The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) has long warned of the dangers of extremism within the Armed Forces. Here is yet another example of this phenomenon. Last month, US Army soldier Theo Boyrié uploaded a video onto his YouTube channel featuring a neo-Nazi symbol displayed behind a fighter he was interviewing from the Ukrainian 3rd Assault Brigade, which is made up of veterans from the Azov special forces units. He also provided a link to a form for those who want to volunteer for the brigade. Azov has long been criticized for antisemitism, links to neo-Nazis and other extremists, and for hiring far-right foreign fighters.
Boyrié is an online content creator from Olympia, Washington, who has run the Youtube “Combat Arms Channel” since 2008. It boasts more than 400 thousand subscribers. Boyrié has been an active member of the military since 2012 when he joined the Marine Corps Infantry right out of high school, and then signed on with the Army, where he remains on active duty today. In his videos, he discusses his role in the Army, frequently speaks about firearms, reacts to combat footage in places such as Ukraine, and publishes video logs of his family’s travels around the world.
In a July 27 video that has since been “unlisted,” meaning you need to know the URL to find it but which is widely shared amongst Azovist Telegram groups, Boyrié interviewed “Andrey” a platoon commander (described in a Ukrainian translation of the interview as a “stormtrooper” (Штурмовик)) from the assault brigade. Displayed in the background of Andrey’s video frame is the brigade’s flag, with a white wolf on top of a black sonnenrad (a Nazi symbol), and three parallel lines, a sign of Azov, on a black background. After the interview had been taped, Boyrié added an introduction saying that he was “honored” and would try not to be “too starstruck” by these “badass fighters.”
The interview primarily focused on military tactics and Andrey’s experience fighting against the Russians and, aside from the glaring Nazi symbology on screen, was rather uneventful. In the video description, a link could be found for those seeking to “volunteer for the 3rd Assault Brigade,” a link to the Azovist’s Youtube channel where an uncensored Ukrainian version of the video could be found, as well as links to Boyrié’s sponsors such as ExpressVPN, Mira Safety, Safariland, Pro Ears, and RTS Tactical.
After the video was uploaded to Youtube, members of Boyrié’s Discord chat quickly took notice of the flag and expressed their shock at a video with the Nazi sonnenrad in the background and the fact that Boyrié included a recruitment link for a brigade with extremist connections. Boyrié, feeling the backlash, moved the unedited video to being “unlisted” and published a new version which blurred the top half of Andrey’s screen, covering both his face and the flag in the background.
It is not clear why Boyrié specifically chose to platform a soldier from Azov considering that he has encountered their symbols before in previous videos. The Azov Assault Brigade has a notorious past as home to neo-Nazi fighters from Ukraine and foreign fighters from Russia and Europe, though they have in more recent years shed some of the more openly neo-Nazi elements. Many of the Nazi symbols still found in Azov circles today such as the sonnenrad and wolfsangel were incorporated into the military unit’s symbology in the early days of the battalion.
Despite the jettisoning of many open neo-Nazis, today, the brigade remains a far right nationalist-oriented unit, where a few neo-Nazis remain. And it accepts fighters of all ideological backgrounds, putting politics on the back burner due to the Russian invasion. The leadership remains in the hands of veterans of the early, openly neo-Nazi Azov Battalion from 2014, former members of the far-right political parties Pravy Sektor and National Corps, and former members of the far right traditionalist organization “Centuria.” In their large Telegram channels that video shared the unedited video, Azov fans regularly cheer on the deaths of Russians using a slur that combines the letter “Z,” symbolizing the support for the Russian invasion, with the n-word.
Boyrié says it’s “no biggie” if the video was demonetized and has kept the edited version of the interview online. He stated that he hoped that others would “follow his lead and blur it (the sonnenrad) before it start [sic] being used for Russian propaganda lol.” Still, sharing hate symbols and furthering propaganda for Azov, which has extremist elements and that an expert in 2022 described as, ““At its core, it’s hostile to liberal democracy. It’s hostile to everything that comes with liberal democracy, minority rights, voting rights” is a problem.
To be fair to Boyrié, there is nothing in his past that indicates possible extremist beliefs. Even so, sharing a video with Nazi symbology and from a battalion with extremist connections to hundreds of thousands of followers should be a problem.
Image: Ukrainian “3rd Assault Brigade” YouTube channel