New Strategies of Transnational European-U.S. Right-Wing Extremist Combat Sports Networks
Counter Extremism Project
Alexander Ritzmann is a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow from March to June 2023. He has been working on the promotion of liberal democracy and human rights and on the prevention of violent extremism and terrorism for twenty years. The German Bundestag, the European Parliament, and the U.S. House of Representatives have invited him to testify on these subjects. He regularly advises the German federal government and the EU Commission on security matters.
Alexander is a senior advisor with the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Berlin, where he focuses on the effective countering of extremist/terrorist actors, in particular on violence-oriented far-right extremist (transnational) networks, offline and online. He is also advising the European Commission’s Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN), where he particularly focuses on extremist ideologies, narratives, and strategic communications. From 2018 until the end of the project in 2021, he co-developed and facilitated the “International Forum for Expert Exchange on Countering Islamist Extremism” (InFoEx) at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), where he still serves as an associate fellow.
During his time at AICGS, Alexander will focus on his research project “White supremacy 3.0 and the possible militarization of combat sports networks in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war.” His research addresses developing and pressing challenges for the national security of the United States and Germany, as well as the transatlantic security cooperation between the two countries. His research will focus on two national security challenges:
1. The new “white supremacy 3.0” strategy by U.S. REMVE (racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism) “Active Clubs.” The main research question is to what degree this new strategy of mainstreaming (professional focus on popular aesthetics and music) and REMVE combat sports is already anchored in different U.S. REMVE milieus, to what degree it is being exported to other countries, especially Germany.
2. The militarization of RWE (right wing extremism)/REMVE combat sports networks: The main research question will investigate to what degree, and in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, RWE/REMVE combat sports networks in the EU and the United States are cooperating and how such networks could be used to plan and execute attacks or to grow from a combat sports focus to a military/militia phenomenon, also by connecting with existing RWE/REMVE militias.
The research will produce policy recommendations for the United States and Germany.
This article assesses the main strategies, networks, and threat potentials affiliated with the activities of two current key right-wing extremist (RWE) leaders who first met in 2018 at a combat sports and music festival in Germany. The event took place on April 20, the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The younger of the two, U.S. citizen Robert Rundo, later created one of the largest transnational right-wing extremist combat sports networks, called Active Clubs. His role model and mentor, the Russian citizen Denis Kapustin (aka Nikitin), has been building the foundation for this network in Europe since 2006. More importantly, Kapustin is currently the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) military unit that fights on the side of Ukraine against the invading Russian army.
Transnational RWE networks are posing significant challenges for the national security of the United States and Europe. This article will address two current manifestations of this threat, which is complex and dynamic by nature. Firstly, it will address the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy. This strategy aims to grow the existing RWE combat sports network in the United States and beyond by mainstreaming its visible activities, in particular through a focus on the promotion of athletic aesthetics, fitness, and sports, promising status, belonging, purpose, and access to women for “white warriors.” If successfully implemented, this strategy could significantly increase the number of combat sports-trained RWE individuals.
Secondly, members of RWE combat sports networks are currently fighting on both sides of the Russian war on Ukraine. RWE individuals have access to military combat training and state-of-the-art weapons of war. Some are gathering battlefield experience.
This development will likely lead to the militarization of RWE combat sports networks and can have serious implications for the threat Jewish, Islamic, LGTBQ+, and other communities in the EU and beyond are facing.
Mainstreaming RWE combat sports: The development of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy in the United States of America
The White Supremacy 3.0 strategy was developed predominantly by Robert Rundo. Born in 1990 in Queens, New York, Rundo co-founded the U.S. RWE Rise Above Movement (RAM) in 2016, which served as a key stepping stone for his later actions. In the following years, Rundo was also a driving force in the creation of the Will2Rise clothing brand, the Media2Rise propaganda network, and the transnational RWE combat sports network Active Club.
