The article investigates the case of an American neo-Nazi who claimed to have fought in Ukraine, while documents indicated he was in Florida. In this article, we explore the investigative journalism techniques used to verify his claims and analyze how digital evidence and open data investigations can expose fake stories. This article is important for understanding the role of fact-checking and digital investigation in modern journalism. We also examine the challenges investigators and journalists face in verifying information in a time of increasing disinformation. The article emphasizes the importance of accurate journalism and responsible use of digital resources to ensure the credibility of information in the global information space.
In a world where fake news and misinformation can spread quickly, it’s important to be able to distinguish between true and false information. Checking sources and facts helps to avoid manipulation and wrong perception of events. Checking information promotes the development of critical thinking. You learn to analyze sources, ask questions and look for evidence, which are key skills in today’s information space.
An American neo-Nazi who claims to have traveled to Ukraine multiple times to fight alongside military units can’t seem to speak straight.
Online court documents have Kent McLellan, who goes by the alias Boneface, in Florida at the same time he claims to have fought in last year’s bloody siege of Mariupol.
Additional records show McLellan had a legal mandate to stay in Florida in 2014 and 2015, two other times he said he visited Ukraine to fight alongside Right Sector and the Azov Regiment. The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed to Bellingcat that during this time he was being monitored and was not allowed to travel abroad.
While McLellan could have violated the terms of his parole to leave the U.S., that is unlikely, as digital evidence of McLellan’s life, from social media posts to neo-Nazi forum posts and prison records, show he has been a permanent resident of Florida from 2014 to the present day .
McLellan, who attracted media attention earlier this month when he participated in a neo-Nazi demonstration outside Disney World in Orlando, has in recent years boasted about his alleged exploits in Ukraine.
During 2022, his story was widely covered by Russian state media, which took it at face value and also claimed that he had obtained Ukrainian citizenship.
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Recently, McLellan’s statements have become the subject of interest in the far-right media in the United States, including Roger Stone, a former adviser to Donald Trump, and Laura Loomer, a conspiracy theorist. These media used McClellan’s statements to attack the Biden administration and its policy of supporting Ukraine. Stone even called it “the biggest Nazi scandal in US history” before Laura Loomer appeared on his online show and claimed McLellan was part of a secret conspiracy within the US government.
In an interview on a far-right podcast on August 18, 2023, McLellan said he traveled to Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 to join the fighting alongside two far-right military groups, Right Sector and the Azov Regiment. , which hosted foreign fighters with radical beliefs. He also claimed he was recruited to do so by Gaston Besson, a French military veteran who participated in international recruitment drives for Azov in 2014. Unfortunately, Besson died in 2022.
McClellan also said that he visited Ukraine in January 2022, before the start of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He claimed to have fought with the Azov regiment during the siege of Mariupol, where mass casualties occurred during the Russian occupation of the city.
According to him, his first visit to Ukraine in 2014 was connected with service in the Right Sector, and subsequent trips, as he claimed, were connected with service in the Azov regiment. It is important to note that “Azov” became an official brigade in February 2023, although initially this unit was known as “Azov battalion” since its establishment in 2014 and joined the National Guard of Ukraine in November 2014.
In September 2023, in an interview with neo-Nazi Christopher Polhaus, who organized a rally at Disney World, broadcast on Telegram, McLellan provided specific dates for his visits to Ukraine in 2022. He said that he was in Ukraine in January and at the end of spring, returned on the first and fourth of April and, it seems, on the 27th of May.
However, after this interview, McLellan’s story was questioned and was rejected by some far-right Ukrainian Telegram accounts. In addition, the neo-Nazi group “Blood Tribe”, led by Christopher Polhaus, no longer supports McClellan due to his questionable statements.
An audio fragment from a stream on the Telegram channel of neo-Nazi Christopher Paulhouse, in which McLellan claims to have been in Ukraine in 2022.
