Denis Nikitin. Photo: Screengrab
A podcast launched by two notorious white supremacists should be removed from its hosting platform, anti-extremism experts say, expressing concerns that it promotes a militant far-right ideology and encourages listeners to start their own violent hate groups.
The podcast was created by two high-profile far-right agitators – one Russian and one American – known for their background in mixed martial arts, a reputation for street violence, and efforts to give white nationalist ideology a slick modern makeover. In the four episodes released so far, the hosts use the N-word to describe Black Lives Matter protesters, express a desire to beat up “fags,” and discuss the chaotic storming of the U.S. Capitol last month as a prime opportunity for right-wing extremists to “demolish” their political enemies on the left.
One of the hosts, Denis Kapustin, widely known as Denis Nikitin, is a Russian neo-Nazi, hooligan and MMA fighter, with a reputation as the kingpin of Europe’s extreme-right MMA scene. He’s the founder of a white nationalist clothing brand, and has been a key player in recent efforts to forge closer ties between extreme-right groups across Europe and beyond. In 2019, he was banned from entering Europe’s passport-free Schengen area due to the threat German authorities considered him to pose to the country’s liberal constitutional order.
His co-host is Robert Rundo, an American MMA fighter and right-wing extremist who co-founded the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a California-based far-right fight club that has gained notoriety for its role in bloody clashes at US political rallies in recent years. Rundo, who is facing an ongoing legal case over his violence at MAGA protests in 2017, is open about his admiration for Nikitin, to the extent of reportedly getting a tattoo of the Russian’s far-right lifestyle brand.
He has attempted to replicate Nikitin’s model of politics in the U.S., starting a far-right apparel line and using slick videos to attempt to rebrand white nationalism as part of a healthy, masculine and aspirational lifestyle.
“Robert Rundo and Denis ‘Nikitin’ Kapustin both promote a white nationalist movement rooted in an extreme right-wing hyper-masculinity that focuses on using physical fitness, street combat, and MMA to proselytise,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a senior analyst at the New York-headquartered Counter Extremism Project, which issued warnings about the podcast this month.
Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the podcast represented an attempt by the pair to expand their base, and increase their standing and influence as white supremacist leaders.
“Rundo and Nikitin seek to create a movement of adherents who embrace physical force and violence as a necessary response to defend their future,” she told VICE World News. “They peddle this notion of an existential threat … that they, as vigilante soldiers, can help to defend against.”
Their podcast is currently available on PodOmatic, a San Francisco-based podcast-hosting site. Fisher-Birch said its availability on the site made it easier for the duo to spread their message than if it was hosted only on their websites or Telegram, and should be removed from the platform for breaching its terms of service forbidding content “alleged to be offensive…threatening, harassing” as well as podcasts that “advocate or incite violence.”
“Based on Rundo and Nikitin's histories and their promotion of white nationalism and movement-building in their podcast, PodOmatic should terminate services,” he said.
In response to an inquiry from VICE World News, PodOmatic’s communications director Christopher Griffin said the company was reviewing the content of the podcast to determine if it violated the terms of service, “and will come to a resolution very soon.”
“We are … in the very tricky business of providing everyone with a platform to freely share their voice and opinions, even if we disagree with them,” he said.
“But we will never, ever enable or allow violence to be incited, organised, or promoted on our platform.”
In promotional materials for the podcast, Rundo describes the podcast as giving an “East-meets-West perspective” on the white nationalist scene, with “a lot of real world … advice and things that guys probably will find useful as they take up the nationalist cause.”
He encourages listeners to form their own local groups like RAM, which he describes as a “white nationalist active club,” focused on strength and combat training, disseminating far-right propaganda, and giving members a sense of “camaraderie, excitement, and direction” they lack with the decline of traditional masculine institutions like boxing clubs.
“Boy Scouts today is like the LGBT scouts,” he says in one video. “Youth-based boxing clubs… most have shut down and whatever ones are left are not meant for people that look like us, trust me.”
The first episode opens with Nikitin recounting how he had once intimidated a lesbian couple being openly affectionate at a Moscow restaurant by slamming his fist on the table, before both hosts go on to lay out their credentials in the white nationalist scene.
Nikitin describes his youth in Russia’s “very violent” ultranationalist underground, with guys who “went to chase and kill immigrants after school” and how he arrived at his current brand of far-right activism.
“I thought to myself that, OK I can either follow that path, become like a real Nazi terrorist and go down with a blast, taking with me I don’t know – five, seven, 10, whatever – immigrants who I considered the number one enemy… Or I can do something else,” he said.
