2021-05-29 01:36:08 Double Killing In Florida. American On The Run In Ukraine.

Double Killing In Florida. American On The Run In Ukraine.

The staccato crack of gunfire echoed across the cloudy night, startling residents of a small enclave in southwestern Florida.

Responding to a flood of 911 calls, Lee County sheriff’s deputies raced to the scene, but in the dark, they couldn’t find where the shooting had occurred. The crime scene was discovered the next morning by employees of the Galleria, a nearby business complex.

Deana Lorenzo, 50, was discovered slumped over in the passenger seat of a red GMC truck, shot in the head, neck, and abdomen. Serafin “Danny” Lorenzo, 52, was found supine on the bloody asphalt near the vehicle’s passenger side, with bullet wounds to his head and lower body.

In a matter of seconds, gunmen had fired no less than 63 rounds. The Lorenzos had no chance.

The Brooksville, Florida, couple, both military veterans, believed they were on the verge of a big payday just 20 hours before their deaths. They had responded to a classified ad on the website Armslist.com in the hopes of obtaining five Glocks, an Uzi, and additional guns and parts.

The ad stated, “For Sale: Several Guns.” I’ll be leaving the country soon. I’m looking to sell [sic] all of my guns because I won’t be able to take them with me.”

The Lorenzos frequently made deals together, whether it was flipping houses or shopping for antiques. Serafin Lorenzo also bought and resold guns for a profit, and he recognized a good bargain when he saw one. He wrote to the seller, Jeremy Goldstein, offering an Oris-brand watch or cash. Goldstein turned down the watch.

Lorenzo responded, “I have cash on hand,” offering to pay $3,000 for the arsenal. “Mine is a sure thing,” he added.

There would be no deal if Goldstein did not exist, but the Lorenzos were unaware of this.

Instead, Craig Lang, 30, and Alex Zwiefelhofer, 23, were waiting in the dark of the secluded, palm tree–lined business complex, the agreed-upon meeting point in the small Florida town of Estero, according to the FBI.

Before deserting, the two men had served in the United States military and had received years of specialized training. They later traveled to Ukraine to fight in an armed conflict with right-wing extremists, became increasingly radicalized, and returned to the United States with plans to return to the battlefield as soon as possible. They did, however, require funds. In total, US court records detail a series of violent exploits, crimes, and misadventures that span multiple states and four continents.

Experts on extremism have been closely monitoring the activities of mostly young far-right extremists with military backgrounds who seek to fight in foreign wars to gain combat experience. They’ve seen how these hired soldiers become radicalized and then bring what they’ve learned back home from troubled, distant lands like Ukraine. The country has emerged as a key node in the global network of white supremacy extremism.

Far-right extremists see the war zone as a laboratory where they can gain real-world combat experience to take back home. Lang thrived for a time in this tumultuous world of violence, but an examination of his life and the crimes he is accused of committing provide a stark example of the impact of one American’s radicalization.

A Ukrainian soldier stands at his frontline position in the Donetsk region in 2014.

A Ukrainian soldier stands at his frontline position in the Donetsk region in 2014.Sergii Kharchenko / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Eastern Ukraine is a land of extremes, covering an area roughly the size of West Virginia. Summers can be hot enough to fry an egg on the street, and winters can be cold enough to throw boiling water into the air and watch it freeze into a powder. Its vast steppes are strewn with golden sunflowers and flecked with black dust from coal mines and hulking steel mills. And, over the last seven years, approximately 4 million Ukrainians have attempted to live their lives in the midst of a brutal war.

A Russian special forces operation took root in Kyiv in April 2014, two months after the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president was deposed by revolutionaries. Disguised as a local uprising, it erupted into a full-fledged war that claimed the lives of over 13,000 people over the course of seven years. Ukraine’s underfunded, underequipped, and unprepared military was no match for the far more sophisticated Kremlin-backed insurgency, which had 6,000 combat-ready troops.

