The evolution of fascist fight clubs
American neo-Nazi Robert Rundo has been extradited to the U.S. on federal rioting charges, yet his fight club empire continues to grow.
Robert Rundo—the American neo-Nazi and architect of an international network of fascist fight clubs—was extradited to the United States this week to face federal charges.
Rundo’s extradition took place four months after he was apprehended at a mixed martial arts gym in Bucharest, Romania. The 33-year-old is charged with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Riot Act for his activities in connection with Rise Above Movement (RAM), a defunct white supremacist group based in southern California that referred to itself as the “premier MMA fight club of the alt-right.”
According to the indictment, Rundo and two other defendants “participated in the conspiracy in varying ways, including by engaging in recruitment of RAM members, coordinating and participating in hand-to-hand and other combat training, traveling to political rallies to attack protesters and other persons, and publishing photographs and videos of violent acts to recruit other members for future events.” Rundo pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday afternoon and will be held in pretrial detention until his trial in December.
Although Rundo could potentially face up to five years in prison if found guilty of conspiracy and rioting charges, his arrest is unlikely to signal the demise of his extremist fight club empire, which has expanded beyond the confines of the now-defunct RAM—a small group of white supremacist fighters in southern California—into a decentralized, international network known as “Active Clubs.” In order to comprehend the evolution of these fascist fight clubs, it is imperative of origins of violent white supremacist factions like RAM, and the lessons that like-minded radicals gleaned from their previous missteps.
Rundo was born and raised in Queens, New York. In 2009, he was sentenced to two years in state prison on gang assault charges after stabbing an MS-13 rival repeatedly. He moved to southern California in 2016, where he immediately immersed himself in white supremacist ideology.
The next year, Rundo co-founded RAM with fellow extremist Benjamin Daley. The group quickly amassed upwards of 50 members who trained in various combat sports such as MMA and boxing, which they later applied during street fights and protests. They attended political rallies and attacked anti-fascist activists, all while concealing their identities using skull face masks and goggles. At the time, the group’s penchant for MMA helped distinguish it from various other white supremacist groups in the U.S.
However, on Aug. 27, 2018, the United States attorney’s office in Charlottesville filed charges against four members of RAM in connection with their actions at the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, at which a counter protester was murdered. The four men, including Daley and UCLA doctoral student Michael Miselis, pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their crimes.
Several months later, four other members of RAM, including Rundo, were arrested on federal charges for their alleged involvement in political rallies across California. While many expected Rundo and the three other defendants to face jail time—one RAM member even pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge—a district judge dismissed the charges against them in 2019, claiming that the federal statute used to prosecute the members infringed upon their First Amendment rights to free speech. While charges were reinstated by a federal appeals court in March 2021, Rundo had already left the United States.
After moving to eastern Europe, Rundo began encouraging his followers to form their own “Active Clubs,” which were decentralized and localized white supremacist fight clubs largely inspired by RAM.
“The active club is not so much a structural organization as it is a lifestyle for those willing to work, risk and sweat to embody our ideals for themselves and to promote them to others,” Rundo wrote on his Active Club Telegram channel. “The active lifestyle is the counter to the left’s culture of apathy, addiction, and vice. Get active today in your area and be the change you want to see.”
Having learned from his previous mistakes with RAM, Rundo dictated that the clubs were to remain small and localized. This would make it more difficult for the media and law enforcement officials to shut down the entire operation.
“Even if the system and their dogs manage to put out one fire, it will lead to minimal results,” he wrote.
Since its formation in 2020, Active Clubs has been formed in more than 30 states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The network has also expanded beyond the borders of the U.S. to include an array of chapters in countries such as Canada, France and Finland.
Rundo later founded a far-right clothing brand called Will2Rise and also launched a media outlet called Media2Rise, which he claimed would “counter” liberal narratives. Over the past few months, the former MMA fighter has used this platform to publish “Sons of the Founders,” described as a “documentary” about Patriot Front—an offshoot of the white supremacist Vanguard group that trains in “hand-to-hand combat.”
While in Europe, Rundo also reconnected with Europe’s identitarian movements and far-right football hooligans, many of whom he had first encountered during a 2018 trip to Germany and Ukraine. He launched a podcast with Denis Kapustin (known by his pseudonym Denis Nikitin), a Russian neo-Nazi who founded the “White Rex” apparel brand that catered to far-right combat sports aficionados. Kapustin is now leading a far-right, anti-Kremlin paramilitary group in Ukraine, which made headlines for its recent incursions into Russia.
Rundo’s Active Clubs also co-hosted a neo-Nazi fight tournament in August 2022 as an opportunity for like-minded extremists to network and expand their communities.
“More of these events are going to happen,” said Rundo in a YouTube video last year. “They're going to be moving from state to state. We're going to be doing more and more. (There’s) going to be more and more active clubs… It's going to be the street culture of white nationalism.”
In the wake of Rundo’s arrest, many Active Clubs continue to operate due to the decentralized nature of the movement. Active Club member Grady Mayfield even released a statement on the official Active Club Telegram channel assuring members that Rundo’s initiatives will remain operational and that “our struggle will continue.”
“As long as we have a youth that stands for all that is strong and manly, our future is assured,” the statement concluded.
Most recently, some Active Clubs have begun targeting LGBTQ+ events as the latest frontier in their ideological battle. Several of these groups have targeted Pride events and festivals across the U.S., and have even protested drag queen story hour events at bookstores in Montana and other states. They have also aligned with other white nationalist groups such as White Lives Matter and Patriot Front, furthering their reach and influence. Some Canadian Active Clubs are even affiliated with the Hammerskins, a white supremacist skinhead gang with a long history of violence.
While Active Clubs are not the first example of decentralized extremist networks—skinhead movements and far-right football hooliganism in Europe shared many of the same traits—the fact that the groups continue to operate in some form without their founder and leading influencer underscores the concerning evolution of fascist fight clubs.
Earlier this week, one of the younger Active Clubs posted a series of photos of its members sparring at an undisclosed park in Salt Lake county.
The caption read: Get involved. Get active.
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