There’s a new power player on America’s extremist scene. White nationalist “Active Clubs” are growing explosively, and filling a void created by the prosecutions that decimated the leadership of Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. “The Active Clubs are who the Proud Boys thought they were,” says John Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. “They’re who the Proud Boys wanted to be.”
Active Clubs mix white supremacy and violence, training in kickboxing, among other combat sports. But — at least the moment — they’re not seeking to intimidate the public with swastikas and face tattoos, common to other groups of racist brawlers. Instead, Active Clubs have put forward a slicker, more presentable aesthetic — recruiting new members by touting physical fitness, self-improvement, and “white unity.”
The Active Clubs are flying below the radar of law enforcement. But as described in a new 50-page report from the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), the network is evolving into a dangerous “stand-by militia” of well-trained, white-nationalist fighters “who can be activated when the need for coordinated violent action on a larger scale arises.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Where Did Active Clubs Come From?
Active Clubs are the creation of Robert Rundo, a white supremacist who operated out of Orange County, California. They’re his second attempt to launch an extremist network. Starting in 2017, Rundo built the “Rise Above Movement” or RAM, which sought to spark the “warrior spirit” in white men and billed itself as the “premier MMA club of the Alt-Right.”
But the violent street brawling of Rundo and his compatriots quickly invited a crackdown. Rundo and others were charged in 2019 with federal conspiracy to riot for violent California confrontations in places like Huntington Beach and Berkeley, where Rundo and his fighters decked themselves out in “goggles, mouth guards, athletic tape around their wrists, and black face masks with white skeleton designs,” according to the indictment.
Those charges were tossed out for a time — due to a dispute over the constitutionality of the criminal statute. By the time they were reinstated in 2021, Rundo was in the wind, living in Serbia and other parts of Eastern Europe, where he was picking up new tricks from local hooligans and crafting a vision for what he bills “White Supremacy 3.0.”
What is White Supremacy 3.0?
This is Rundo’s shorthand for a reboot of tactics and aesthetics among white nationalists. In this rubric, White Supremacy 1.0 refers to the skinheads — flamboyant, scary, in your-face, but self-limiting in building broad appeal. 2.0 was the “Alt-Right” — cleaner cut, far more presentable, but terminally online (Rundo derides them as “keyboard warriors”) and beset by infighting among disparate groups over priorities and tactics.
White Supremacy 3.0 in this context seeks to achieve a mix of publicly-presentable aesthetics, real-world activism, and white-power solidarity. The Active Clubs reflect these ideas in their slogans, including, “Make fascism fun,” “White unity at every opportunity,” and “Being handsome and jacked is more important than being right when it comes to politics.”
How Are Active Clubs Organized?
Active Clubs do not have a top-down hierarchy. They operate instead as an “open network” of locally run cells that all share the same ethos. According to the CEP report, “Active Clubs are supposed to connect and cooperate but stay operationally independent.” The logic behind the distributed power structure is that “infiltrations and arrests of leadership figures, or even the shutdown of an Active Club, should have little if any effect on the Active Club network itself.”
In May 2022, Rundo celebrated the network’s resilience, insisting “the Active Clubs run on their own. They don´t need me anymore.” In fact, Active Clubs are growing exponentially, even with the group’s founder now in jail. Rundo was caught in Romania in March 2023 and extradited to the U.S. in August to face charges. His trial is set for December.
What do Active Clubs Look Like?
The Active Clubs present themselves as groups of gym bros who pursue mixed martial arts — and just happen to dabble in white power. “They are specifically asked not to talk about ‘The Jews’ when recruiting, but to focus on positive things like brotherhood, community and so on,” says Alexander Ritzmann, the Berlin-based researcher who authored the CEP report. This follows Rundo’s belief that: “A group of strong white men is a fascist statement in itself.”
Embracing the socially-acceptable violence of MMA culture allows active clubs to avoid the attention of law enforcement, who at first glance, Ritzmann says, would encounter what appears to be just “sporty white men — not much to see here.”
But beneath the surface, Active Clubs represent gangs of young white supremacists who are all about the “glorification of brutal violence,” Ritzmann insists. Lewis, the GW extremism researcher, warns that Active Clubs have “truly become the tip of the fascist spear.”
How Do Active Clubs Gain New Members?