Hundreds of volunteer paramilitary units, including hardened right-wing nationalists and neo-Nazis, rushed into the fray to halt Russia’s advance. Right Sector, a group that answered to no state authority, was one of the most prominent.

Dmytro Yarosh, the battalion commander, was a stocky man with stubble and a slight lisp whose goal was to build a country for ethnic Ukrainians. Yarosh, an avowed disciple of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator who fought Soviet rule in the 1930s and 1940s, inspired and mobilized over 3,000 Right Sector fighters who shared his vision.

Many of them had swastikas, Black Suns, and other Nazi symbols tattooed on their bodies, and they were frequently seen giving the “Sieg heil” salute. Human rights organizations and Western governments accused them of torturing combatants and civilians, which only served to raise the group’s profile.

Extremists began pouring into the country to join it and other far-right paramilitary formations. According to interviews with seven of the men, expert research, news reports, open-source information, and court records, there were approximately 40 Americans among them. Many of the Americans held far-right views and a proclivity for violence, and were looking for a fresh start after a string of failures in the United States.

Craig Lang was among them.

According to his father, Donald Lang, Lang joined the Army in 2008 to escape his troubled childhood in North Carolina, which included five years in a foster home. (In court in Ukraine, Craig Lang described assaulting a teacher.)

According to friends, Lang told them that joining the Army was his best option for getting out. From November 2008 to June 2014, he served in the infantry, serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, where his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. “I was in a position when a round came in, exploded, and caused a brain injury,” Lang later testified in a Ukrainian court. “I have vision problems in my left eye. I frequently suffer from headaches.”

Lang moved to Ukraine in May 2015 in search of adventure and violence.

At the same time, his marriage was falling apart. His high school sweetheart, who had been his high school sweetheart, had filed for divorce. Lang, according to media reports, believed she was seeing other men.

In 2013, he left Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and drove nonstop to his wife’s home in North Carolina, armed with military body armor, night vision goggles, claymore mines, and two assault rifles. He later told a journalist that he wanted to murder his wife.

“Craig went frickin’ ballistic,” said one Army colleague.

Lang’s wife was not injured. Police were alerted to his illegal trip and arrested him at his father’s house. According to Donald Lang, his son has “developed PTSD” since returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was imprisoned for several weeks following the incident before being released and returning to El Paso. He was dishonorably discharged from the Army on June 4, 2014. A spokesperson declined to comment on the terms of Lang’s discharge (or confirm his injuries), but it cost him his veterans benefits, health insurance, and gun license. His wife also finalized their divorce, took possession of his truck and home, filed a restraining order against him, and won custody of their child.

His wife wrote in her restraining order request, “I fear for my safety and the safety of my two-and-a-half-year-old.” Craig has shown violent behavior toward me and others on numerous occasions.” She claimed he had previously tried to suffocate her with a pillow in front of their toddler, threatened to kill her, and texted her about attempting suicide.

Friends of Lang’s told me that after he was discharged from the Army, he struggled to find work, taking odd jobs that often lasted only a few weeks at a time. He came across an article about the Ukrainian war in 2015, when he was deeply in debt and without any promising prospects. It described the Ukrainian military’s struggle to contain the larger and more powerful Russian army, as well as the influx of foreign fighters into the country to fight alongside far-right volunteer battalions.

In May 2015, he arrived in Ukraine in search of adventure and violence.

Lang carries a bag of wet firewood to his unit’s bunker outside Donetsk.Lang carries a bag of wet firewood to his unit’s bunker outside Donetsk.Timo Vogt / EST&OST/span>

Lang claimed that he was barely off the train in the war-torn region of eastern Ukraine when a member of the Right Sector handed him an AK-47 loaded with explosives.

The next morning, he was sent to a position just a few miles from Donetsk, a key stronghold where some of the most intense fighting was taking place.

