A US veteran joined Ukraine’s International Legion, then made a shock defection to Russia. Ex-comrades say he was incompetent and left behind a trail of chaos.

A US veteran joined Ukraine’s International Legion, then made a shock defection to Russia. Ex-comrades say he was incompetent and left behind a trail of chaos.
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A US veteran joined Ukraine’s International Legion, then made a shock defection to Russia. Ex-comrades say he was incompetent and left behind a trail of chaos.
An American man is the first recognized International Legionnaire to defect to Russia

  • A US veteran went to fight in Ukraine however has defected to Russia.
  • Those who fought with him in Ukraine told Insider he was unstable and erratic on the battlefield.
  • His time in Ukraine calls into query the vetting processes of the country’s International Legion.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, scores of international fighters flocked to assist defend the country.

Among them was John McIntyre, a 25-year-old American veteran nicknamed Johnny Alabama, or Bama, by his fellow fighters who took up arms and joined the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

Videos show the American among the many uniformed fighters on the bottom calling out, “God bless Ukraine,” and, “Fuck you, Russia.”

Then he switched sides.

In February 2022, McIntyre was sitting in a restaurant in Moscow and speaking to a journalist from the Russian state-controlled community RT about his resolution to defect from Ukraine to Russia.

McIntyre is the first recognized international fighter to have crossed enemy traces to affix Russia. In the RT interview, he claimed that he went to Ukraine with the intention to defect all alongside.

But two legionnaires who instantly labored with McIntyre told Insider he was an erratic and unstable one who wreaked havoc in Ukraine and was pushed out of the legion before he determined to defect.

They painted an image of a troubled man who at the very least as soon as excessively drank alcohol while combating and urinated in a military car, defaced Ukrainian guard posts, and was ultimately barred from dealing with weapons as a result of he was deemed a hazard to himself and others.

Malcolm Nance, a former US Navy officer and counterterrorism professional who joined Ukraine’s International Legion in the early days of the conflict and has since turn into a recognizable face of international fighters in Ukraine, said McIntyre brought on points from the start.

“Bama is a highly unstable character,” Nance told Insider. “Bama was known to be a professional fuckup and mentally ill.”

He added: “We used to say crazy with a capital K.”

While the fighters who spoke with Insider cited McIntyre’s mental state whereas speaking about his actions, mental sickness alone doesn’t essentially point out combat-readiness, and the legionnaires usually are not professionally certified to evaluate an individual’s psychological standing.

Malcolm Nance, a former United States Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer and intelligence and foreign policy analyst. He is currently in the 3rd Battalion International Legion in Ukraine.
Malcolm Nance, a former United States Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer and intelligence and international coverage analyst. He is presently in the third Battalion International Legion in Ukraine.

Little is thought about McIntyre’s background, however he is initially from Mobile, Alabama, attended Lincoln County High School in Lafayette, Tennessee, after which went into army coaching at Fort Bliss, Texas.

He served in the US Army as an indirect-fire infantryman from June 2015 to August 2017 however was by no means deployed and left the service as a non-public first class, Madison Bonzo, a US Army spokesperson, told Insider.

The US army was unable to verify which sort of discharge he acquired, or any information about medical or personnel actions associated to him due to federal privateness legal guidelines. Insider was unable to achieve McIntyre.

The retired Marine Elliot Smith — not his actual title, as he was granted anonymity so he may communicate freely — was second in command of McIntyre’s platoon and met him in April, quickly after they each joined the conflict.

McIntyre “initially gave a good impression,” Smith said, however cracks began to show as they got nearer to the battlefield and commenced to face the specter of loss of life.

“One night, he confided in me that he saw the ghost of a dog that he had killed,” Smith said. “So I thought, ‘OK, maybe he’s not all there.'”

The warning indicators continued, as McIntyre told Smith that he was needed by the FBI for threatening to kill personnel on the White House, Smith. Insider has been unable to confirm the validity of this declare.

“As time went on, he confided to me that he had converted to Islam and that he was planning to do a jihad,” Smith told Insider.

Nance, who labored because the chief of intelligence of the battalion, said that he was brought many experiences of comparable outlandish claims made by McIntyre.

“I think he was a mentally disturbed man who was looking for a place of notoriety to fit in,” Nance said.

Smith provided an analogous evaluation of McIntyre.

“What I got from Johnny, and this is reflected in his behavior in our unit all the way to him leaving for Russia, was that he was just looking for people to pay attention to him,” he said.

McIntyre and Smith’s unit was combating in Molodova, a village close to Kharkiv, after Ukraine recaptured it in May. With the Russians livid that they’d lost maintain of the village, the fighters usually discovered themselves under assault.

A destroyed market seen in Saltivka, near Molodova in Kharkiv, on April 29, 2022.
A destroyed market seen in Saltivka, close to Molodova in Kharkiv, on April 29, 2022.

That, Smith said, is when the actual cracks in McIntyre’s skills began to show.

Smith said McIntyre loaded his machine gun the wrong way up and that whereas he was operating by way of the forest dodging artillery fireplace, he “physically showed that he was not capable of combat.”

When on the retreat, Smith said he and one other fighter needed to keep back in the forest as a result of McIntyre could not proceed with the remainder of the unit. They spent an hour ready for him till additional assist arrived.

As the stress of conflict continued to mount, Smith said he was told that McIntyre had began excessively ingesting in secret, which brought him to a “breaking point.”

Smith said that one day, McIntyre was given permission to go to Kharkiv with management and got here back drunk, having discovered alcohol in the town.

