The Italian Francesco Fontana is a (former) Avanguardia Nazionale member, who later became involved in the neofascist movement CasaPound. In 2015 he joined the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in Ukraine as a volunteer fighter. Fontana has served as a recruiter for the neo-Nazi Misanthropic Division, i. a. in Brazil, some of whose members have been fighting in the Azov battalion, now part of Ukraine's National Guard.
According to an article by John Færseth:1
Francesco Saverio Fontana became involved in Maidan in January  ... Fontana, who describes himself as “national revolutionary, anti-imperialist, anti-communist, anti-USA and anti-Soviet," called the Ukrainian revolution the sort of nationalist uprising against a corrupt regime that he had wished to take part in most of his life ... Fontana says he soon found himself drawn towards Right Sector. "People like me easily recognize others like ourselves, despite the language barrier. So I started to spend more time in Kiev and to help Right Sector, although I did not fight in the first line," he says. Fontana became the only Italian militant with a membership card in Right Sector, and met leader Dmytro Jarosh and other key people in the movement. ...
On March 21, 2015, Fontana was spotted at a neo-Nazi rally in Newcastle, United Kingdom, the so-called "White Men March," where a participant held up a flag of the Misanthropic Division, with the slogan "Killing for Odin" ("Töten für Wotan").2
Francesco Fontana at a neo-Nazi demonstration in Newcastle on March 21, 2015.
After his stint in the UK, he appeared in Ukraine again. According to the John Færseth article:1
Fontana eventually decided to leave Right Sector in an amiable manner after street fights in Odessa on 2 May. He wanted to fight, but Right Sector leaders opposed letting a foreigner go to the front where he could be used in Russian propaganda. Like [the Swedish Mikael] Skillt, Fontana found the Azov Battalion a better-organized alternative to Right Sector, which had been losing members to Azov and to the national guard. He met with Skillt in Kiev in the middle of May and soon after left for Mariupol, where he underwent various physical and ideological tests. Gaston Bresson, who had also been a member of Right Sector, joined him about a month later after learning that the forces of Right Sector were then down to 50 or 60 people with few or no weapons.
In June and July pictures appeared of Fontana at the front in the War in Donbass, including a photo with his Azov tattoo.3
Francesco Fontana with balaklava.
Francesco Fontana showing off his Azov tattoo
Francesco Fontana with the Azov Battalion in 2015.
According to the aforementioned John Færseth article:1
In August, Fontana went back to Italy because of family reasons.“I left a part of my heart there,” he says of Ukraine. “But I am 50 years old, so I can’t make that much of a difference, even though that might just be an excuse towards myself. My purpose when I joined was never to go to war, but to make a revolution. And what I have experienced has given me back a lot from the past. I have learned to renounce, since at first they didn’t want to take me because I was too old and too big. I had to push myself, and I was really proud when they accepted me. It has brought back thoughts and dreams that I used to have. I became a full soldier and I am really happy for that. I even have an Azov tattoo now, so it is part of my heart and of my skin."
But instead Fontana was seen in London on August 2, 2015, joining the Ukrainian "Misanthropic Division" to disrupt pro-Novorossyia protests in front of the Ukrainian embassy.
"Half a dozen people associated with the far-right Ukrainian grouping, the 'Misanthropic Division' disrupted a pro-Novorossiya protest outside the Ukrainian embassy in London, Sunday. A Misanthropic Division member, who called himself Francesca, said 'the purpose of our counter-demonstration was to disrupt the pro-Novorossiya scum demonstration.'"4
Færseth's article reads on:1
During the interview Fontana, who is from Pisa, refers to himself as a fascist. But he is adamant that he is not a Nazi, despite having respect for all nationalists. He is also reluctant to describe members of the Ukrainian nationalist movement or the Azov Battalion as Nazis, joking that some pro-Russian propaganda even paints Ukrainian Jews as Nazis.
Fontana sees the conflict as a war between two capitalist powers over oil and money and says that when he chose the Ukrainian side it was primarily out of loyalty and love for the land and the people of Ukraine, not what he calls the political elite who remain in control despite the revolution. He says he can understand other Italians who have chosen to fight for the Russian-supported separatists, a remark that diverts him briefly into geopolitics:
"Frankly, I can understand it when Putin doesn’t want NATO and others in his backyard. I was myself a Putinist when I arrived on Maidan, and if I have to choose between Russia and America, I choose Russia. First, Russia is a part of Europe. If you go to St. Petersburg you find Italian architecture, if you go to New York you find fake Italian pizza. It’s different cultures, with different roots. Second, the Americans and British invaded Italy. Just near Milan, they killed 190 people with bombs.”
He adds, however, that Ukrainians have historical experiences that make Russia a more natural enemy to them. “There is a certain respect and affiliation between European right-wingers and nationalist volunteers on both sides,” he says. “I don’t care about people from Transnistria or the Caucasus. I have no problem shooting at them. But there is a curiosity and respect between us volunteers. I know their backgrounds; I could have been among them myself. But the gods like to play with destinies. We even talk to each other, of course not about military secrets. From a political point of view, I understand the reasons of my enemies, and they call me ‘mon honorable ennemi’ – my honourable enemy."
“There is one Italian there, he is a Tuscan like me, from Lucca. He has a wife and son in Donbass and like me he is against the United States. I have never seen an American in Donbass and if they came here I would feel it had been for the second time. I have found things here that I thought were dead to the world and I don’t like the idea of having this country filled with McDonald’s over the next 10 years, and loose all its traditions."
