Russian neo-Nazi MMA fighter takes on Putin
The founder of the White Rex far-right MMA apparel brand is now leading an anti-Kremlin paramilitary group making incursions into Russia.
The knowledge one can acquire over dinner and drinks (especially drinks) in Russia never ceases to amaze me.
During my first trip to Moscow in April 2015, I went out to dinner with a couple of friends who insisted on showing me all that the city has to offer. We toured the Red Square—where I stood in line to see Lenin’s preserved body—and witnessed the awe-inspiring splendor of St. Basil’s Cathedral. We then decided on a popular Uzbek restaurant for dinner, where I gorged myself on plov (a national dish consisting of lamb, rice and vegetables), Shashlik (grilled and skewered meat), and manti (dumplings).
As we polished off our plates and ordered a round of hookahs to wind down, I turned to one of my friends and told him (ignorantly, perhaps) that I did not expect to see so much cultural diversity when I first arrived in Russia. He politely explained that while Russia was perceived as a homogeneously white country, it in fact had more than 200 ethnic groups within its borders, making it one of the most diverse countries in the world. He then asked me a question that would lay the foundation for some of my most significant reporting.
“Have you ever heard of White Rex?”
No, I said, answering what I assumed was a random question.
“Google them and you will realize not everyone is excited about multiculturalism in Russia.”
Curious as to what I would find, I followed my friend’s instructions. What began as a seemingly innocent search propelled me to the forefront of reporting on the rise of fascism in the world of mixed martial arts.
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Founded in 2008, White Rex is a Russian apparel brand that catered to fans of combat sports such as MMA and boxing. The company produced clothing and sports gear emblazoned with fascist and neo-Nazi symbols. Some of the White Rex shirts openly state slogans such as “Zero Tolerance,” “Angry Europeans,” and “White Rex Against Tolerance.” Others sport symbols such as “88,” which stands for “Heil Hitler.”
In 2011, White Rex began organizing white-only MMA tournaments in Russia. An October 2013 event was dubbed “Birth of a Nation,” a reference to the racist 1915 silent film which romanticized the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). White Rex invited Russian neo-Nazi activist and white power skinhead Maxim Martsinkevich as its guest of honor. Far-right band You Must Murder also performed for the 2000 attendees at the show.
White Rex was founded by Denis Kapustin, widely known by his pseudonym Denis Nikitin. A native of Russia, Kapustin moved to Germany as a teenager where he was radicalized by the country’s far-right hooligan scene. After ingratiating himself with the white supremacist ideologue popular within far-right football circles in Europe, Kapustin returned to Russia, where he transformed himself from a hooligan into a businessman behind one of Russia’s infamous neo-Nazi groups.
For years, Kapustin used White Rex to market his ideology to disenfranchised youth. The extremist brand used hyper-masculine men and attractive women with blonde hair and blue eyes to model his clothes to help allure young white men who are inclined to join the cause.
Kapustin also used his business to spread his far-right agenda. In previous interviews, Kapustin spoke openly about his ideology as a white supremacist. “If we kill one immigrant every day, that’s 365 immigrants in a year,” he told The Guardian in 2018. “But tens of thousands more will come anyway. I realized we were fighting the consequence, but not the underlying reason. So now we fight for minds, not on the street, but on social media.”
While Kapustin stopped hosting White Rex events in 2015, he continued to utilize the sport to establish an international network of like-minded affiliates in places like Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Greece, and the United States. He remains one of the most influential figures in Europe’s extreme-right MMA scene.
In 2017, Kapustin joined forces with the controversial Azov Regiment, an ultra-nationalist unit of the National Guard of Ukraine that includes neo-Nazis. He moved to Kyiv and served as the unofficial ambassador for the group’s MMA events at the Reconquista Club, a restaurant-turned-fight-club run by the Azov regiment. The restaurant was named after the historical term used to describe the military campaigns that Christian kingdoms waged against the Muslims of Spain.
Kapustin’s time at the Reconquista Club was short-lived, as the club shut down in mid 2019. However, the extremist’s time in Ukraine was far from over.
On May 22, 2023, two paramilitary groups crossed from Ukraine into Russia and launched an armed raid on the Belgorod region. The groups battled with Russian forces for approximately 24 hours before retreating from the territory.
Although Russia initially attributed the attack to Ukraine, it was actually carried out by Russian citizens who opposed President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Notably, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), one of the paramilitary groups involved, was led by none other than Kapustin.
According to its manifesto, the RVC seeks to overthrow Putin and create an ethnic Russian state, abandon all imperial ambitions, and focus on the well-being of ethnic Russians.
"We're fighting for freedom, we're fighting against injustice, so we're fighting against torture, we're fighting against terrible acts of police brutality,” Kapustin told Sky News following the incursion.
Kapustin has been an active participant in the war since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022. The neo-Nazi extremist posts regular updates on his Telegram channel, which included a series of montages celebrating the reported deaths of Chechen troops loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov. He also posted a video explaining why white nationalists should fight for Ukraine instead of Russia.
Kapustin’s incursion into Belgorod wasn’t the first time that the extremist launched an attack on Russia. His anti-Kremlin militia was involved in an attack on the Bryansk region of Russia, which led to the deaths of two civilians. Putin later condemned the incident as a “terrorist attack.”
Shortly thereafter, Kapustin was placed on Russia’s most wanted list. Russian state-owned media agency Tass claimed that he was a suspect in an assassination attempt on Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev. Kapustin’s bank accounts in Russia have also been blocked.
Despite facing sanctions and criminal charges, Kapustin revealed that he is planning more incursions into Russia.
“Our future plans are new territories of the Russian Federation, which we will definitely enter,” Kapustin added in his interview with Sky News. “You should be just a little bit patient, and wait just a couple of days.”
When asked whether he minded being labeled a neo-Nazi, Kapustin stated that he didn’t “think it’s an insult.”
"I have my set of views, it's a patriotic set of views, it's a traditionalist set of views, it's a right-wing set of views.”
While I have long believed that my time in Russia led to a treasure-trove of original reporting that helped shape my career, I had no idea that my decision to research a founding figure in the far-right combat sports scene would find new relevance amid the Russia-Ukraine war.
Kapustin was supposed to be just another absurd and violent figure in a sport filled with absurd and violent figures. He was a neo-Nazi who held underground shows that drew in a fascistic cult following. Now he is the leader of an anti-Kremlin paramilitary group that is receiving widespread international coverage for their exploits fighting against Russia.
These truly are strange times.
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