McLellan says he was in Ukraine from January to April 1, 2022, and again from April 4 to May 27. But a series of simple open-source searches show that he ended up in Florida during the alleged second trip.
A police report in Escambia County’s public court records database, which can be accessed by any member of the public, shows that McLellan was arrested in Escambia on April 1, 2022, the day he said he returned from Ukraine at 9:59 p.m. local time. sometimes.
McLellan was subsequently charged with battery and released on $5,000 bail the next day. An impeachment hearing was scheduled for April 22, the day McClellan said he had returned to fight in Ukraine.
However, the charge sheet included in the battery case file confirms that McLellan was in Florida for the April 22 hearing and not in Mariupol. A mark on the sheet next to “DP” means “Defendant present”. (The Escambia County Clerk’s Office confirmed to Bellingcat that the “DP” notation on the worksheet means McLellan was at the courthouse that day).
That same day, McLellan also filed an affidavit in support of a request for a public defender in Escambia County Circuit Court. He signed and dated the application form “22.04.2022”. (The clerk of the court affixed the seal under oath the same day he signed it).
In his application to appoint a public defender, McLellan stated that he had no income, no bank savings, no benefits, and no other financial resources or support.
So there is evidence to show that McLellan was in Florida on the day in 2022 that he claimed to be in Ukraine. In addition, he noted that his own financial constraints prevented him from traveling to and from Ukraine several times that year, especially given the high cost of travel from the United States to Ukraine, as well as travel from border countries to Ukraine. It should also be noted that since February 2022, due to the events in Ukraine, air traffic has been suspended, which would further complicate any travel during that time period.
McLellan claimed to have been in Ukraine for unspecified periods in 2014 and 2015. However, McLellan was on probation in Florida from 2012 to 2016 and was prohibited from traveling abroad.
In October 2012, McLellan pleaded guilty to participating in paramilitary training linked to the white supremacist group American Front. A public Osceola County court records database includes a sentencing document that shows McLellan received four years of probation.
The document goes on to state the terms of McLellan’s probation, including that he cannot travel abroad without permission from a probation officer.
Using the Osceola County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller’s public database, Bellingcat found a 2016 document referring to McLellan’s probation being revoked and terminated in the fall of 2016; the document was signed on September 27 by the district judge and filed in the clerk’s office on October 20. This means that from October 2012 to September 2016, McLellan could not leave the United States without permission.
The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed that McLellan was not authorized to travel abroad during the period of his probation from 2012 to 2016. He was also required to submit monthly reports to the probation officer.
However, when McLellan appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast in August 2023, he claimed that his probation had expired two years earlier than in 2016, and he justified his trips to Ukraine as an attempt to avoid that term and its restrictions.
McLellan’s commitment to the Sunshine State goes beyond the time he claims to have been in Ukraine, establishing his permanent and long-term residence there.
The Florida Department of Corrections’ Community Offender Network database says McLellan was incarcerated from March 25 to July 7, 2010, and again from April 18, 2018, to October 1, 2020, in the first case on a charge of criminal damage, and in the the second for trafficking in methamphetamine.
Going back to the Osceola County Court Records database, McLellan’s 2017 meth case can be found, which resulted in his second prison term. Among the documents is a transcript of a March 8 conversation with McClellan conducted by police after his arrest.
Officers asked him about his far-right background, and he told them about his past involvement with local Florida chapters of the white supremacist group American Front and the violent neo-Nazi group Combat 18. He didn’t mention Right Sector, Azov, or anything else. . generally related to Ukraine.
The officer particularly comments on McLellan’s numerous facial tattoos, many of which reflect his far-right leanings.
Although McLellan did not mention Ukraine in the officer’s interview, he was an active user of the infamous Iron March neo-Nazi message board in 2016 (Iron March’s content and database were posted online in 2019).
