When Henry Hoeft decided to join the Foreign Legion in Ukraine, he started his local history newspaper. The result for the 28-year-old was a publicity stunt: A a dazzling homepage profile in the Dispatch Columbus.
The article describes him, attractively, as “a former US Army infantryman and half-Ukrainian on his father’s side.” And it allowed Hoeft to present himself as an important player on the world stage: “We believe that if we can hold Putin back long enough,” Hoeft told the reporter, “we can eventually stop a world war.”
Hoeft insisted on his commitment to the cause: “I will be here as long as it takes.” And the Mail played his personal sacrifice, quoting him as saying, “This is who I am.” the advertising helped Hoeft lift at least $5,000 on GiveSendGo (the Christian fundraising alternative GoFundMe) to fund his overseas jaunt.
But the lofty tale of resisting Russian aggression hid a darker story, for the true story of Hoeft’s identity is far more complicated and far less enjoyable. Hoeft has deep ties to the militant movement Boogaloo Bois, which seeks to spark violent unrest. And his now infamous misadventure in Ukraine offers a cautionary tale of the lionization of Americans who up the ante and seek to insert themselves into a war zone.
Hoeft is known as Henry Locke among the Boogaloo Bois, a loosely organized and heavily armed revolutionary movement that expresses its violent aims through an ironic filter. The name derives from the oft-talked-about 1980s breakdance movie sequel. Breakin II: Electric Boogaloo. According to the Department of Justice, “The term ‘Boogaloo’ itself refers to an impending Second Civil War in the United States and is associated with violent uprisings against the government.”
hoeft well documented Boogaloo’s background isn’t the only strike against his character. Far from staying in Ukraine until the end, as he had sworn to do, Hoeft has already gone viral for a video announcing his decision to cut and run. In the clip, he makes serious allegations, including that his life was threatened for deciding to leave and that he had to pose as an aid worker to cross the border into Poland. “We had to bugger off,” Hoeft says in the video. “People have to stop coming here. It’s a trap and they won’t let you go.
Hoeft’s claims are already being aired as propaganda for the Russian side; a prominent researcher on extremism has followed the video through forums on Telegram and Russian social media platform VK which use Hoeft’s claims to mock foreign fighters in Ukraine. His video was also called misinformation by a former brother-in-arms, who called the video “100% completely wrong” and the product of Hoeft’s bitterness at failing a verification process to join the fight.
Hoeft could not be reached for this story. The TikTok account he used to document his trip to Ukraine no longer exists. A Twitter account previously linked to him, @HenryLocke16, is suspended. He did not respond to a request for an interview via Facebook. A message left by a GoFundMe he appears to have launched in 2021 as he said recovering from a shot was not returned.
Internet researchers who document extremists have Hoeft tracking for years, pulling alarming images allegedly from his social media feeds, as well as local police scanners. How the Mail miss Hoeft’s extremism? According to a prominent editor, the paper’s due diligence, which included a criminal background check, simply failed to reveal his pseudonym.
The irony is that the Mailhad himself quoted and photographed Hoeft – passing by Henry Locke – at a heavily armed Boogaloo Bois “unity” rally at the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus in January 2021, just days after the assault on the US Capitol where several Bois were arrested. Apparently the organizer of the Columbus protest — which was met by the presence of state police and the National Guard — Hoeft sported an assault rifle and a cache of high-capacity magazines.
Boogaloo Bois’ flavor of libertarian, anti-law enforcement anarchism can be difficult to anchor on the left-right political spectrum. And as if to accentuate the cognitive dissonance, the Boogaloos brand themselves with flamboyant Hawaiian floral prints. (Hoeft wore a floral covid mask during the Statehouse protest.) The movement’s wacky symbols belie grim beliefs. The Southern Poverty Law Center has traced racist origins of “boogaloo” currency – noting that the term “is regularly used by white nationalists and neo-Nazis who want to see society descend into chaos so they can seize power and build a new fascist state” – although the SPLC warns that the broader Boogaloo Boy movement is “not exclusively based on the pursuit of ideas of white supremacy”.
the Mail awkwardly reconnected his profile to weave mentions of Hoeft’s Booglaoo links. And the article went on to offer the activist the benefit of the doubt, quoting Hoeft as saying he had distanced himself from the extremist movement. Lark-Marie Anton, a spokeswoman for the newspaper’s parent company, Gannet, said in a written statement: ‘We regret the error and have immediately revised the story to reflect the fact that Henry Hoeft previously used the name of ‘Henry Locke and was associated with the far-right group known as Boogaloo Bois in the past.
