“Victory or Death.”
These were the three words emblazoned on a banner raised by the white nationalist hate group Patriot Front as they marched through downtown Washington, DC, on Dec. 4, 2021. Clad in khaki cargo pants, matching dark blue t-shirts, white face masks, and dark sunglasses, more than a hundred members of the hate group maneuvered their way towards the Lincoln Memorial, where they staged a rally to “reclaim America. ”
The group walked in tight formation, armed with shields and modified versions of the American flag with the Patriot Front logo of a fasces — a bound bundle of wooden rods used as a Roman symbol of power and authority — in a circle of 13 stars, in apparent homage to the original US Stars and Stripes flag on which the stars represented the original 13 colonies. Their leader, Thomas Rousseau, marched at the helm wearing his trademark cowboy hat before giving a speech near the Capitol.
“Our demonstrations are an exhibition of our unified capability to organize, to show our strength,” Rousseau said. “Not as brawlers or public nuisances, but as men capable of illustrating a message and seeking an America that more closely resembles the interests of its true people.”
While the demonstration was reported on by reputable outlets such as The Daily BeastPatriot Front arrived with their own camera crew, as well as an alternative media outlet called Media2Rise.
Founded by Robert Rundo, the neo-Nazi mixed martial artist who also founded the infamous far-right ‘fight club’ Rise Above Movement (RAM), Media2Rise operates as a far-right propaganda outfit that serves as a platform for promoting and celebrating white supremacist groups and the so-called “nationalist lifestyle.”
Beyond their work showcasing Patriot Front — an offshoot of the white supremacist Vanguard group that trains in “hand-to-hand combat”—The outlet has also “teamed up” with the white supremacist National Justice Party to “launch an investigation” into the attack on a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin last year. Both Media2Rise and the NJP have spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that the incident was an example of “terrorism” targeting white people.
While still in its infancy, Media2Rise has already garnered hundreds of thousands of views across platforms, as well as tens of thousands in cryptocurrency donations. Considering Rundo’s history of weaponizing MMA to spread his white supremacist ideology, as well as the federal rioting charges he is currently facing, his decision to use his preferred sport as a stepping stone to launch his own far-right media outlet is both troubling and unsettling .
The Return of Robert Rundo
Prior to the string of arrests in 2018, Rundo’s Rise Above Movement were at the forefront of what was described as the “terrifying rise of alt-right fight clubs. ”
The group, which was based in Southern California, boasted more than 50 members who trained in various combat sports such as mixed martial arts and boxing, which they later applied during street fights and protests. Inspired by the identitarian movements in Europe, RAM rose to prominence in 2017 when they began attending political rallies and targeting anti-fascist activists. They infiltrated protests and disrupted proceedings by fighting with those opposing their ultra-nationalist ideology. They concealed their identities using skull face masks and goggles, and went into rallies with their hands wrapped in tape in preparation for physical altercations. They then glorified their antics in propaganda videos posted on social media.
At the time, RAM’s penchant for MMA and underground fight clubs helped distinguish it from various other white supremacist groups in the United States. It has also helped RAM expand beyond the borders of the US, recruit new members, and network with others neo-Nazi groups dabbling in MMA around the world, including Ukraine’s far-right paramilitary unit, the Azov Battalion.
However, on Aug. 27, 2018, charges were filed by the United States attorney’s office in Charlottesville 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 RAM co-founder Ben 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. (It is worth noting that the federal rioting charges against Rundo were reinstated through a federal appeals court in March, 2021.)
While four of RAM’s most prominent members remain in jail since being indicted on Charlottesville rioting charges, Rundo left the United States after having his case dismissed in California and has spent the last few years trying to further his white nationalist agenda and rebuild the fighting community that had been diminished by federal prosecution. After moving to Eastern Europe, Rundo founded a far-right propaganda outfit known as the International Conservative Community, which boasts a network of neo-Nazis around the world, with groups in Greece, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Russia and Canada. The ICC is behind the propaganda campaign for Kyle Rittenhousethe 17-year-old charged with (and later acquitted of) the fatal shooting of two protesters during an anti-racism demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rundo later started the “Active Club Podcast”With Denis Nikitin, a Russian neo-Nazi considered to be the godfather of the extreme-right MMA scene, where they teach fellow nationalists how to form their own hate groups. Nikitin, who rose to infamy after launching the neo-Nazi MMA organization and clothing brand known as White Rex, has also been banned from entering any Schengen area European countries.
