The murky story of Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, the trans TDF spokesperson who was suspended for threatening to “hunt down” critics of Ukraine

Her real name is John Michael, her birthplace is a mystery, she professes socialist ideals and was undercover in the Nevada Republican Party.

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, whose birth name is actually John-Michael Cirillo, has an extensive history on the internet due to her activity as a journalist, “undercover” political activist and war communication figure who defended, for months, the interests of Ukraine against Western society.

However, everything that revolves around this character, who is now at the center of controversy due to her suspension as an English-speaking spokesperson for the Territorial Defense Force of Ukraine (TDF), is questionable and strange.

First, depending on the page you consult, there seems to be no consensus on her place of birth. In some author profiles, John, who changed her name to Sarah, claimed to be “a reporter” from Nevada and some internet biographies listed the state as her birthplace (apparently Nevada was her residence for many years, but she was not born there).

In other more global sources, such as Wikipedia, and some international media, such as El País de España, her birthplace is in northern Florida.

Meanwhile, national media, such as the New York Post, which interviewed this controversial character in recent months, mentioned that she was born in New York and that her family is from the Bronx.

Just as her birthplace is not clear, Sarah's life does not make much sense or correlate to how, in a matter of years, she was a journalist, an undercover agent within the Nevada Republican Party, a disgruntled former member of the Democratic Socialists of America and a foreign soldier in the Russia-Ukraine war who achieved international fame for threatening to “hunt down” critics of the European country.

A socialist accused of being a fascist

While John-Michael Cirillo (or Sarah) is currently criticized primarily by conservative critics of Ukraine funding, this was not always the case.

Ashton-Cirillo has, for years, projected an image of a progressive activist who peaked in the midst of an undercover operation in Nevada, where she infiltrated the Republican Party to allegedly expose links between leaders of the Nevada GOP and the nationalist organization the Proud Boys who sought to reverse the 2020 electoral results.

This operation attracted national attention and was widely covered in June 2021 by the left-leaning outlet The Daily Beast, which profiled how in the months leading up to the 2020 election, then-trans reporter Sarah Ashton-Cirillo “embedded herself in GOP circles as part of her research for a book on right-wing extremism.”

While the trans reporter's infiltration earned her good reviews in the left-wing press, socialists in the United States were not very happy with the now Ukrainian soldier.

Some left-wing authors call her a “swindler,” while the DSA itself called her a fascist.

For example, Evan Reif, a South Dakota author who describes himself as interested in left-wing politics, wrote in November 2022 an extensive report for the small magazine CovertAction Magazine in which he wrote severe criticism against Ashton-Cirillo, accusing her of being an imposter who goes from cause to cause seeking fame and who found her place in the world defending the controversial Ukrainian armed groups Azov and Kraken.

According to Reif, the Ashton-Cirillo infiltration operation was a fiasco, since the link between the Proud Boys and the Nevada Republican Party was not surprising and did not attract the attention of the FBI, the intelligence agency that received the activist's information.

“The Proud Boys accomplished very little, picketing an election commission building for a time before they went home. Sarah accomplished even less. Despite her best efforts, absolutely nothing happened to anyone involved in her sting operation, all of whom are still employed by the state GOP. She even claims to have gone to the FBI, who were no doubt confused about why she wanted them to arrest their agents,” noted the leftist author, who also criticized Sarah because while she was “undercover” she helped the Republicans win 2 out of 3 elections at the local level.

Although Ashton-Cirillo gained some recognition as the trans activist who infiltrated the Nevada GOP, her time as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America was not exactly successful, although she left moments where she made clear her extreme leftist positions and her hatred of capitalism.

The trans activist, who has repeatedly defined herself on her social media as a “democratic socialist,” was expelled from the DSA in a convoluted conflict where Ashton-Cirillo accused the organization of restricting her freedom of expression.

In a column for The Nevada Independent, Ashton-Cirillo alleged that the DSA expelled her from its ranks because she wrote four articles, three stories on its website, and a commentary that was published in The Nevada Independent itself, along with two tweets.