Rundo served twenty months in prison for a 2009 stabbing of a member of a rival gang in Queens. He claims that he used his time in prison to educate himself on Western classical history and form his extremist views. In 2017, RAM members were sentenced for violent acts during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Reportedly, they were also practicing drive-by-style shootings at the time. That same year, RAM members including Rundo were charged with inciting violence during a pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach, California. In June 2019, a federal judge dismissed the case.
The overall objective of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy appears to be the creation of a shadow or stand-by army of trained and capable RWE individuals that can be activated when the need for coordinated violent action on a larger scale arises.
Rundo claims that he suffered significantly from the U.S. law enforcement response to the violent acts (allegedly) committed by RAM members. This included, according to Rundo, an unlawful extradition by U.S. officials from El Salvador where he was hiding from the prosecution in 2017, as well as a SWAT-team-style raid of his apartment, where he claims that the officers looked for a justification to shoot him. This “Jason Bourne experience,” as Rundo calls it—referencing a series of Hollywood spy and action movies—appears to have strongly influenced the creation of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy, which can be understood as a “lesson learned” from the previous, more openly aggressive RAM approach.
White Supremacy 3.0 is also strongly inspired by Rondo’s time in Europe in 2018. There, he participated in the RWE Kampf der Nibelungen (KdN) combat sports tournament in Germany and met his mentor, Denis Kapustin (aka Nikitin). Rundo also visited several other European countries and their respective RWE groups during this time. The federal case from 2017 against him was reopened in 2022, which led to his arrest in Romania in March 2023 and his extradition to the United States in August 2023.
The Active Club network: objectives and main components of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy
The overall objective of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy appears to be the creation of a shadow or stand-by army of trained and capable RWE individuals that can be activated when the need for coordinated violent action on a larger scale arises. This could be, for example, an event of national relevance in the future, similar to the storming of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. Since late 2020, around 80 Active Clubs (AC) have been created, at least 40 in the United States, located in 32 states. Based on their self-reporting, the average number of members per AC can be estimated between five and twenty-five.
Two more main objectives can be identified. Firstly, to avoid, delay, mitigate, or withstand law enforcement interventions, the network is supposed to present a friendly face to the public. Consequently, network members are asked to avoid threatening behavior and Nazi symbols. Secondly, this less aggressive and more mainstream strategy is supposed to help grow the AC network, in particular from the general public. To that end, AC members should not talk about “the Jews and history” when recruiting. Instead, the focus in public should be on “positive things and activities,” for example brotherhood, community, fitness, and self-defense.
Several of the existing AC members were previously involved in other U.S. RWE organizations like Patriot Front, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and White Lives Matter.
These two components of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy were summed up by Robert Rundo as follows: “A group of strong white men is a fascist statement in itself.”
Operational and logistical capacities of the Active Club network
The operational implementation of this strategy takes place through an open network approach, where RWE individuals and groups are encouraged to start their own local Active Clubs. These serve as network knots. In public telegram channels and through videos and voice recordings of Rundo, these ACs are asked to do combat sports training and political activism like banner drops, stickering, and graffiti tagging on public or private property. Such activism, which is illegal in most cases, is supposed to train the local AC’s operational and logistical capacities like scouting target locations, transportation, and avoiding law enforcement. Creating local RWE leadership figures in this process is another key objective.
Such capacities can be considered necessary to become a functioning part of a RWE network that claims to be just doing sports but in reality prepares for organized and targeted violence on a larger scale.
Rundo has also recommended that AC members start their own businesses, for example moving companies, where they could work (out) together and draw salaries to fund their activities. Contrary to a classical leaderless resistance strategy, which is based on fully independent cells that do not know about each other, ACs are supposed to connect and cooperate but stay operationally fully independent. As a result, infiltrations and arrests, or even the shutdown of an AC, should have little if any effect on the broader AC network itself.