“I chose Right Sector because I thought they were the most active on the front lines,” Lang explained to BuzzFeed News. (Over the course of two years, Lang and I communicated via social media and in person at least four times, but he always declined my requests to be interviewed. He did, however, speak briefly to a Ukrainian reporter sent by BuzzFeed News to cover court proceedings in March.)

Lang stayed close to the few English-speaking Ukrainians and a handful of other Americans and Europeans in the Right Sector despite his inability to speak Russian or Ukrainian.

An American volunteer who fought alongside Lang described him, two of his closest American comrades, and two Austrians as “maniacs” who “got their rocks off” while firing Kalashnikov automatic rifles or the battalion’s machine gun and shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The five men dubbed their tight-knit group “Task Force Pluto,” after the Greek god of the underworld. An American fighter who wasn’t a member of Pluto but hung out with the men said they had a “fetish for death and torture.”

In early 2016, a freelance German photographer paid a visit to the Right Sector base. Lang — 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a craning neck, sapphire-blue eyes, light hair, and an untamed amber beard — is shown in one of his photographs holding a photo of his daughter.

In another photo of Lang, a tattoo of the words “MOLON LABE” — an ancient Greek expression of defiance that translates to “come and take them,” a phrase that has been adopted by Second Amendment activists and conservatives in the United States — can be seen on his right forearm as he shakes the hand of another man with the same tattoo.

A third image shows Lang standing next to a unit member who is giving a Nazi salute.

American fighters who knew Lang said that during gunfights, the men of Task Force Pluto would discuss their “troubling” political views over cheap Ukrainian booze and cigarettes — and that Lang’s politics and behavior became more radical. According to them, he would frequently defy his commanders’ orders and attempt to provoke the enemy into a gunfight. According to one of them, Lang’s lack of discipline was a big reason why his two-month stint as a contract soldier in Ukraine’s Armed Forces didn’t work out.

Lang told BuzzFeed News that he does not hold “extremist political views.”

But Damien Rodriguez, a Bronx native who previously served in a far-right Ukrainian unit and crossed paths with Lang on the battlefield, had a very different take on it.

“Some of what he said made me think, Dude, I don’t want to be next to you right now,” he explained. “He was talking to me about starting a revolution” in the United States. “It was insane.”

Lang stated that he wanted to “watch the world burn.”

Lang brags about “fucking people up” and doing “extrajudicial shit” in the war zone, particularly to enemy combatants captured by Right Sector.

Another American who served in the ranks of Ukrainian volunteer battalions with Lang, David Plaster, said in an interview that Lang liked to brag about “fucking people up” and doing “extrajudicial shit” in the war zone, particularly to enemy combatants captured by Right Sector.

During his spare time, Lang would spend hours responding to Facebook messages from other Americans hoping to fight alongside far-right extremists. Those potential clients had seen him in interviews with Ukrainian and Western media. Footage of him firing a machine gun or standing next to artillery made him a folk hero among Ukrainians and troubled young men in the United States.

According to Brian Boyenger, an Iraq War veteran who served as a sniper in Ukraine’s Armed Forces alongside Lang from 2015 to 2016, Lang was the first point of contact in Ukraine for many “lost boys” who came to fight.

Boyenger claimed he acted as an unofficial human resources manager, interviewing dozens of fighters recruited by Lang. He said he turned down many of them because they were “radicals” or “too eager” to gain real-life combat experience.

One of the candidates Boyenger turned down was Jarrett William Smith, a South Carolina native who told me in a letter that he was drawn to the neo-Nazi imagery of Ukraine’s far-right battalions and had approached Lang while still in high school. Smith never made it to Ukraine, but he still hopes to go and fight there someday. Instead, he enlisted in the US Army and was arrested in September 2019 on serious federal charges for allegedly assisting far-right extremists. Prosecutors claimed he discussed plans to assassinate former House Representative Beto O’Rourke and blow up CNN’s offices on the social networking site Telegram. Later, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, where he is still incarcerated.