“As I said … before, even if we try our best and we kill one immigrant every day, that makes  a year, but within a month, 10,000 would come. Our fight was literally senseless.
“That was the moment I realised that the initial fight now is not actually going in the streets, it’s going in the minds, and [by] that moment already, it was … kicking off on the internet. Because everybody was watching videos, the social networks came to life.”
In a later episode, the pair discuss last month’s storming of the U.S. Capitol and protests in Moscow as a prime opportunity for right-wing extremists to exploit the chaos in order to attack their political enemies.
“This is good, because it gives [nationalists] a chance for chaos,” says Rundo. “Without the police, without FSB or the FBI, the left is completely defenceless. They are not even a threat, they’re not even anything to worry about.”
“Absolutely,” responds Nikitin. “Once you take out of the equation the police, there’s nobody standing between us and our, I don’t know, liberal, feminist, antifa [enemies]. Once there’s no buffer between us? What happens to them? They know exactly what happens to them. They’re out of this equation as well.”
After fleeing the U.S. for Central America in October 2018, Rundo was arrested, along with other RAM members, and charged with conspiracy and rioting over violence at MAGA rallies in California in early 2017. The group were alleged to have organised combat training, and traveled to rallies with the intention to incite violence, while Rundo was accused of throwing a counterprotester to the ground and repeatedly punching him, according to the criminal complaint.
But the following June, the charges were dismissed and Rundo was released, after a federal judge found that the Anti-Riot Act – the statute under which the charges were brought – was “unconstitutionally overbroad.” Federal prosecutors have since appealed the ruling.
Nikitin, who has extensive contacts in Europe’s extreme-right underground, has been a key figure in the development of a white nationalist MMA scene on the continent, which has seen far-right MMA tournaments become a fixture at neo-Nazi festivals.
The growth of the scene, which gives the far-right a powerful recruiting tool while training radicals in violence, has alarmed both extremism researchers and figures within the sport.
Robert Claus, a researcher on far-right violence and combat sports at Germany’s Vollkontakt (Full Contact), said that while coronavirus lockdowns had ruled out MMA tournaments for the time being, the podcast showed that Nikitin’s international networks remained active.
“He remains a key figure on a European scale and has ties to the Ukrainian Azov movement,” he told VICE World News. “These networks remain dangerous.”
Experts say that the rise of Azov, first formed during the Ukraine crisis in 2014 as a volunteer militia with members drawn from the hooligan scene, has turned Ukraine into a key hub in transnational extreme-right networks. The movement has grown into a complex and powerful operation, featuring a political party, National Corps – described as a “nationalist hate group” by the US State Department – and its own vigilante force, with Nikitin acting as a sort of “unofficial ambassador-at-large” for the movement, according to Mendelson.
Mollie Saltskog, a senior intelligence analyst at the Soufan Group, told VICE World News that the podcast collaboration reflected both Nikitin and Rundo’s vision of a transnational white nationalist movement.
“Both have articulated ambitions to make transnational connections with like-minded individuals and organizations across Europe,” she said, adding that cooperation could bring benefits including exchanging information on financing, recruiting, and training.
The pair has previously met up in Europe, paving the way for Rundo to forge growing ties with the extreme-right groups on the Continent. In 2018, they attended a neo-Nazi festival in Ostritz, Germany – held on the 129th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday – where Rundo fought in an MMA tournament sponsored by Nikitin’s lifestyle brand. Later that year, he accompanied Nikitin on a visit to Kiev, Ukraine, where Nikitin is believed to be based, according to Mendelson.
She said Rundo had since deepened his links with European far-right groups, attending neo-Nazi events in Sofia, Bulgaria; Budapest, Hungary; and Belgrade, Serbia, in 2020. According to a Bellingcat report in November, Rundo may be attempting to base himself in Serbia, having registered a company there which would allow him to apply for temporary residency.
Mendelson said that while radicalisation experts sought to block or limit the reach of extremist content such as the podcast, which acted as a “virtual megaphone to broadcast a … bigoted worldview,” removing it from any particular platform was an imperfect solution.
“As we have seen time and again, this is a game of virtual 'whack-a-mole,’ as these groups have sought new avenues,” she said.
Rundo and Nikitin’s podcast was initially hosted on the podcasting platform Spreaker, but is no longer available. Spreaker, whose terms of service prohibit content that “either directly or indirectly” promotes “hate, racism, discrimination…or violence,” did not respond to requests for comment on why the podcast was taken down.
In response to an emailed inquiry from VICE World News, Nikitin and Rundo did not respond to questions directly, but indicated they intended to continue with the podcast. “We start again on Monday,” said the reply.