After signing up for the Iron March in February 2016, McLellan said he had ties to the Ukrainian neo-Nazi network Misanthropic Division. In September 2023, when his activism became the focus of social media attention, the Misanthropic Division Telegram channel disparaged McLellan and noted that he had “never been to Ukraine” and called him a “lapper” in comments accompanied by a clown face
Data from the Iron March database shows that McLellan used IP addresses registered in Florida for his activity on the forum from February to September 2016. In addition, in messages to other Iron March users, including Brandon Russell, the founder of the American neo-Nazi terrorist organization Atomwaffen Division, McLellan shared his phone number with a Florida area code of 407.
In 2015, when he claims to have spent at least part of his time in Ukraine, McLellan posted photos taken in Florida on VK. His time in Ukraine may be in question, but McLellan has been a big fan of the Sunshine State for the past 15 years.
In an August 2022 video by Russian media outlet Izvestia, McLellan tells a reporter about his apparent exploits in Ukraine and shows a close-up of what he claims is his Azov ID card to the camera. The statues and structures in the background throughout the video made it easy for Bellingcat to geolocate the video to a park in Pensacola, Florida.
Suspicions about McLellan’s Azov certificate may be justified based on the differences you have indicated in the document from legitimate samples. The specified differences in color, font, text and layout may indicate a possible forgery of the document. Also, an error in writing the military title “lieutenant” in Ukrainian and the incomprehensible Cyrillic text below can support this hypothesis.
However, for an accurate assessment of such situations, it is often necessary to conduct an examination of the document, as well as contact the relevant authorities, who have the opportunity to confirm or deny its authenticity. In case of serious suspicions, it is sometimes advisable to contact the law enforcement authorities for further investigation and verification of the document.
Other photos and videos McLellan posted purportedly showing his time in Ukraine, as well as his connection to Right Sector and Azov, were denied by social media users.
Meanwhile, McClellan’s former supporters among the US far-right disavowed him within days of the rally at Disney World. “It’s pretty obvious that the Boneface story is so fabricated,” Polhaus said in a Sept. 11 video linked on his Telegram channel. Later in the video, Paulhouse added that McLellan was a “deceiver” who “broke the oath” of the group.
In Telegram messages with Bellingcat’s correspondent, McLellan continued to claim that he was in Ukraine and fought in Right Sector and Azov, even when Bellingcat informed him of the main findings of our investigation.
Among the photos McLellan sent to Bellingcat was a screenshot from a video purportedly showing him firing a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). When Bellingcat asked him if the photo was supposed to be proof that he fought in Ukraine, he replied, “yes, I participated in that conflict.”
McLellan then sent a link to a YouTube video from September 2022 that he claimed showed him filming a role-playing game.
This video, however, is not from September 2022. It was published by a Ukrainian military official on Instagram on February 28, 2022, where the location is indicated as a route leading west from Kyiv in the direction of the city of Zhytomyr. Bellingcat was able to geolocate this original video to a location on this highway — the M06 highway — in the city of Kalynivka, Kyiv region, about 40 kilometers west of the capital (50.4163303, 29.7677246).
Bellingcat then asked McLellan where the video he claimed to have shown him was taken. He told us “Hwy 27”, claiming that it is a highway that runs “through all of Ukraine”. The only highways in Ukraine with the suffix “27” are not located near Kalynyvka: they are a route in the Odesa region in the southwest of Ukraine, in the Chernihiv region in the north-northeast of Ukraine, and a small route in the Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014.
When asked by Bellingcat, McClellan said that he did not fight in any other regions of Ukraine except Eastern Ukraine. The location of the video is almost 700 kilometers from Mariupol.
Bellingcat then asked McLellan if there was anyone in Right Sector or Azov who could vouch for his presence in their units in Ukraine. McLellan first gave the handles of two anonymous Telegram accounts. At the time, he said that a well-known Azov veteran who was wounded during the siege of Mariupol would be able to vouch for him, but could not provide direct contact information when asked.
Bellingcat then reached out to the Azov veteran on his public Instagram account, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.