcore Ukrainian nationalists love this guy. Indeed, Ukraine has an on-again off-again public love for Bandera. For instance, Ukrainian president Viktor Yuschenko — the guy who should really get the blame for starting all this crap with Russia — awarded him a posthumous “Hero of Ukraine” award, which is pretty much the equivalent of an American president giving Nathan Bedford Forrest a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for war-time heroism. Couple that with the last two Ukrainian presidents’ removal of wartime memorials honoring the USSR soldiers who gave their lives driving the Nazis out of the country, and you’ve got a pretty solid case that there are factions in Ukrainian politics with an unbroken line of inheritance to Bandera and therefore to the actual Nazionalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterspartei itself.
So yes, I think it’s reasonable for Putin to call the Ukrainian government a Nazi-occupied organization, and since the violence of those Nazis is directed against ethnic Russians, it seems to me to provide at least some level of casus belli for the war (although whether the magnitude of the war is justified is another question entirely). To be clear, it’s not Azov’s runes, or their pagan sensibilities, or even their goofy 1488 tattoos that bring me to this conclusion — it’s their support for militant, ethnic violence, and their veneration of a literal Nazi-collaborating terrorist whose actions they apparently seek to emulate in Donbass. I can overlook people having racist attitudes, getting off on Hitler memorabilia, or any number of other “level 4” ideologies — but when you pick up a gun or a baseball bat and decide to start hurting people for dumb reasons, you lose me. These guys suck, and to the degree that the Ukrainian government endorsed them and armed them, it’s equally culpable and frankly is getting what it deserves. Moreover, the fact that the Ukrainian regime thinks it can gloss over this stuff makes me mistrust every thing they say, including all the reports of supposed Russian atrocities — in fact, the more shocking the atrocity, the less I believe it actually happened. At least the Russians aren’t sending literal Nazis to the front lines, my dude.
What I find absolutely bewildering, though, is that the American left is willing to overlook Level 5 Nazi shit from the Ukrainians, when they absolutely condemn attitudes orders of magnitude less extreme than that in their own countrymen. They want to mobilize the entire security apparatus of the United States against “Level 3s” in the US, while sending our military to fight a nuclear war in support of Level 4s and 5s in Ukraine — how does that make sense? They want to send their Gestapo against grandmas who believe Brandon stole the 2020 election, but they’re cool with the Ukrainians deputizing the Boogaloo Bois to attack Russian kids in Donbass. I mean, come on man, If you’re going to be a bigot, at least be consistent, ffs.