By Ricardo Cabral Fernandes
on September 12, 2020 - Last updated: September 13, 2020

Misanthropic Division: the bridge connecting Portuguese and Ukrainian neo-Nazis

[Originally published in Portuguese by P2 (Publico supplement) on June 21, 2020, and republished in Russian by Rossiya Segodnya. English version by FOIA Research with kind permission by the author.]

The international neo-Nazi network has extended ties throughout Europe. In Portugal, a cell appeared in 2015 that had little impact beyond social media. But it was there where the Portuguese and Ukrainian far right have established contact.

Today, the Misanthropic Division (MD) has almost vanished from Portugal, and never had more than a dozen members in the country. Nonetheless, it was they who laid the foundation for the international contacts between the Portuguese and Ukrainian extreme right, which are still being maintained and deepened to this day.

It all started in 2013, when three far-right militants created the Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi network that aims to establish an ethno-nationalist state in Ukraine, where ultra-right forces had already entered the political scene by that time. They created a base and the network gained new momentum with the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the war in the east of the country against the separatists supported by Moscow.

The network extended its tentacles and established contacts with the militants of the Right Sector, an umbrella organization of Ukrainian nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, and then with the Azov Movement, which is more organized and better armed. Cells were formed in France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, and Finland. It began propagating the Ukrainian agenda against Russian aggression, followed by the recruitment of foreign elements into the Azov ranks. To this day, you can see the emblems of the network on the body armor of the militia.

The Portuguese did not lag behind. In 2015, João Martins, known among the ultra-right and sentenced to seventeen years in prison (served 9 years and 4 months) for the murder of Alcindou Monteiro in Bairro Alto, Lisbon, in 1995, organized a conference that brought the Italian Francesco Saverio Fontana, linked to the neo-fascist CasaPound, to a fire station in Paços de Arcos, Oeiras.

Fontana, now 57 years old, first joined the Right Sector, but prevented from going to the front line, he left and joined Azov, where he received military training. However, after a few months, he was expelled from the militia due to poor physical fitness and lack of discipline, according to Britain's Hope Not Hate, an organization that monitors British and European extremists. In 2015, Fontana joined the Misanthropic Division and was tasked with traveling the world to host conferences and to recruit foreign fighters. The opinions of the ultra-right in Europe are divided  between supporting or opposing Russia, which by many is seen as a beacon in the struggle against NATO and the European Union.

"At the conference it became apparent that several Ukrainian nationalist groups were participating in the conflict, among them the MD. This generated sympathies for the group among some Portuguese and was nothing more than verbal expressions of solidarity. There was no such organization as MD in Portugal," João Martins told P2 in February. The conference was announced on the official website of the network.

A few days after the end of the Portuguese conference, the militant Italian appeared in Newcastle, UK, where he established a new leadership of the British MD cell. At least two members of the cell traveled to Ukraine. In January 2016, Fontana arrived in France to host a conference in the city of Nantes, which ultimately did not take place. Since then, Fontana has disappeared from sight.

The international network was monitored by the security services of several countries where its cells appeared, including the Portuguese. In 2016, Brazilian civilian police carried out a major operation in seven cities in the state of Rio Grande do Sul against several neo-Nazi groups. Among the detainees was a 26-year-old man suspected of belonging to the Misanthropic Division. Ten months earlier, an Italian was in Brazil recruiting militants to receive military training in Ukraine, the authorities said. At least one Brazilian linked to the network went to fight in Ukraine, despite Azov's denial at the time that there were Brazilians in its ranks.

The Brazilian cell is still active on social media and the São Paulo Civil Police continues to investigate allegations of Nazi revivalism, after an anti-fascist police officer had denounced the cell on social networks.

In Portugal, MD did not play as significant of a role as in other countries. P2 knows it never consisted of more than a dozen people, who were mainly engaged in propaganda activity on social media, as well as the distribution of videos and pictures in support of the Azov Movement, which is fighting separatists in eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, it marked the beginning of international contacts with the Ukrainian extreme right, hence its importance. Since 2015, relations have grown even closer.

“MD has never existed in Portugal. At best, I knew two or three Facebook pages in support of it," Martins continued, accusing Diário de Notícias'  February 2019 investigative report, linking him "to MD in a stupid way in order to weave a monstrous neo-Nazi web." For João Martins, the subject is a "non-issue" and "MD exists formally only in Ukraine."

However, MD did exist in Portugal and, as P2 knows, Martins was one of the main founders of the group in the country and used it to establish international contacts that were consolidated in the following years.

The blog Ukrainian Crusade, associated with the Azov battalion, published the charter of the Misanthropic Division International on March 26, 2015. The opening paragraph says: “Developed by the MD Inner Council led by João and Bruno. Approved by the MD Board in Europe and the East. We thank you for this excellent work and the magic number of 14 points." As known to P2, one of the members of the Portuguese cell, besides João Martins, is Bruno. The number 14 is of symbolic importance for the Western far right, since it refers to the Fourteen Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

But the potentially important role that Portuguese elements play in the international network goes even further, and continues to this day. Another member of MD Portugal is Paulo Russo (name on social networks), a man in his early 50s. In 2016, he visited Azov's social center, the "Cossack House," in Kiev, Ukraine, and furthermore is the administrator of the Walknvt clothing store website (meaning valknut - “fallen warriors” - in Scandinavian mythology, so beloved by members of this ultra-right organization). The store is considered a source of income for the international network and sells Misanthropic Division badges and belt bags. The brand was created in 2013, the site was registered in March 2018 and was last updated in February of this year.

Moreover, there are countless numbers of photographs which show João Martins and Paulo Russo together, wearing Misanthropic Division T-shirts,  one of them showing Russo performing the Nazi salute. In other photos, he is wearing a Walknvt branded T-shirt. Upon being contacted, Paulo Russo refused to speak to P2.

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