It was around this time that Rundo began encouraging his followers to form their own “Active Clubs,” which he defined as a “small group of comrades who share our values of identity.” The aim of such groups is to “focus on physical fitness” and “create displays of defiance that show your community that our culture will not be erased.”
“As most institutions give little or no regard for white youth today, Active Clubs’ role will fill that gap,” Rundo wrote, adding that active clubs promote camaraderie, identity formation, and “awaken racial bonds between kin” as they engage in fitness activities, combat sports training, and the “thrill and excitement” of spreading right-wing propaganda in the form of flyers, stickers, and graffiti. Rundo theorized that by spreading their message through propaganda posters and stickers, it will serve as a “critical revelation,” letting “our own know the fight is not over.”
To date, Rundo’s active clubs have formed across the United States, including in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Active clubs have even launched in Quebec and Ontario, Canada.
Having reestablished his fight club concept as independent franchises, Rundo set his sights on the next stage of his ambitious project: forming a media entity that would showcase and export his nationalist ideology.
Following Patriot Front’s demonstration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Rundo posted a video on Telegram thanking his followers for their support while celebrating the supposed success of Media2Rise’s latest project.
“For way too long, we’ve been shown through an enemy lens,” Rundo said at the time. “For way too long, they have controlled our image. Yesterday’s success showed that we can control our own image. We have over a million views on some of those videos. That is a million people who saw us through our lens. The power of the image is something that you can never underestimate. ”
Rundo’s comments emphasize the cornerstone of the neo-Nazi’s plans, which is to focus on developing a platform that would allow white supremacists to control their own narratives and push their hateful ideologies without facing consequences such as censorship or legal action. It is also a form of propaganda that disseminates a particular image about white supremacists that is aimed at enchanting and recruiting disenfranchised youth.
Apart from Media2Rise’s role as a propaganda arm for a neo-Nazi outfit, the company also employs a violent member of Montana’s white power movement as an on-air presenter.
Last month, Hatewatch identified presenter “Lucca Corgiat” as Allen Michael Goff based on its review of Media2Rise footage with photographs from the time he was charged with crimes in 2009. Goff was 17 years old at the time and had been arrested after he allegedly shot a Latino teen in Montana with a handgun. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and faced six months’ probation and a small fine. While Montana prosecutors attempted to have him tried as an adult and charge him with a hate crime, the judge ruled that the shooting did not qualify as a hate crime.
Goff was also an active member of the Montana Creators Assembly, a local branch of the neo-Nazi Creativity Movement that promoted a racial holy war against those it determined were enemies of the white race. Goff, who was once again arrested in 2010 for allegedly pointing a gun at a man and threatening to kill him, was one of the group’s main recruiters in Montana.
While Rundo’s current goal is to expand his propaganda outfit, he continues to rely on MMA as an essential cornerstone of his overall “nationalist lifestyle.” Over the years, Rundo has used MMA to form his own group of white supremacists, recruit and expand his group, promote his hateful ideologies, and to network with other neo-Nazis around the world. Even his Media2Rise outfit has focused on groups such as Patriot Front that incorporate “hand-to-hand combat” into their training.
Rundo’s contamination of MMA, which he refers to as the “Active Club” lifestyle, and his ability to market it to disenfranchised and angry white men is part of the reason why he is one of the most notorious neo-Nazis to enter the fray over the past few years.
“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. ”
Rundo represents the more dangerous side of mixed martial arts — that which allows it to be viewed as a counter-culture activity rooted in hyper masculinity and self-preservation. By weaponizing the sport for his personal gain, Rundo is effectively using MMA as an incubator for hate.