“At least, I think this is why, as Las Vegas DSA acted in a way described to me by a DSA member as 'Chapter Fascism.'” Ashton-Cirillo wrote. “Unlike the notion of a creeping fascism that society is generally on guard against, the behavior exhibited by those who carried out this act came quickly and in a cowardly manner. A few text messages over the course of less than a month were all I received from their first warnings until my ultimate expulsion."

Sarah's version is that the DSA was not tolerant of her press work and her criticism of the very organization to which she belonged. However, for the writer Reif, the issue is different.

“After burning all her bridges with the state GOP, Sarah was also expelled from the Nevada DSA. Sarah claims that this was some grand chekist crusade against her and free speech, however, the reality is much simpler,” Reif wrote in his report. “Between her associations with the Nevada GOP, Proud Boys, and other far-right activists and her constant attacks on the DSA and its members, their hand was forced. A party that gladly admits intelligence agents, police, and arms dealers into its ranks viewed Sarah as an unacceptable risk to the party.”

The crossfire between the trans activist and American socialists is peculiar since it all happened after she supposedly tried to expose “right-wing extremism” and published a book against American conservatism.

The only concrete thing is that, in a short period of time, Ashton-Cirillo was a Republican, close to the Proud Boys and a member of the DSA . It did not end well with any of those groups.

From journalist to important international spokesperson who meets with congressmen

Since her time as a socialist activist did not bear fruit, Ashton-Cirillo continued her career as a journalist, this time arriving in a war zone.

As she told El País, the trans reporter arrived in Ukraine via Poland, after the start of the Russian invasion, and the idea, at first, was to stay a couple of weeks and return to the United States.

However, upon arriving in the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankvisk, while printing her press credentials, Ashton-Cirillo encountered two men who claimed to be intelligence officials and offered to transfer her to Kharkiv, a key Ukrainian city that at that time was besieged by Russian troops and had almost no contact with the world because there were no international reporters left.

The trans journalist agreed to go with them and then began her journey to becoming a Ukrainian soldier. First, she worked with the city's press office, then as a volunteer and finally she ended up enlisting and going to the front lines where she suffered an injury to her head and hand that, according to her report on X (formerly Twitter), would leave her with lifelong scars. Although the video images she routinely publishes do not show serious war wounds.

In several interviews, Ashton-Cirillo mentioned that being a trans soldier with a great impact on social platforms and international media, led Russian forces and the Kremlin's communications apparatus to put her on a list of targets to be eliminated, just like other soldiers who gained a strong presence on social media.

With time, Ashton-Cirillo left her role as a soldier and began to serve as a Ukrainian propaganda apparatus, dedicated to reporting and giving her opinion on what was happening in the war for the West through videos and podcasts.

Ashton-Cirillo's story, that of a trans soldier who stood on the front lines of the war, took her far. Not only because of her role as spokesperson for the TDF, but because she practically became a political asset in Ukraine.

In fact, as reported by El País, the soldier and trans activist has managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for Ukraine. Likewise, after leaving the front lines, she returned to Washington DC for a few weeks, where she met with Democratic congressmen and some advisors to Republican senators and representatives, according to the Washington Blade.

But the activism of this transgender soldier, spokesperson and journalist stopped being praised, with political figures, such as Senator JD Vance (R-OH), calling for explanations to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, about the relationship of United States agencies with Sarah Ashton-Cirillo after her controversial statements about hunting down critics of Ukraine.

"In recent days, a video has circulated of an individual who claims to be an English-speaking spokesperson for the Ukrainian military. In the video, this individual, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, looks directly into the camera and threatens physical violence to anyone who circulates ‘Russian propaganda.’” Vance wrote in the letter.

"I worry American resources could be supporting violence or the threat of violence against people for speaking their mind," he later added.

Vance's letter went deep and forced Ashton-Cirillo to give several public responses to the Republican senator. Finally, after her controversial video went viral, the spokesperson was suspended by the Ukrainian army, according to the official record, for issuing statements that were not approved by the high command. An investigation into the matter is now underway.