How a Moscow man from an Uzbek family started the world’s biggest neo-Nazi forum
In 2011, an English-language forum called IronMarch.org appeared online. Within a few years, it had become what the British tabloid The Sun called “Facebook for Nazis.” The forum’s users organized a number of neo-Nazi groups, including the Atomwaffen Division in the U.S. and the Antipodean Resistance in Australia. Those groups then committed five murders in the United States, including that of a 19-year-old gay and Jewish university student, and attempted to carry out a terrorist attack in Canada. The founder of Iron March wrote under the username Alexander Slavros. In reality, he is Alisher Mukhitdinov. In 2017, both Mukhitdinov and his forum inexplicably disappeared from the Internet. In a new report, the BBC Russian Service reveals that he is still living under the radar in a pre-fabricated apartment block in southwest Moscow.
IronMarch’s founder, who has roots in Uzbekistan, studied at Moscow State and MGIMO
Alisher Mukhitdinov is descended from an influential Uzbek family. Two sources who have access to personal information databases told the BBC that Nuritdin Mukhitdinov, a close relative on Alisher’s father’s side, fought in the Battle of Stalingrad and later led the Uzbek government under Khrushchev. He then served as a member of the Presidium of the Communist Party of the USSR (the predecessor to the Politburo) and the USSR’s ambassador to Syria. Alisher Mukhitdinov’s parents met in the 1980s while they were students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), an institution still known for its ties to security agencies. In the 1990s, they divorced. Mukhitdinov’s mother worked as a sports journalist, and his father was a businessman, a MGIMO sponsor, and the CEO of a charitable foundation serving those who migrate to Russia looking for work.
Mukhitdinov studied psychology at Moscow State University (MGU) before transferring to the political science department. However, he was expelled for missing a history exam. He tried to challenge the expulsion in court, arguing that he had missed the test because of a bureaucratic error, but he lost his case. The young man then continued his undergraduate degree at MGIMO’s political science department. Yevgenia Akulina, a former classmate, described Mukhitdinov to the BBC as a friendly, erudite, and unobtrusive person.
As a student, Mukhitdinov only wore black clothing, “typically a tactical jumpsuit with about 15 pockets, like [pundit Anatoly] Wasserman’s,” one of his classmates said on condition of anonymity. Akulina added that Mukhitdinov sometimes wore a Bolshevichek brand suit to express his patriotism. In photographs that have surfaced on English-language neo-Nazi forums since, Mukhitdinov wears a military jumpsuit and a balaclava mask. He said he wears military-style clothing in part out of respect for his descendents who fought for the Soviet Union.
Alisher Mukhitdinov loved Stalin, hated Trotsky, and called himself “half Russian”
“Back then, there was no fascism, at least not publicly. He called himself a metanationalist [the BBC does not explain this term]. After all, he is Alisher Mukhitdinov,” the young man’s anonymous classmate said, referring to the name’s recognizably Central Asian etymology. “He has dark skin, and his face isn’t really Russian. It was obvious that he couldn’t have anything to do with Russian Nazis. And what Americans call a white ethnostate wouldn’t take Alisher from the get-go. He understood that perfectly, so he came up with his own ideology.” Later on, Mukhitdinov himself would write on IronMarch, “I’m half Russian, so even under the Nuremberg [race] laws, I’m okay.”
By the time he started studying at MGIMO, Mukhitdinov had started calling himself Alexander Slavros online, and he had set up a website called Slavros.org where he uploaded detailed essays on his metanationalist ideology. Mukhitdinov studied writings by Russian and Italian nationalists and openly identified as a Stalinist: He signed his blog posts “Glory to Russia, Glory to Stalin.” He also publicly opposed Trotskyism, and for two years in a row, he marked the anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s assassination by destroying a papier-mâché bust of the revolutionary theorist on video and showing the results to his classmates. The nickname Slavros itself combines the root syllable of both “Slavic” and “glory” with the root for “Russian.”