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 at the fire station in Pasos de Arkush in the city of Oeiras, where he invited the Italian Francesco Saverio Fontana, associated with the neo-fascist CasaPound movement. ... The venue, he [the president of the local firefighter association Tiago Fernandes] revealed, was rented out for 150 euros to Salvador Costa, on behalf of the "Association Study circle Oliveira Salazar" (Associação Núcleo de Estudos Oliveira Salazar), of which he is a member. Salvador Costa is the initiator of a petition against refugees from Syria coming to Portugal and who, as of this Monday, participated in the program of RTP "Pros and Cons."
Salvador Costa on RTP1 in September 2015.
According to an article in the Portuguese Medium in May 20197:
... João Martins, [is] referred to by the authorities as the new ideologist of the extreme right and very close to the "National Renewal Party" (Partido Nacional Renovador) ... [The Portuguese neo-Nazi Mário] Machado denounced that Martins is close to Paulo Russo, founder of a Portuguese cell of the Misantrophic Division, a combat unit of the neo-Nazi Azov Regiment, which is dedicated to fighting against pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. If so, Russo is one of the leaders of a foreign paramilitary cell operating on Portuguese soil, apparently without any concrete intervention from the authorities. FlashBack is well aware that certain elements of the Portuguese far right have been sending militants to Ukraine, where they receive military training in the Azov Regiment and then return to Portugal.
Olena Semenyaka speaking at a Escudo Identitário ("Identity Shield") conference in Portugal in May 2019. In the audience João Martins.
According to an article in the Brazilian journal Zero Hora8:
Investigations indicate that Italian activist Francesco Fontana was in Brazil at the end of 2015 to recruit young people to fight in the Ukrainian civil war. The armed movement to which he belonged, called Misanthropic Division, is linked to the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi brigade incorporated into the Ukrainian armed forces.
According to the Portuguese Publico6:
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, Portugal was no exception.
In 2016, connections between Brazilian neo-Nazis, the Italian Francesco Fontana and the Misanthropic Division became known. According to an article in Zero Hora8:
December 2016, the Civil Police performed eight raids in seven cities in Rio Grande do Sul with the objective of preventing possible actions of an armed movement that was holding meetings with neo-Nazis in Rio Grande do Sul. A man was arrested in Cruz Alta for illegal possession of ammunition. The police seized from him vast amounts of material apologetic of Nazism. The operation was carried out in Cruz Alta, Caxias do Sul, Passo Fundo, Erechim, São Nicolau, Viamão and Canoas. The police also seized documents, computers and ideological propaganda material from other suspects.
A Brazilian police investigator, Paulo César Jardim, when performing the raids among neo-Nazis, stumbled upon the Brazilian branch of the Misanthropic Division.9 According to the Financial Times, the Brazilian MD had been "recruited by rightwing extremists in Ukraine to fight against pro-Russian rebels in the European country’s civil war," and that "Ukraine’s Misanthropic Division ... an ultranationalist paramilitary group aligned with Kiev, was behind the recruitment drive." At the time it was not known whether Brazilians were fighting in Ukraine, but apparently, an Italian recruiter [Francesco Fontana] had come to Brazil to win over neo-Nazi there for the Ukrainian cause.9 The German Deutschlandfunk reported shortly after10:
According to information from the local police, an Italian member of the group has been recruiting young men for at least ten months in southern Brazil to fight in the Ukrainian civil war. The Italian has since left Brazil. According to reports, he had promised the right-wing extremists money and military training. At least one of them had fought in Ukraine, and five others had at least been in Europe.
The raids were triggered by indications of planned attacks in southern Brazil. The state of Rio Grande do Sul is considered a stronghold of the Brazilian neo-Nazis. Approximately one hundred thousand people are attributed to the radical right-wing scene there. In early January there were two attacks on a cultural center in Sao Paulo, for which the "Misanthropic Division" is held responsible.
- 1. a. b. c. d. John Færseth, “Ukraine’s far-right forces,” Hate Speech International, February 3, 2015, https://www.hate-speech.org/ukraines-far-right-forces/.
- 2. Twitter post by Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia Brescia, March 25, 2015, https://twitter.com/AnpiBrescia/status/580729015725625344.
- 3. Twitter post by @miliciapopular, July 2, 2015, https://twitter.com/miliciapopular/status/616678850035105796.
- 4. "UK: *EXCLUSIVE* Far-right group disrupt Novorossiya protest outside Ukrainian embassy," Ruptly, Aug 2, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQJpyK5zRxA.
- 5. Cristiano Pereira, "Neonazi italiano discursa em quartel de bombeiros português," JN, September 25, 2015, https://www.jn.pt/nacional/neonazi-italiano-discursa-em-quartel-de-bombeiros-portugues-4797531.html.
- 6. a. b. Ricardo Cabral Fernandes, "Publico (Португалия): Misanthropic Division* — мост, связавший португальских и украинских неонацистов," Inosmi.ru, July 19, 2020, https://inosmi.ru/politic/20200719/247777577.html.
- 7. Flashback Observatório, "Extrema-direita novamente às turras entre si," Medium.com, May 22, 2019, https://medium.com/flashback-observat%C3%B3rio-antifascista/extrema-direita-novamente-%C3%A0s-turras-entre-si-1427874cbdf7.
- 8. a. b. "Focos de radicalismo racial em Caxias do Sul," Zero Hora, January 15, 2017, https://www.unicamp.br/unicamp/sites/default/files/2017-01/impressao_boxnet_2017-01-16_-_13h03m28s.pdf.
- 9. a. b. Joe Leahy, "Brazil neo-Nazi claim challenges myth of nation’s racial harmony," Financial Times, January 10, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/f9ee01ca-ce49-11e6-864f-20dcb35cede2.
- 10. "Ukraine-Krise: Brasilianische Neonazis kämpfen gegen pro-russische Rebellen," Deutschlandfunk, January 12, 2017, https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/ukraine-krise-brasilianische-neonazis-kaempfen-gegen-pro.1818.de.html?dram:article_id=376230.