The roughly 40 Americans known to have traveled to Ukraine range in age from their early twenties to their mid-fifties, with some having ties to far-right extremist groups in the United States. A few people with far-left sympathies have joined Russia-backed forces.

In October, I reported that Kyiv deported two American men linked to the Atomwaffen Division and the Base, both of which are stateside neo-Nazi groups linked to violent crimes such as murder and alleged plots to attack US nuclear facilities. One of them has since returned to the United States.

According to Ukrainian security services, the Americans attempted to establish a local branch and connect with members of the country’s Azov Battalion, a group of far-right radicals and neo-Nazis accused of torture and war crimes. (The group has been renamed the Azov Regiment and is now officially part of Ukraine’s National Guard.)

Members of “Task Force Pluto.”

Members of “Task Force Pluto.” Front, from left: Austrians Benjamin Fischer and Alex Kirschbaum. Back, from left: Americans Quinn Rickert, Craig Lang, and Santi Pirtle.Timo Vogt / EST&OST

According to Kacper Rekawek, a researcher at the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project and the author of a 2020 report on right-wing foreign fighters in Ukraine, European intelligence agencies began noticing extremists coming to the country years ago. Several countries, including Italy, Spain, Czechia, and the United Kingdom, have arrested and prosecuted citizens who fought with groups in eastern Ukraine and returned home.

“These guys are projecting their fantasies onto the Ukrainian war,” Rekawek said. “They say, ‘We went there because we thought we could live our lives however we wanted.’ In that regard, they are similar to ISIS.”

Mollie Saltskog, a senior analyst at the Soufan Group, a security consultancy based in New York, is concerned about what happens when foreign fighters leave the conflict. “The question is, what do they intend to do once they leave Ukraine?” Some want to make a more lateral career move and become a career mercenary — but how do people who return to Europe and the United States use their newfound skill and network?”

“These guys are projecting their fantasies onto the Ukrainian war. ‘We went there because we thought we could live our lives the way we wanted to,’ they say. In that regard, they are similar to ISIS.”

Nathan Sales, the former State Department ambassador-at-large and counterterrorism coordinator, told me last summer, while still in office, that the US had been “very closely” monitoring reports of American white supremacist fighters in Ukraine.

He cited FBI Director Christopher Wray’s statement in October 2019 that his agency was watching “racially motivated violent extremists connecting with like-minded individuals online certainly, and in some cases… traveling overseas to train.”

That corresponds to what four American fighters told me about their encounters with federal agents after returning to the United States. They claimed they were questioned in airports about their motivations for fighting in a foreign war, their affiliations with far-right extremist groups in Ukraine, and their personal beliefs and ideologies. However, the intervention had little impact.

“They interrogate me: What was I doing? “Blah blah blah,” said one American fighter. “I tell them that I have nothing to hide. They then released me. Each and every time.”

Lang told other American fighters in the summer of 2017, when the war in Ukraine had cooled to a simmer, that he was growing tired of the monotony of trench warfare. Alex Zwiefelhofer, an American fighter who joined the Right Sector after deserting the US Army and meeting Lang online, was also getting restless. They devised a plan in June, according to US court documents, to travel to East Africa to fight al-Shabaab, a jihadist terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Claiming to be journalists, the two men made it only as far as the Kenya–South Sudan border before being apprehended by the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces. They were arrested for attempting to cross without proper documentation and imprisoned in Nairobi for nearly two months.

“Week six of African incarceration. Zwiefelhofer complained in a July 2017 Facebook post he managed to publish from a phone he claimed he smuggled in.

Due to unpaid child support, US authorities stamped Lang’s passport with a black stamp, rendering it invalid. After a few weeks, the two of them were deported back to the United States; Lang was sent to Surprise, Arizona, where his mother was living at the time.