The Active Clubs recruit with narratives of white victimhood, an approach that justifies violence in seeking the supposed restoration of white greatness. The Active Clubs, according to the CEP report, recruit at gyms, motocross events, NASCAR races, and perhaps most disturbing, at high schools. “When there’s an increase in violence at a high school,” Ritzmann says, “the recommendation is to show up to provide protection and training for the white male students.”
The strategy is “tribe and train” — to group off in small, locally run groups that solicit new members and build up their capacity as street fighters.
How Many Active Clubs Are There?
Since their founding in late 2020, the Active Clubs have grown explosively. There are now nearly 50 active clubs across 34 states, according to the CEP research. The network is also active in Canada, where there are a dozen clubs, and in Europe where 46 clubs can be found across 14 different countries.
In the U.S., the groups are now taking leadership cues from Rundo’s home club, SoCal Active Club. Other prominent cells include the Tennessee Active Club, the Great Lakes Active Club, the Southern Sons Active Club, and the Evergreen Active Club. A typical Active Club ranges from five to 25 members. But they have a broader reach through social media. The Telegram channels of the most popular clubs have hundreds — and as many as thousands — of subscribers.
Most clubs adopt a similar white-power logo, a cross inside a circle. “This is a use — or abuse — of the Celtic cross, and then they put their local spin on it,” Ritzmann says. Despite supposed prohibitions on Nazi symbolism, some clubs have drifted into more overt anti-semitism and racism. The Southern Sons Active Club logo, for example, features SS lightning bolts and a sonnenrad instead of a Celtic cross.
Do the Active Clubs Join Together?
While the clubs largely act alone, Active Clubs have for the past two years, hosted an MMA tournament, with representatives from Active Clubs across America joining in for the fights. The tournament this past August, in Huntington Beach warehouse, also featured participation by members of the the group Patriot Front.
Active Clubs do operate independently, says Morgan Lynn Moon, an investigative researcher at the ADL’s Center on Extremism. But she insists that they “see themselves as part of a connected brotherhood,” adding that “if one Active Club is targeted by a perceived enemy, the entire network feels this need to stand up in solidarity and support.”
Moon points to a late-June clash outside Portland, between local Proud Boys and members an Active Club affiliate called the Rose City Nationalists. Both groups had shown up to menace an LGBTQ Pride event, but wound up scruffling with each other. The conflict was the result of a personal beef, Moon says. “But what I found significant was how Active Clubs across the nation were coming out in solidarity — saying that they were going to start fighting the Proud Boys.”
How Are Active Clubs Financed?
The funding of the Active Clubs is opaque. But at least part of the money comes from sales of a lifestyle apparel brand founded by Rundo called Will2Rise, which sells “militant active wear.” The slick store site not only sells “Active Club” track jackets and hoodies, it also serves as recruitment propaganda and a reinforcer of the aesthetics Rundo wants to model for the network.
From the outside, the network appears flush. “They travel a lot,” Ritzmann says. “Rundo was offering a French Active Club to pay for their travel so they can attend some of their fight nights. So where does that money come from? It is this shop.”
What’s the End Game?
The Active Clubs’ primary actions — consisting of covert banner drops, graffiti tagging, and posting Active Club recruitment or “Free Rundo” stickers — may appear relatively innocuous. But this is also training with a nefarious edge. As the CEP report describes it, such actions build “operational and logistical capacities such as scouting target locations, transportation, and avoiding law enforcement.”
Ritzmann also describes that Active Clubs that have been bragging about “tactical casualty care training” — something he notes has nothing to do with kickboxing or MMA fighting. “This is for shooting events,” he says. “Where you need to evacuate wounded people from the area of violence.”
For now, Active Clubs are in startup mode, pursuing growth. “They want to fill up the tank with as many white men as they can train,” says Ritzmann. The darker purpose, he insists, is to prepare “for the Day-X scenario.” Think: a replay of Jan. 6 or something more dangerous, “when there’s national leadership that needs… a network of violence-ready individuals to serve as a stand-by army.”
When discussing Active Clubs, Rundo himself has invoked the American Revolution, comparing the network to the Minutemen militias. “They will lose some [members] once they then get very political,” Ritzmann predicts. “But if Active Clubs are allowed to continue to operate and multiply, it increases the likelihood for targeted political violence and terrorism.”