But there are reasons to question Hoeft’s alleged diversion from extremism. Hoeft traveled to Eastern Europe with prominent Boogaloo Bois movement leader Mike Dunn, a gun rights activist from Virginia whose history of openly defying state gun laws fire brought him to presented by Vice. (Dunn did not respond to an interview request.)
Dunn became a controversial figure in the Boogaloo movement because he reportedly spoke out against another extremist, David Phillips, federal law enforcement. But Dunn was interviewed on video by a freelance journalist shortly before he left for Ukraine, and he insisted that taking up arms against the Russians “is in the spirit of the Boogaloo movement and embodies those ideals”.
Speaking of fellow travelers, Dunn added that “the Boogaloo movement is going to be represented there by individuals who have given more to the movement than anyone crying online” to sacrifice their lives for their rights, they just posted online .
For Hoeft, the excitement of arriving in Ukraine was almost immediately undermined by the harsh reality of joining underfunded foreign fighters. In his viral video, Hoeft said he tried to hook up with Georgia National Legion, a group of foreigners on the Ukrainian side consisting largely of fighters from the country of Georgia. But Hoeft said they didn’t have much to arm the new recruits with: “They’re trying to send us to kyiv with no fucking weapons, no equipment, no fucking plates,” he said. . “People who are lucky enough to get guns only get magazines with 10 fucking rounds.”
When his group of fighters refused deployment, Hoeft said, “they told us we had to get the hell out or they were going to shoot us in the back.” Hoeft then claimed he ‘hid in the back of an ambulance’ on his way to the border, where he alleged Ukrainian authorities crossing into Poland were intercepting elderly men fighting and “cut up passports” and “send you back.”
Hoeft alleged that he was bailed out by a humanitarian group that helped camouflage him as medical personnel. “We put on Red Cross vests and they had fucking humanitarian passes to get us across the Ukrainian border,” he said, warning others not to come because “it’s a trap”.
This is not clear which platform Hoeft was originally using to post the video, but it was quickly grabbed by Twitter accounts that saw Hoeft’s post as favorable to the Russian side:
“It’s a trap, they cut up our passports and send us to the front.”
US volunteer complains about mistreatment by Ukrainian forces – the ones he came to fight for – and says losses suffered by foreign volunteers are underestimated by Ukrainian authorities pic.twitter.com/Mz0Z8qMRCh
— 🇷🇸☦ Милош Обилић #1244 ☦🇷🇸 (@Milos1389Obilic) March 15, 2022
As Hoeft’s message spread, Dunn quickly posted his own TikTok, lambasting his brother Boogaloo’s “misinformation.” This TikTok account has since gone dark, but not before rolling stone downloaded a copy of Dunn’s video.
Dunn appears haggard in the clip. “You must excuse me, I’m quite sick at the moment. But I am alive,” he said. “I’ve been back and forth to Ukraine twice in the last three or four days…. I am part of a local militia unit. I had no problem with my torn passport.
Dunn said he also tried to connect with the Georgian combat unit and insisted he never felt unsafe. “The Georgia National Legion has never threatened to kill me or harm me in any form,” he said. “I cannot illegitimate [sic] 1000% Henry’s story, but I can say from my own perspective that it didn’t happen to me.
For his part, Dunn revealed that he was kicked out of that unit. “They didn’t like people having an existence on the internet at all,” Dunn said. “Obviously I have a long life on the internet…and I left the Georgia Legion about two days before Henry did.”
The Virginia activist had harsh words for Hoeft. “I won’t call it cowardice, but I will say that none of the things he described in the video happened to me. Obviously his (video) is going to be used as anti-Ukrainian propaganda, this to which I’m not. Dunn added, “I’m still here in Ukraine,” but clarified that he now expects to leave within a month.
Adding to this fog of war videos, another American on the ground in UkraineHarrison Jozefowicz, a former Chicago cop who claims to be from “a humanitarian organization” working directly with the Georgian Legion, posted a pair of videos calling Hoeft’s claims “completely wrong.” He blamed Hoeft’s story on the cut-up passports on “mass paranoia”.
“We have a verification process,” he said. “Henry Locke…did not pass our verification process.” Jozefowicz called Hoeft’s viral video “direct retaliation” for “being rejected”. But he insisted: “That’s exactly why we have a vetting process – to stop that kind of mentality from getting here.”
For those who analyze extremism professionally, the misadventures of two Boogaloo Bois in Ukraine are part of a larger and more troubling picture, in which international conflict zones attract exactly the wrong kind of people.
“Hoeft and Dunn highlight the problem of extremists joining larger volunteer populations,” writing Rita Katz Director of the SITE Intelligence Group. “The world is shooting for Ukraine,” she adds, “but a free flow of unchecked extremist militants into a conflict always creates problems beyond a single country.”