Meanwhile, Zwiefelhofer encountered more serious difficulties. Court records show that while Customs and Border Protection agents were questioning him at the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport about his foreign military exploits in Ukraine and South Sudan, they discovered child sexual abuse imagery on his phone. He was arrested on sexual exploitation of a minor charges before being released on bond and fleeing to Wisconsin. That case is still active.

Lang and Zwiefelhofer became restless again as the months passed. According to their acquaintances, the pair craved the exhilaration of fighting overseas. They began to discuss returning to Ukraine or going to Venezuela to fight alongside anti-government rebels attempting to depose socialist President Nicolás Maduro.

According to court records, they began exchanging Facebook messages in March 2018 and made plans to meet in Miami.

Then there are plans for the next battlefield.

A room at the La Quinta Inn in Miami, Florida.A room at the La Quinta Inn in Miami, Florida.Eve Edelheit for BuzzFeed News

Lang and Zwiefelhofer arrived in Miami by bus on April 5, 2018, and did what many tourists do when they visit South Florida: they put on tropical shirts and take selfies.

Lang changed into a button-up shirt patterned with navy and light blue hibiscus flowers inside a La Quinta Inn in Miami, nestled between a Denny’s, a Wendy’s, and a McDonald’s near the city’s international airport. Zwiefelhofer donned a shirt emblazoned with martini glasses in yellow, pink, red, and green. The pair then took selfies in front of the purple, black, and white decor of room 210.

They didn’t, however, pack like typical tourists. They had at least four semiautomatic Glock pistols, one high-powered rifle, and hundreds of bullets with them.

According to court records, Lang and Zwiefelhofer had discussed smuggling guns and ammunition to Miami, purchasing body armor at a military surplus store, committing robberies, hot-wiring and stealing a yacht, and fleeing to South America or Ukraine in the previous weeks. According to the FBI, the pair stated that they would “kill a yacht owner if necessary” in order to flee.

What happened next in room 210, with the fluorescent light of fast-food signs glinting through the curtains, was straight out of a Coen brothers film. The FBI discovered that the two men had googled “classified Miami handguns,” “hotwire boat ignition switch,” and “how to smuggle myself to South America” after examining Lang’s laptop. Then they watched a scene from a Hollywood action film in which shooters ambush passengers in a parked vehicle.

Authorities claim that on April 7, the men used Lang’s laptop to post a classified ad on Armslist.com under the alias Jeremy Goldstein, offering to sell five Glock handguns, one Star pistol, one Uzi, and four upper and four lower receivers for AR-15 assault rifles.

Serafin Lorenzo texted the man he thought was Goldstein about the firearms a little more than 24 hours later, at 12:10 a.m. on April 9, 2018.

According to authorities, Lang and Zwiefelhofer drove west on Interstate 75 the next evening in a rented Toyota Corolla. The flat and unyielding 80-mile stretch of pavement known as Alligator Alley cuts through the Everglades. They arrived at the Galleria complex in Estero around 10 p.m.

Serafin Lorenzo had told a family member the night before how excited he was about the deal, saying that $3,000 for the haul was a steal and that he could sell it all for more than twice that amount, the family member told me in an interview.

The family member stated that they were concerned about the arrangement and told Serafin that it didn’t sound right. The family member recalls his response as follows: “This is a legitimate thing. “Believe me.”

Serafin Lorenzo backed the couple’s red GMC truck into a parking spot opposite a church at 10:44 p.m. and texted Goldstein, saying he and Deana Lorenzo were there. Less than ten minutes later, the Lorenzos were hit by a hail of bullets. The gunmen ambushed them from behind and on the passenger side, and federal investigators noted how similar this was to the movie scene Lang and Zwiefelhofer had seen.

Red-hot rounds pierced the victims’ bodies, penetrating the trunks of palm trees across the parking lot, and piercing office windows.