Command and control of the Active Club network
At the same time, the strength of this flexible open network approach also creates challenges for the command and control of the AC network and its various local knots. In a rare attempt to publicly steer the growing network, the AC Southern California, which appears to currently have the command role in the AC network during Rondo’s incarceration, published the following post in late April 2023: “While all active clubs are autonomous and act independently of each other, there still is the 3.0 cultural outline to follow. Any self-claiming active club which strays from the 3.0 cultural model and promotes an image of themselves as menacing terrorists, or spends all day sharing memes and prophesizing online should not be recognized as a legitimate active club, but rather as an imposter group hijacking the active club name for recognition.”
This post was likely targeting at least one specific AC at the time that was displaying Nazi salutes and swastika symbols as well as threatening behavior during an anti-drag show demonstration, thereby not following the “3.0 cultural model.” That AC has not changed its behavior at the time of writing this article. At least two more ACs have deviated from the strategy in the United States, one by publicly documenting that two of their members were attending tactical military training in full military gear, including semi-automatic rifles. Another AC posted extensively about a military-style tactical casualty training they were organizing.
The transnational dimension of the White Supremacy 3.0 strategy
Active Clubs (United States), Kampf der Nibelungen (KdN, Germany), and White Rex (Ukraine/Russia) are key network hubs of the wider transnational RWE combat sports networks. They cooperate with dozens of RWE organizations in Italy, Canada, France, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, and other European countries.
From 2021 to early 2022, Rundo and Kapustin produced the Active Club podcast together, which had a broad international following. Active Clubs have since been created in at least twelve countries outside the United States, including the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Ireland. ACs in Canada and France have several sub-chapters, including a women’s AC (Canada) and a youth chapter that includes females (France). The Will2Rise/Active Club merchandise is distributed in Germany through KdN. The AC Estonia currently appears to have at least two and a French AC at least one member or sympathizer fighting in the Russia-Ukraine war.
The militarization of transnational RWE combat sports networks in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine
In March, May, and June 2023, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), a military unit that claims to be associated with the Ukrainian army but to operate independently, crossed into Russia and conducted raids in the Bryansk region. The RDK’s commander is Dennis Kapustin (aka Nikitin), the leader of the White Rex network. He is also one of the most relevant key RWE actors who has organized major transnational music and combat sports events in Russia and supported KdN tournaments in Germany between 2006 and 2019. He also gave a speech at the largest RWE music festival in Europe with an estimated 6,000 attendees in Themar, Germany, in 2017.
The effects of the Russia-Ukraine war could lead to a (further) militarization of the RWE mixed martial arts scene in Europe and the United States.
Kapustin was born in Russia and moved to Germany with his family as a teenager, where he was involved in the violent football hooligan scene in Cologne. He then returned to Russia. Kapustin has been mostly living in Ukraine since 2017, and in 2019 Germany revoked his Schengen visa. White Rex affiliates in Ukraine have been posing in pictures with sniper rifles and anti-tank weapons (NLAW) on their Telegram channel, titled “a liberal nightmare,” since July 2022. Kapustin has also called for international RWE volunteers to come to Ukraine to fight since the Russian invasion in 2022. His merchandise brand, also called White Rex, was previously located in Switzerland and is currently being distributed through the RWE Ansgar Aryan merchandise store in Germany.
German and Polish RWE military units in Ukraine?
In early March 2023, a Telegram channel affiliated with the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) started promoting a new military unit, the German Volunteer Corps (GVC). The GVC claims that they are part of the Ukrainian military and not a private military company. The administrator of the GVC Telegram channel appears to be Stephan K., a known RWE individual from Solingen, Germany, who claimed in an interview with the neo-Nazi party Der III. Weg that he was recruited by Dennis Kapustin. He has no military background but claims that he has received weapons and tactical training in Germany. RDK and the GVC have similar unit insignia, variations of a vertical sword in front of a shield. A similar group for Polish Volunteers, which features Dennis Kapustin as well, has also been created and has a channel on Telegram.