“His rights had been read, and he had to be detained because he had caused a struggle with officers and leadership,” Smith said. “He had urinated in the vehicle being brought back to our combat point and then made a scene in the middle of the village, half naked, and threatened the leadership and all the legionnaires present in the area.”

The platoon commander selected to be lenient and said that McIntyre ought to simply sleep it off. As McIntyre slept, the platoon was warned of an incoming artillery assault.

McIntyre took advantage of the chaos. He escaped from the watch he was under and ran off, nonetheless intoxicated and half bare, into the forest.

“We spent about maybe an hour or two looking for this man, in the dead of night until the morning came up,” Smith said.

Eventually, McIntyre turned himself in and was despatched to the primary command, the place Smith said everybody hoped he’d be despatched dwelling.

But McIntyre was given a second probability — however this time away from the motion, on logistical obligation.

Once back to battalion, McIntyre’s erratic habits continued

McIntyre was despatched in June to the battalion headquarters in Kharkiv, the place he met Nance.

“When you screw up, a company gets rid of you, pulls you off the line, and sends you back to the battalion,” Nance told Insider. “And now you’re our problem. What we’re doing is we’re filling out the paperwork to kick you out of Ukraine.”

From the start, McIntyre would speak about crossing the river in Kharkiv to go to the Russian side “out of sheer boredom,” Nance said, which raised a purple flag.

Once he was back on the battalion, McIntyre’s erratic habits continued. On one event, Nance said a close-by Russian strike had brought on giant home windows on the HQ constructing to shatter, leaving 1-foot-high piles of damaged glass.

With an artillery barrage exterior, he said he noticed McIntyre sitting amid the shattered glass.

McIntyre was smoking a cigarette in his uniform pants, a white tank high, and flip-flops and seemed to be “mesmerized” whereas “watching the pretty lights” of the artillery barrage, Nance said.

“So I have to go out on the roof — glass is crunching everywhere — and I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing out here?’ and he says, ‘I’m just having a smoke.’ This is when I realize he is out of his mind,” Nance said.

To keep him out of bother and away from the entrance line, Nance said, McIntyre was not allowed to deal with weapons and given menial duties, together with shifting provides and cleansing the kitchen.

At one level, he was placed on guard obligation, working a makeshift checkpoint constructed from white sandbags.

When Nance went away for 2 days in July, he returned to be told that McIntyre had spray-painted more than 200 sandbags with the phrases, “Fuck you,” and incomprehensible phrases.

The makeshift checkpoint spray painted by McIntyre
The makeshift checkpoint spray painted by McIntyre

“It’s mind-boggling as to the intensity and dedication that it took,” Nance, who inspected the defaced checkpoint, said. “It was just insane. And then, boom, he was gone out of the legion that day.”

Fleeing throughout enemy traces to Russia

McIntyre said in the RT interview that he went and joined the Carpathian Sich, a unit of Ukrainians and international nationals that Nance described as an “authorized militia.”

After some time, he tried to rejoin the International Legion, however the management refused, Nance said. Several months later, he appeared on TV in Moscow claiming that this was his plan all alongside.


McIntyre said in the interview that he went to Moscow via Istanbul and claimed that he did so to go alongside helpful information he gathered whereas performing as a “spy” in Ukraine.

“It’s the reason I came to Ukraine in the first place, you know. I’m a communist. I’m an anti-fascist,” he said in the interview, whereas repeating the false Russian propaganda line that Ukraine is filled with Nazis.

Nance said he categorically rejected the concept that McIntyre had any robust ideological bent or that he may have gathered any helpful information to take over to Russia.

“He’s an idiot who was mentally ill,” Nance said. “And at the last minute, when he couldn’t get back into the legion, he just decided he would go to Moscow.”

McIntyre made numerous different dramatic claims in his interview. He said that he was under risk of execution as a whistleblower, that the Ukrainian military had snipers set as much as shoot defectors and used civilians as human shields, and that many fighters had Nazi tattoos.

Nance said all these claims have been fabricated and an instance of him “using the Russian political line to further an agenda.”

His habits calls the Intentional Legion’s vetting course of into query

When McIntyre went to Ukraine in the early weeks of the conflict, following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s public attraction for international volunteers, the vetting course of didn’t seem rigorous.

Smith, the retired Marine, said that when he joined the legion in March 2022, he realized “all you had to do was shoot a gun and breathe.”

The apparently lax course of meant that people like McIntyre who could also be ill-suited to warfare have been in a position to slip by way of the cracks. The course of has modified, Smith said, and is now more strong.

The International Legion didn’t reply to a request for remark.

While McIntyre is an instance of somebody who could have gone to Ukraine with the mistaken intentions, Nance said this was not typical of the volunteer fighters he’d labored with.

“Eighty percent of the people that come into the legion are fine,” Nance said. “They’re ideologically driven. They don’t like what Russia has done. They feel in their hearts that they have to come help.

“But each as soon as in some time, there is a class of what I call ‘the criminals, crazies, and con artists’ — the people who’re there to reinvent themselves.”

Smith affords McIntyre some sympathy. “He legitimately wanted institutional assist. He was going by way of psychological points,” he said.

“There is pity available for him, however this can be a conflict,” Smith said. “There are people right here who have legitimately died, who have bled out, and this man simply took it as a PR stunt.

“Johnny Alabama is literally self-destructing and just trying to undermine this personnel group who have given all that they got.”

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