Deana was known to carry a pink pistol, according to a Lorenzo family member. According to a law enforcement official, Deana fired at least one shot at the assailants.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived the next morning and cordoned off the scene, they discovered the Lorenzos’ bodies, a truck shot full of holes, Serafin’s cellphone and brown leather wallet, and a bill of sale for the firearms transaction he expected to take place.

Serafin Lorenzo’s $3,000 cash withdrawal was gone.

Authorities said Zwiefelhofer’s cellphone records and the GPS system in the rented Corolla showed the pair fled the same way they came — through Alligator Alley, disappearing into the darkness.

A view of Interstate 75, also known as Alligator Alley, in FloridaA view of Interstate 75, also known as Alligator Alley, in FloridaEve Edelheit for BuzzFeed News

Lang and Zwiefelhofer were on the run after the killings, but not to South America, as they had planned.

Instead, they traveled to Washington state, where Lang sold 50 firearm magazines, approximately 550 rounds of rifle ammunition, and several rifle components for $1,500 at Palace Jewelry and Loan, a Seattle pawnshop, according to court documents and an extradition request for Lang.

According to authorities, Lang went to North Carolina to visit his mother, while Zwiefelhofer returned to Bloomer, Wisconsin.

Lang contacted Matthew McCloud, a fellow Army veteran he knew from his time at Fort Bliss, four months after the Lorenzos were killed. McCloud, who told me about Lang shooting an AK-47 at life-size posters of then-President Barack Obama and Miley Cyrus while stationed in Texas, said Lang first approached him before the Lorenzo killings. Lang persuaded him to come to Miami and meet him and Zwiefelhofer before traveling abroad to fight.

But McCloud was arrested in Arkansas for check fraud before he could leave for the rendezvous. After his release, he was able to meet up with Lang in North Carolina and pay two other men for documents that would allow him and Lang to establish new identities and travel abroad. McCloud told me and federal agents that the guns advertised on Armslist were part of the payment. He claimed Lang was turned down for a passport because he filled out a section of the application incorrectly and became “spooked” when the worker processing the paperwork began questioning whether he was who he claimed to be.

McCloud told me that he flew alone from Atlanta to Kyiv on September 17, 2018, but that he didn’t like it there. Within a few days, he was planning to leave and meet up with Lang, who had decided to go to South America even though he didn’t have a new passport.

According to McCloud and federal authorities, Lang smudged the black stamp in his passport, which had been placed there by US authorities when he was deported from Kenya, and used the canceled document to cross from El Paso into Juárez, Mexico, on September 24. Lang took a flight to Mexico City later that day. The next day, he boarded another flight to Bogotá, Colombia.

McCloud followed him to Bogotá on Oct. 12, posting a photo of the two of them wearing matching black-and-tan outfits on a church square beneath a darkened sky on Facebook. McCloud, on the other hand, quickly changed his mind about fighting Venezuela’s government. On October 22, he entered Texas through Mexico and was apprehended by the US Marshals Service.

“He has done so much good in all aspects of his life. He is also distressed as a result of the war. It drove him to do some truly heinous things.”

McCloud told investigators that he decided to abandon the plan because he “didn’t want to kill people.”

He turned against Lang while in custody. He told FBI agents that Lang told him he and Zwiefelhofer killed the Lorenzos and “unloaded both of their clips into the dude’s red truck.”

McCloud also told the FBI that Lang boasted about murdering a “boat captain” who was supposed to transport him and Zwiefelhofer from Miami to South America in a money dispute. Local and federal authorities both refused to answer my questions about the alleged murder. And I couldn’t find a murder in the Miami area that matched McCloud’s description.

McCloud, who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit passport fraud, described Lang to me as having “demons.” In an interview, he stated that he was concerned about his safety after cooperating in the case against Lang.

McCloud stated, “He has done so many good things in all aspects of life.” “He is also distressed as a result of the war. It drove him to do some truly heinous things. He revealed some gruesome details to me. For legal and safety reasons, I can’t really elaborate on what I know.”

Lang, for reasons that remain unknown, never made it to Venezuela. Instead, he returned to Ukraine.

