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How the Pro-Ukraine NAFO troll operation crowd-funds war criminals

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

The Twitter operation known as NAFO “North Atlantic Fellas Organization” was founded by a Polish antisemite to raise money for a militia that has hosted war criminals, white nationalists, and wanted murderers.

Whether they know it or not, anyone who has checked Twitter for recent coverage of the Ukraine proxy war has likely encountered at least one of the thousands of trolls that comprise NAFO.

Thanks to the efforts of NAFO and its “fellas,” any journalist or prominent figure critical of Ukraine or NATO on Twitter is likely to receive hundreds of replies accusing them of being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin (or even performing fellatio on him) from accounts with Shiba Inu dog avatars.

Since its inception several months ago, NAFO has earned gushing praise from the Washington Post, which hailed it for “showing that the tables could be turned on Russia when it came to trolling.” The arms industry-funded, Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), meanwhile, hosted an online panel highlighting NAFO as an instrumental weapon in the Russia-Ukraine infowars.

Yet NAFO’s beltway boosters often gloss over its role as a fundraising machine for the Georgian Legion, a US-backed Ukrainian fighting group that stands accused of gruesome battlefield atrocities. Several former members of the Legion have produced first-hand testimony documenting its perpetration of war crimes, including the torture and execution of POWs and civilians.

One NAFO founder explained that he chose the Georgian Legion as a funding recipient precisely because of the unit’s reputation as a band of “mercenaries and criminals” that was willing to carry out barbarous acts which could cause foreign governments to shy away from supporting it. Another NAFO founder has praised the Georgian Legion’s leader for “killing Russians since the ’90s.”

Among the Georgian Legion’s most notorious members are US fugitive and murderer Craig Lang, as well as Paul Gray, an American whose past involvement in several neo-Nazi organizations was never mentioned during the friendly primetime interviews he was granted by Fox News and its local affiliates.

While providing a financial feeding tube to a militia that revels in its atrocities, NAFO continues to attract effusive support from mainstream US journalists and think tankers who portray the operation as little more than a grassroots expression of online solidarity with Ukraine.

Obsessively online interventionists find meaning and purpose as ‘fellas’

Employing cartoon memes of the Shiba Inu dog breed, NAFO’s postmodern aesthetic, irreverent style, and dedication to viciously trolling any critic of the Ukraine proxy war has garnered the adulation of Western media and interventionist government officials alike.

To outsiders, the lingo that flows through internal NAFO chats might seem unintelligible: “fellas” refers to members; “nafoarticle5” is a call to action that urges “fellas” to dog-pile on a particular social media post; “vatnik” serves as a pejorative for Russians and virtually anyone critical of the US-backed proxy war. Phrases such as “NAFO expansion is non-negotiable” and sarcastic claims that they are funded by the CIA (which they simultaneously claim “doesn’t exist”) are also ubiquitous.

Behind the anonymously named Twitter accounts of NAFO members lies a base of extremely online, mostly male civilians seeking a sense of purpose and community. Some participants have tattooed Shiba Inu avatars onto their bodies while others have published photos of their newborn babies in the arms of an adult sporting a NAFO shirt.

One member of the troll operation tweeted a photo of an elaborate NAFO tattoo emblazoned on his arm but has since deleted it.

In public, NAFO leaders market the image of a charity-focused community of do-gooders, however, many posts by its fellas reflect the kind of psychologically deranged outbursts familiar to young adult men who spend endless hours ranting on a messaging platform built for gamers. In mid-October, for example, an administrator complained that she was forced to ban two members of the NAFO Discord for publicly plotting the murder of a third member of the community.

While US corporate media have declared that within NAFO “there is no command structure,” effectively releasing the group’s founders from accountability for the fellas’ behavior, this reporter found all the hallmarks of an organizational hierarchy.

The group’s Discord server is run by founders, assigned administrators, moderators, and “forgers” who make memes used for harassing people on social media. “Verified fellas” are granted access to otherwise locked channels, while regular “fellas” are assigned more mundane roles.

“It’s preferred that people who are not heavily involved in the day-to-day do not speak on behalf of NAFO or what NAFO is to the press,” one administrator wrote in the server’s announcement channel.

Inside NAFO’s social media crowdfunding nexus

There are three ways to obtain a NAFO avatar and become a verified “fella.” The first is to donate to the Georgian National Legion through an email address attached to PayPal and belonging to Taras Reshetylo, a field commander of the Georgian Legion. Another way to join is by donating to an organization called “Protect Ukraine Defenders,” or merchandise purchase from a website called Saint Javelin. Saint Javelin’s logo depicts the Virgin Mary bearing a US-manufactured Javelin missile.

Though distinct from NAFO at its foundation, Saint Javelin sold merchandise for the organization and recently incorporated NAFO into its brand. For months, all of Saint Javelin’s proceeds from NAFO merchandise went directly to the Georgian Legion, according to its website. Like NAFO, Saint Javelin estimates that it has raised huge sums for the war — more than a million dollars.

Besides fundraising for the Georgian Legion, Saint Javelin passes on proceeds to United24, an initiative launched by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine.”

It also channels money to the Ukrainian World Congress, an organization that has defended the legacy of World War Two-era Nazi collaborator and mass murderer Stepan Bandera, branding him “the undisputed symbol of Ukraine’s lengthy and tragic struggle for independence.”

Saint Javelin’s partnership with Zelensky’s United24 aims to help raise funds to build an “army of drones.”

The Saint Javelin website was launched by a former journalist named Christian Borys whose employment history spans NATO state-funded outlets including Canada’s CBC and Britain’s BBC. Borys has also authored articles for the US government-sponsored outlet Radio Free Europe.

The third organization for which NAFO fundraises, Protect Ukraine Defenders, was launched by a well-connected functionary of the Brussels-based intelligentsia named Ievgen Vorobiov. Vorobiov started as an intern for the European Union state-funded Centre for European Policy Studies think tank, then moved on to gigs at the Polish government-founded Polish Institute of International Affairs and Foreign Policy magazine. Before founding Protect Ukraine Defenders, Vorobiov spent nearly four years at the European Union Advisory Mission in Ukraine.

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