In a small warehouse in Southern California, the neo-Nazis cheered as two of their own beat on each other.
On one side of the ring was a fighter repping a local “active club”—the innocuous phrase used to describe a neo-Nazi athletic club—and the other side, a fighter representing Patriot Front, a prominent neo-fascist organization. It was the headlining fight at Birth of a New Frontier, an event hyped up as the “the first of its kind” white supremacist fighting tournament in the United States. Outside the ring was a cacophony of black metal music, supplement stands, and juiced-up neo-Nazis milling about and talking shop.
It didn’t matter who won in the ring for the neo-Nazis, the event, the camaraderie, and the violence were a victory in and of itself. A victory that white nationalists are hoping is a sign of more more fascist fight nights to come—something they believe means more IRL networking, community building, and, overall, a stronger white nationalist scene.
Since Birth of a New Frontier back in August 2022, at least one more neo-Nazi fight tournament has been held in the U.S., and organizers have been promising more.
Neo-Nazi MMA or boxing tournaments aren’t a new phenomenon, and they’ve been particularly present in Europe over the last few years. As far back as 2008, neo-Nazi influencer and football hooligan Denis Nikitin has led White Rex, a clothing and lifestyle company that is frequented by the far-right and has hosted multiple MMA events. There are also groups active in Germany, France, and Greece that frequently utilize MMA as a networking and recruitment tool. And now after a brief hiatus, the same movement is resurging across the Atlantic. One man, Robert Rundo, an American neo-Nazi currently living in Europe, has had an extensive influence on the western push.
In the latter half of 2022, at least two high-profile white supremacist fighting tournaments and a grappling tournament put on by a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school with neo-fascist ties took place in the U.S. On August 20, the aforementioned Birth of a New Frontier took place in southern California, organized primarily by the So-Cal Active Club, Will2Rise (Rundo’s organization), and Patriot Front. Left Coast Right Watch (LCRW) covered the event and determined that the fighters came from across the United States, including travelling as far away as Philadelphia. In the crowd, LCRW spotted Thomas Rousseau, the leader of the Patriot Front, as well as a few other well-known far-right figures. The event was promoted by other fascist organizations.
Then in December, as first reported by Daily Kos, an active club tricked a venue in Pasco, Washington, the Hapo Center, into hosting a tournament. The event dubbed the Martyr’s Day Rumble was meant to celebrate white supremacist terrorist Robert Matthews, who led the violent neo-Nazi gang, the Order. The Order committed several robberies and was behind the assassination of Jewish talk show host Alan Berg in 1984. Those in charge of the Hapo Center told Daily Kos that after the event was shut down early once it came to light what was occurring and that they were contacted by law enforcement afterwards.
Devotion Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling school connected to the Wolves of Vinland, a neo-fascist organization based in Lynchburg, Virgina—whose members have been connected to the arson of a black church and a recent robbery conspiracy—held a tournament in July called Blood on the Mats. While the event was not as explicit in its politics as the other two, organziers of the event have strong ties to the white nationalist scene.
“The extremist right is always trying to find new avenues to insinuate itself into the mainstream, and this is just the latest,” David Neiwert, a journalist who has reported on the extreme-right in the United States for decades, told VICE News. “It really just means that yet another segment of mainstream life—the people who run gyms and public venues—now will have to learn how to identify these toxic scam artists and what they stand for. Hopefully, there will be a proactive campaign to spread the word.”
The fight events are not intended to be mere athletic competitions but network and community-building events. Much like national socialist black metal festivals, they are places for white supremacists from different groups to gather, commiserate, and plan.
“The use of MMA or BJJ type events as a meeting space for white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-fascist accelerationists is a predictable tactic,” said Matthew Kriner, the managing director of the Accelerationism Research Consortium. “Historically, white power music concerts served the same function of plausible deniability to convene in public space without heightened scrutiny or pushback from communities. This pattern today, and the organizing role that active clubs play, illustrates the centrality of neo-fascist accelerationist actors in driving offline hate-based activity.”
The events also work as fundraisers for the organisers and groups. In multiple portions of a promotional video made by the neo-Nazis to mark the California tournament, a merch table is visible. Daily Kos reported that following the Martyrs Day Rumble the organizer hawked T-shirts.
Rundo has been the driving force behind the growth of active clubs, both directly and indirectly. He’s is the former leader of the neo-Nazi street fighting group Rise Above Movement (RAM) and has been charged with several crimes in connection with RAM in the U.S. but is currently in Europe. Experts believe he’ll likely stay there rather than come home and risk prison time. Rundo said in a recent interview these events are an attempt to “build something, a whole underground culture, a parallel society.” With that goal in mind, Rundo has been rapidly and tirelessly growing both the brand and chapters of the active clubs, and that includes plans for future tournaments.
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“More of these events are going to happen,” said Rundo in a recent YouTube video. “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.”
Rundo started his latest venture, a white nationalist fraternal network under the guise of local fitness clubs, only a few short years ago. These active clubs are intended to work alongside neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups. While not necessarily a revolutionary idea—neo-Nazi and far-right fitness and fight clubs have been around for decades—the venture appears to have taken off. A non-comprehensive look on Telegram, where active clubs recruit and organise, shows upwards of 25 clubs across the world, and experts told VICE News the true number is likely much higher. The decentralized nature of the groups allow each to be shaped to their local community, meaning the clubs can greatly differ in size and style.
These clubs aren’t just connected to the modern neo-Nazi movement, but to the past. An investigation by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network found that many active clubs had involvement with the Hammerskins, a white supremacist gang that has been active since the late 80s. For example, the organizer of the active club fight tournament in Pasco is a skinhead who did four years in prison for stabbing an interracial couple. Another organizer, and founding member of Rundo’s media wing, Media2rise, Allen Michael Goff, was charged and later acquitted of felony assault and a hate crime, after allegedly shooting a Latino teen.
The events and active clubs have been noticed by figures across the neo-Nazi ecosystem. Rinaldo Nazzarro, the American but Russia-based founder of the neo-Nazi terror group The Base, weighed in on the clubs in recent weeks on his Telegram page. He said while he likes the clubs’ focus on “street fighting,” he hopes they’ll expand their goals.
“Being able to knock out Antifa during a street protest is undoubtedly fun and cool. But that’s not enough,” he wrote on Telegram. “Securing a future for our people will necessarily require securing our own territory that’s independent from the system’s authority.”
Despite the athletic clubs lacking the militaristic vision of Nazzarro, they’re proving to be popular. Events like these tournaments only work to strengthen both their internal and external networks. They’re building a community with the goal of battling much more than just other white supremacists in combat sports.
“The biggest battle in this conflict is for the hearts and minds of our people,” Rundo stated on Telegram. “After that, everything else is easy.”