Alex Zwiefelhofer’s Instagram postAlex Zwiefelhofer’s Instagram postScreenshot / Instagram

Meanwhile, Zwiefelhofer was enjoying his freedom in Bloomer, where he lived with his father.

“Feeling cute, might join an ultranationalist militia or make the army times later, idk,” he captioned a photo he posted on Instagram on April 14, 2019, of himself wearing reflective sunglasses and shooting earmuffs and holding a pistol at what appears to be a gun range. “I swear it’s just a meme, guys,” he wrote in the caption.

He had no idea that federal authorities were on his tail.

The FBI said Zwiefelhofer had filled out a form with false information while trying to buy a gun weeks earlier, despite the fact that he still had outstanding charges related to child sex abuse materials against him. On May 23, law enforcement officers swooped in and arrested him.

When agents discovered Lang’s laptop during a search of his home, they made a breakthrough in the Lorenzo case. On the computer, a book draft titled “Craig’s Life” was saved, which included passages about fighting in Ukraine. Agents discovered additional evidence in the document that they planned to use against Lang and Zwiefelhofer in Florida.

According to a US extradition request for Lang, Zwiefelhofer voluntarily agreed to speak with federal agents. He admitted that he was in Florida at the time the Lorenzos were murdered and that he intended to travel from Miami to Venezuela to fight the government there. He also stated that Lang was in Florida with him.

But Zwiefelhofer denied creating the Armslist ad, despite the fact that it was linked to an email he used and its associated Facebook page, which featured a profile photo of him in a Miami La Quinta Inn hotel room. He also stated that he had never visited the Galleria complex in Estero.

Zwiefelhofer has pleaded not guilty to the Lorenzos’ murders, and he has declined an interview request through his lawyer, D. Todd Doss. Prosecutors have argued that Zwiefelhofer is a serious flight risk and a danger to the community, and he remains in custody while awaiting his trial in Fort Myers, Florida, on June 1.

Prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida have indicated that they will seek the death penalty for both Zwiefelhofer and Lang.

Lang (center) mingles with Ukrainian Right Sector fighters after a court hearing to consider his extradition at the Kyiv Court of Appeal on Feb 18, 2021. Lang (center) mingles with Ukrainian Right Sector fighters after a court hearing to consider his extradition at the Kyiv Court of Appeal on Feb 18, 2021. Oksana Parafeniuk for BuzzFeed News

Lang got busy putting down roots and starting a new life in Kyiv, mindful of Zwiefelhofer’s arrest, which he had read about online, and a stepped-up effort by US authorities to track him down. He was hoping to gain Ukrainian citizenship, he would later tell a Kyiv court.

He met Anna Osipovich, an English-speaking Ukrainian with whom he quickly fell in love, while working as a freelance English tutor. Osipovich told me in September and October 2019 interviews that Lang rarely spoke with her about his past and was vague when he did. Lang, she claimed, told her he had no involvement in the Florida killings. She also stated that the two wanted to marry because she was pregnant.

But in order to marry, Lang needed a new stamp in his passport because he had stayed in Ukraine for longer than the 90 days Americans are permitted to stay without a visa. As a result, he left the country in August 2019 for a brief visit to Moldova. When Lang returned, an Interpol notice was issued stating that he was wanted by the US on murder charges in Florida, and Ukrainian authorities detained him.

He was released on his own recognizance after spending more than a month in a detention center. He couldn’t leave the country because Ukrainian authorities had confiscated his passport, but he was free to live his life in Kyiv.

On Feb. 23, I found Lang there, along with Osipovich, who had recently given birth to the couple’s baby boy. They had come to Kyiv’s main appeals court to continue fighting the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office’s decision to extradite Lang to Florida, where family members of the Lorenzos are awaiting closure.