Mukhitdinov created an “Iron Russian Youth Movement” and made himself its “autocrat”
In 2010, Mukhitdinov joined in the December protests on Manezhnaya Square and posted a video on his YouTube channel about how people had thrown flares and pieces of rebar at police. Soon afterward, he published a 100-page manifesto titled “The Iron Russian Youth Movement” (DRZhM) in which he wrote, “Ever since I was a child, I knew I was a Russian, and I felt patriotic, nationalistic sentiments as well as an interest in politics. I followed a path from communism to Stalinism, and [my] nationalism rose steadily all the while.” The word “Russian,” or “Russky,” in the manifesto refers to Slavic Russian ethnicity rather than citizenship or residency, and while it is not capitalized in standard Russian, Mukhitdinov did capitalize it in his writing.
Elsewhere in the manifesto, Mukhitdinov anointed himself the “autocrat” and “absolute leader” of DRZhM and drew up a hierarchy for the group that included “knights,” “warriors,” and “war chiefs.” DRZhM members were to wear a uniform, and the dress code for the “female corps” included a traditional Russian blouse and a floor-length skirt. Mukhitdinov commissioned a Mexican artist with the username acfierro to design the planned uniforms. The BBC noted that while quotes from Mukhitdinov’s manifesto occasionally crop up in nationalist groups on the social media site VKontakte, he remains an obscure figure to most of the Russian far right.
IronMarch’s founder openly called himself a fascist, and the forum’s masthead ultimately came to include the words “Jews,” “ovens,” and “race war”
The IronMarch forum first appeared in 2011. One former participant whom the BBC did not name said the website wasn’t quite so fascist at first: “The main idea was to overturn the culture of political correctness. It was a refuge for people who couldn’t express themselves in other places. In the early years, Alexander [Slavros] didn’t ban people with different ideas. He was interested in them himself.” Later on, Slavros began identifying openly as a fascist and a racist. By the time IronMarch was shut down, its masthead included the words “Jews,” “ovens,” and “race war.”An Atomwaffen Division flyer found on May 1, 2018.
The forum’s users worshipped Charles Manson, Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, the perpetrators of the Columbine shooting, and other mass murderers, asserting that they had brought the destruction of the world as we know it closer to reality. Slavros worked to popularize the ideas of American neo-Nazi James Mason, who argues that the closer the contemporary world is to complete destruction, the better the situation will be for fascists. Researchers from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that Slavros promoted Mason’s book SIEGE, which was first published as a newsletter between 1980 and 1986, and helped make it “a racist Internet phenomenon.”
Inspired by Mason’s ideas, Slavros posted several essay collections online that perpetuated a similar worldview. According to the BBC, the neo-Nazi activist made significant efforts to ensure that the production value of each collection mirrored that of a legitimate publication. The essays soon reached beyond IronMarch; they were posted on anonymous fascist imageboards and Telegram channels as well as Fascist Forge. That forum is considered to be IronMarch’s successor; it features an entire section devoted to Alexander Slavros.
IronMarch has since shut down without explanation, but its leader still lives in Moscow
In November 2017, IronMarch suddenly stopped operating, as did an online magazine called Rope Culture that was also founded by Slavros. The two websites were hosted separately, which led users to suspect that they had not been shut down from outside but rather by their owner himself. Some ultra-right activists said they suspected that Slavros had acted under pressure from the Russian government. As one rumor had it, Slavros had angered the Federal Security Service (FSB) by raising money for the Ukrainian Azov battalion, which is known for its neo-Nazi ties. However, the BBC could not find evidence that any such fundraising took place. Yet other followers claimed that hackers had attacked the forum and forced it to close.
The BBC was unable to determine with certainty why IronMarch shut down, but its journalists did discover that Alisher Mukhitdinov still lives in Moscow. He has a three-room apartment in the city’s southwest that he inherited from his mother. Mukhitdinov is not wanted by any Russian law enforcement agencies, and he uses a cell phone, but he declined to speak with the BBC, which was unable to discover how the neo-Nazi leader now spends his time. Yevgenia Akulina, Mukhitdinov’s former classmate, told journalists that her acquaintance once said he would like to work as a translator for films and TV shows.
Investigation by Andrey Soshnikov for the BBC Russian Service
Summary by Olga Korelina