Russian RWE military units on the Russian side
Leading members of the RWE Russian Imperial Movement (RID), a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, have reportedly founded the Rusich assault and sabotage military unit, which has been fighting on the Russian side in the Donbas region of Ukraine since 2014. Since 2022, they have been considered to be part of the military company Wagner Group. In 2018, the German RWE Young Nationalists (JN) organized a transnational Europa-Congress with the participation of RID. Several German right-wing extremists, including members of the JN and Der III. Weg party, are said to have received paramilitary training at a RID camp near St. Petersburg. Finns and Swedes are also said to have trained there before joining Russian militias in eastern Ukraine.
Policy implications: How could RWE combat sports networks and the war in Ukraine increase the threat level in the EU and the United States?
While the overall effects of the Russian war against Ukraine on the RWE milieus in Europe and the United States are not fully visible yet, one very likely scenario is that RWE volunteer foreign fighters will return to their home countries. The actual number of relevant individuals remains unclear, conservative estimates based on government information of EU member states from mid-2022 sum up to at least a few hundred. Some of those have already returned home; many more are expected to eventually do the same.
At that point, they probably have received military training and might have gathered combat experience. This is already the case with members of the RWE networks who fight in different parts of the Ukrainian and Russian military forces. The long border Ukraine has with EU member states like Poland, Slovakia, or Hungary makes the illegal transport of modern weapons into the EU a likely scenario.
The effects of the Russia-Ukraine war could hence lead to a (further) militarization of the RWE mixed martial arts scene in Europe and the United States. The expected enhanced availability of arms, ammunition, and explosive material in Europe as a result of the war could outmaneuver some of the strict gun control legislation in place. Combined with combat-experienced returning RWE actors, the risk of targeted political violence and terrorism is likely to increase. A U.S. neo-Nazi group from Ohio, which seems not to be affiliated with Rundo or the Active Clubs, recently announced that they would travel to Ukraine to fight with Kapustin.
Addressing such scenarios should become a priority for EU-U.S. security cooperation. Policymakers and law enforcement officials should also reevaluate and reconsider current threat assessments and security concepts for possible targets, especially in the EU, e.g., Islamic, Jewish, or LGTBQ+ communities.
Policy implications: How could the mainstreaming of RWE combat sports increase the threat level?
The transnational U.S. RWE combat sports network Active Club has been implementing its White Supremacy 3.0 strategy since late 2020. Putting a friendly face on RWE combat sports does not only allow RWE actors to further train the existing pool of extremists, but it could also significantly foster the recruitment of newcomers into Active Clubs which would be necessary to build a shadow or stand-by army.
If Active Clubs continue to operate and multiply, the amount of stochastic violence and terrorism is likely to increase. Violent acts against supposed enemies of the “white race” (e.g., Jews/people of color/Muslims/Liberals/feminists/LGTBQI+/civil society activists) are usually not (or no longer) being perpetrated by the RWE leaders, nor do they explicitly call for violence. They rather propagate victimhood narratives like “we are under attack and need to fight back,” and the testosterone-driven Erlebniswelten (spaces for collective experiences), that foster a sense of urgency, victimhood, and militancy. The violence perpetrated by members of these networks can then appear to be random “lone actor” attacks, since the shadow army approach requires that many if not most such incidents would occur without claims of responsibility by a group or network.
Hence, policymakers and law enforcement officials should be aware that the militant White Supremacy 3.0 strategy aims to avoid, delay, mitigate, and withstand law enforcement interventions by looking significantly less dangerous and less relevant compared to other RWE actors. Accordingly, investigations into AC network activities should be a priority.
 Officially referred to in the United States of America as “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism” (REMVE)
 “Im Gespräch mit einem deutschen Freiwilligen,” Der III. Weg, January 14, 2023, https://der-dritte-weg.info/2023/01/im-gespraech-mit-einem-deutschen-freiwilligen-teil-1-2/.
Supported by the DAAD with funds from the Federal Foreign Office (FF).