According to a family member who has been closely following the extradition proceedings, Lang will not be returned to Florida. “I wish I could. I hope so. “However, I don’t have much faith in the Ukrainian justice system,” they sobbed. “We don’t want the death penalty; all we want is for him to pay.”

When I approached Lang at the courthouse, he refused to answer any questions about his alleged role in the killings. Turning in circles, hiding behind his lawyers, and staring into the corner of an elevator as it climbed to the fifth floor of the courthouse were all ways he avoided making eye contact.

He’d shaved his beard and styled his hair in an oseledets, a hairstyle popular among Ukraine’s ancient Cossack warriors that features a long lock of hair atop an otherwise bare head. It is now popular among far-right nationalists in the country. His lock was tied with a yellow rubber band on the day of his hearing, and he wore a face mask adorned with the red and black — blood and soil — colors associated with Ukrainian nationalists. A patch with the number “88,” a well-documented white supremacist code for “Heil Hitler,” was prominently displayed on his coat sleeve.

Lang’s case is more complicated than simply extraditing an accused murderer. For Ukraine, the issue is what to do with a man who volunteered and risked his life to defend the country, and who could face capital punishment if he returns to the US, which was abolished in Ukraine in 2000.

“We don’t want the death penalty; all we want is for him to pay.”

In the eyes of the West, the far-right paramilitary units he fought with are extreme, but to many Ukrainians, their members are patriots whose wartime sins have been forgiven. Some foreigners who served in the units were granted Ukrainian citizenship as a result of their service.

All of this was going on in the courtroom, where Lang sat next to a translator, twiddling his thumbs throughout the tense hearing. He occasionally cast a worried glance at his fiancée. She sat behind him, texting play-by-play to someone on her phone, which was in the case of a brown teddy bear.

Lang, who spoke in a deep and slow North Carolina drawl, declared his innocence, claiming to be a freedom fighter who believed in and volunteered to defend Ukraine’s independence. He went on to say that he was a father and a provider for his new family.

He never explicitly stated that he killed the Lorenzos. He claimed he was a “asylum seeker” and that extraditing him to Florida, where he could face the death penalty, would “violate all UN conventions.” He claimed that the federal government was targeting him for his political beliefs in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Lang went on to say that he could face prosecution simply for “choosing to come to Ukraine, to fight for Ukraine.” He claimed that the US had “refused to provide a guarantee that he would not be prosecuted” for actions he took while fighting with extremist paramilitaries.

“Any separatist or Russian soldier I have killed would be charged with murder. “Please understand that any soldier I may have captured would be charged with kidnapping,” he said.

After a brief deliberation, the panel’s decision was explained by the lead judge. It would halt Lang’s extradition and give him a hearing to determine his asylum status. One of Lang’s lawyers celebrated by raising his fist in the air.

After the decision, Lang was greeted by a dozen Right Sector members in the courthouse lobby. The majority of them were dressed in camouflage fatigues and combat boots. On his arm, one wore a patch with the symbol of a Ukrainian neo-Nazi organization. The crowd chanted “Glory to heroes!” and other Ukrainian nationalist slogans, and some hugged Lang.

However, the joy would be premature. Three weeks later, his asylum request was denied, and the court upheld the extradition order to Florida.

In a last-ditch effort, Lang’s lawyers convinced the European Court of Human Rights to postpone his extradition until the case could be reviewed. Another court hearing is set for April 22 to determine whether he can be returned to Ukrainian custody. The question of whether he will be sent to Florida for trial is still being debated.

Lang noticed a woman from the US Embassy who was watching the case outside the courtroom in March. He yelled at her, assuming she was an FBI agent.

“There is no such thing as justice in the United States,” he said, his voice shaking with rage. ●

Christopher Miller contributed reporting from Miami, Estero, Florida, and Kyiv. From Kyiv, Roman Stepanovych contributed reporting.

At 16:50 p.m. on April 9, 2021

Brian Boyenger was a member of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. An earlier version of this story misidentified the group with which he fought in the country.

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