Zelensky branded by fascists?
Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, adopted his “signature style” after Russia invaded his country. Much if not most of his wardrobe, from his olive-green shirts and sweaters and pants, to fleece and winter jackets, and even his Star Wars apparel, is from M-TAC, Ukraine’s “largest and most powerful brand of clothing and equipment in the tactical and military industry.” Indeed, M-TAC appears to be the favorite brand of the Ukrainian leadership and military, but it has a dark side.
For starters, M-TAC sells numerous “morale patches” with a neo-Nazi symbol in the background, some of which are available on Amazon. The Black Sun has been used by white supremacist mass shooters in Christchurch, New Zealand and Buffalo, New York. “If you weren’t aware that the symbol is functionally equivalent to a swastika,” Jason Wilson, an investigative journalist who tracks the far-right, says “that’s because part of its attraction to contemporary neo-Nazis is its slight obfuscation of the true nature of their movement.”
There is also the “Our Land, Our Traditions” patch, seen above with a Slavic swastika. “Neo-Nazis and neo-Pagans claim this symbol has ancient Slavic origins but there is no evidence to support this claim,” according to Reporting Radicalism, a website supported by the US-funded Freedom House in Ukraine to shine a light on “an increasingly radical and violent subset of society.” Here’s what it says about the valknut, a Norse symbol that M-TAC puts on patches.
The valknut is sometimes used in place of a swastika because it is visually similar to the swastika and its use is more socially acceptable, especially in jurisdictions where the display of the swastika is prohibited. In Ukraine, it is used occasionally to demonstrate racist views, most often without any affiliation to a specific organization or structure. Due to its popularity, it may be used mistakenly. To determine if a valknut is being used as a hate symbol, it is important to examine the context in which it appears and to check for the presence of other hate symbols.
M-TAC is the brand, and “BORN BY REVOLUTION — HARDENED BY WAR!” is the slogan. But “Militarist” is the company behind it all, which opened a chain of stores in Ukraine selling airsoft products from 2005–14. It started selling military tactical gear and clothing after the war began in Donbas. That included t-shirts with designs of “Nazi girls,” such as Ilsa, the “She Wolf of the SS.”
At least online, Militarist offers products from neo-Nazi brands in Ukraine, like R3ICH and Arey, both of which look like they are part of the Azov movement. Among other things, R3ICH makes “Operator Skull” patches — an updated totenkopf, or Nazi “death’s head.” The smiling skeleton has a modern tactical helmet featuring the insignia of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a military division that grew out of Hitler’s bodyguard unit and committed atrocities in Ukraine. Last year, Zelensky was pictured with a soldier who appeared to be guarding him while wearing the R3ICH patch. At the time, Zelensky was wearing an M-TAC fleece jacket, meanwhile, Militarist was selling out of “Operator Skulls.”
One of the brands featured by Militarist is affiliated with the paramilitary wing of the notorious Right Sector movement. Another, SvaStone, was founded by a leading member of Right Sector. The Militarist website lists hundreds of items from SvaStone, the founder of which is also the lead singer of a “hatecore” band in Ukraine that is integral to the far-right music scene. According to Reporting Radicalism,
The brand name SvaStone alludes to the swastika. Its logo is a stylized swastika… The logo and name are exclusively used as a brand that targets far-right consumers… A significant number of the products this brand sells contain or constitute hate symbols.
It appears that SvaStone was the source of inspiration for at least one M-TAC patch: “No Knife, No Life.”
M-TAC and Militarist have highlighted at least a couple hardcore neo-Nazis on social media. Last November, their main Instagram account (“tm_militarist”) declared the winner of an informal photo contest. Highlighting his M-TAC gear, they ignored the patch on his chest for the extremist Misanthropic Division, which is an international neo-Nazi group, and according to some, part of the Azov movement.
A week later, “tm_militarist” reposted “Evgeniy Grizzly” to highlight his M-TAC gear, not including his “Operator Skull” patch. His Instagram account includes pictures of him modeling in SvaStone and R3ICH clothing, including the latter’s shirt of “Valkyrja, Chooser of the Fallen,” a blonde bombshell who is “only for einherjar,” that is, warriors who made it to Valhalla. Perhaps that is where the “Nazi girls” come in. “Grizzly” once posted a picture of himself making a fascist salute and wearing a shirt that says “TERROR MACHINE.”
A month after Russia invaded Ukraine, multiple M-TAC pages reposted “Grizzly” for sharing a picture of himself (wearing a SvaStone hoodie) with Aleksandr Karasev, the founder of M-TAC and Militarist, and dedicating a post to him. Karasev has just nine pictures on Instagram. One is with Andriy Biletsky, the neo-Nazi leader of the Azov movement, about a week after the war began. Less than a month later, Karasev shared a Biletsky quote to the effect that, because of Russia’s invasion, nobody is scared of “Nazis” anymore.
It was always obvious that Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” to “deNazify” Ukraine would backfire, but it is dumbfounding that Volodymyr Zelensky immediately hitched his wagon to a brand that apparently wants to “Nazify” the military: “Come to the Dark Side…” Perhaps he did it to reassure the radicals that he will not “betray” them.
With brand ambassadors like Zelensky, and an obviously increased demand for military gear, M-TAC sales skyrocketed in 2022. The brand tried expanding to the United States before the war, and eventually will renew these efforts. The US must be a tantalizing market with right-wing militias always fomenting. “Odin is calling! Unleash your inner viking…”