Ukraine is attracting Americans to fight alongside far-right extremists. What happens when radicalized soldiers return home?

By | April 9, 2021

Christopher Miller reports:

The staccato crack of gunfire rang out across the cloudy night, startling residents of a modest enclave in southwestern Florida.

Lee County sheriff’s deputies, responding to a flood of 911 calls, raced to the area, but in the dark they were unable to find where the shooting had taken place. It wasn’t until the next morning, when employees of a nearby business complex called the Galleria discovered the crime scene.

Fifty-year-old Deana Lorenzo was found slumped over in the passenger seat of a red GMC truck, shot in her head, neck, and abdomen. Serafin “Danny” Lorenzo, 52, lay supine on the bloody pavement near the vehicle’s passenger side with bullet wounds to his head and lower body.

Gunmen had fired no fewer than 63 rounds in a matter of seconds. The Lorenzos never had a chance.

Just 20 hours before their deaths, the Brooksville, Florida, couple, both military veterans, believed they were on the verge of a big payday. They had answered a classified ad on the website Armslist.com, hoping to score five Glocks, an Uzi, and more guns and parts.

The listing said: “For Sale: Lots Of Guns. Leaving the country soon. Looking to sale [sic] all my guns as I can’t take them with me.”

The Lorenzos often made deals together, flipping houses or shopping for antiques. Serafin Lorenzo also bought and resold guns for profit, and he knew a good deal when he saw one. He wrote the seller, a man calling himself Jeremy Goldstein, to offer an Oris-brand watch or cash. Goldstein declined the watch.

“I have cash on hand,” Lorenzo replied, offering to pay $3,000 for the arsenal. He added, “Mine is a sure deal.”

There was no Goldstein, and there would be no deal, but the Lorenzos didn’t know this.

Instead, according to the FBI, Craig Lang, 30, and Alex Zwiefelhofer, 23, were lying in wait in the dark of the secluded, palm tree–lined business complex, the agreed-upon meeting point in the small Florida town of Estero.

The two men had served in the US military and acquired years of specialized training before they deserted. They later traveled to Ukraine to fight in an armed conflict with right-wing extremists, grew increasingly radicalized, and returned to the US with plans to get back on a battlefield in quick order. But they needed money. All told, US court records describe a string of violent exploits, crimes, and misadventures stretching across multiple states and four continents.

Experts on extremism have been following, with growing concern, the activities of mostly young far-right extremists with military backgrounds who seek out foreign wars to gain fighting experience. They’ve seen how these soldiers-for-hire get radicalized and then carry home what they learned in troubled, distant lands like Ukraine. The country has emerged as an important hub in the transnational white supremacy extremism network. [Continue reading…]

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