Henry Hoeft, a 28-year-old former U.S. Army infantryman and steelworker from a small town outside Columbus, Ohio, was compelled earlier this month to leave his young son to fight in Ukraine, where his father’s family has its roots. After fundraising online and saying his good-byes, Hoeft packed up some of the combat gear he used sporadically in recent years as a member of the boogaloo boys — the extremist, anti-government militia that rose to notoriety in 2020 — and took the route that has become common for the thousands of ex-military types attracted to the newly established Ukrainian foreign legion. Posting about his journey on TikTok and Instagram, he flew to Poland, crossed the border around March 9 with fellow Ohio boogaloo alum Mike Dunn, and joined an outfit accepting combat volunteers from abroad.
“I hope that the war will end tomorrow,” he told the Columbus Dispatch before leaving. “But I will be there for as long as it takes.” Dunn and Hoeft looked energized as they provided family members and thousands of followers with travel updates on social media. After arriving in Ukraine, they described suiting up with the Georgian National Legion (which, unlike some similar groups, does not require foreign fighters to sign indefinite contracts). But within the week, Hoeft had a different message: “People need to stop coming here.”
In a video posted to his Instagram Stories on March 15, Hoeft claimed that he was serving with the Georgian contingent in Ukraine when his base “got fucked up” and a number of foreign volunteers from the U.S. and Great Britain were killed. (A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman referred to military volunteers earlier this month as “mercenaries” who would not be “considered as combatants in accordance with international humanitarian law.”) Hoeft said that when a group of American, Canadian, and British volunteers refused an order to serve in Kyiv with “no fucking weapons” and partially filled magazines, they were told “to get the fuck out” of the brigade. Hoeft says he and two others then hid in the back of an ambulance trying to leave the country. At the border, they stripped off their military gear to pose as civilians when they heard customs officials were sending foreign-legion volunteers back to the front. “It’s a trap,” he said in a video recorded in Poland.
Hoeft’s message and his decision to bow out of the fight early appeared to create a rift between him and Dunn, the former leader of a boogaloo faction in Ohio called the Last Sons of Liberty. A former Marine who says his military career was shortened by a heart condition, Dunn told ProPublica last year that he was “willing to die in the streets” fighting the U.S. government. (Hoeft claims he ditched the Last Sons when the group “got all crazy.”) On his TikTok account, which has now been banned, Dunn pushed back on Hoeft’s claims, while other Georgian National Legion volunteers denied Hoeft’s allegations that they were threatened if they did not leave the unit.
Dunn said that after a supply run to Poland, he decided to join up with a new unit in Ukraine, and he remains “willing to give you my all.” But Hoeft disputed this account: He alleged in a since-deleted Instagram Story that Dunn was kicked out of the Georgian National Legion for his involvement with extremist groups in the U.S. and is now serving with a far-right contingent of the Ukrainian guard whose flag has been championed by white supremacists across the world.
Neither Hoeft nor Dunn responded to requests for comment. The U.S. State Department advises that American citizens should not travel to Ukraine.
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