Three years ago, describing an Australian white supremacist charged with massacring 49 people in New Zealand, the New York Times (3/15/19) wrote: “On his flak jacket was a symbol commonly used by the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.”
What a difference a war makes! A Times story (10/4/22) in the paper’s Ukraine War news roundup began:
Commanders of Ukraine’s celebrated Azov Battalion have held an emotional reunion with their families in Turkey, Ukrainian officials said, honoring the fighters released from Russian confinement last month as part of the largest prisoner swap since the start of the war.
“Celebrated” is an odd word to describe a group whose founder urged Ukraine to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen (subhumans)” (Guardian, 3/13/18). Its official logo features the Wolfsangel, a runic icon adopted by the SS that’s become “a symbol of choice for neo-Nazis in Europe and the United States,” according to the ADL. (To dispel any doubt about what the symbol means, Azov used to superimpose it on a Black Sun, a Nordic design beloved by Heinrich Himmler.)
The Azov movement has linked up with other far-right groups across Europe and in the United States, including the Rise Above Movement, a violently racist group based in Southern California (New Republic, 7/9/19). Azov is “believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States–based white supremacy organizations,” according to an FBI report (RFE/RL, 11/14/18).
But Times reporter Enjoli Liston indeed went on to celebrate the group:
The group’s defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol—the southern port city decimated by Russian forces in the first months of the war—has become a powerful symbol of the suffering inflicted by Russia and the resistance mounted by Ukraine.
The story’s headline: “Released Azov Commanders Have an Emotional Reunion With Family Members in Turkey.” The accompanying photo shows the fascistic unit’s commander sharing a joyful hug with his wife.
Not a word in the eight-paragraph story gives any hint about the ugly far-right politics of the unit, incorporated since 2014 into Ukraine’s military structure (when it was rebranded as the Azov Regiment). The Times did, however, find space to convey to the Azov fighters, from Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska, “Thanks from Ukraine, from the president and all the people for whom they are fighting.”
Please tell the New York Times not to treat neo-Nazis as heroes.
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This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Jim Naureckas.