SARAJEVO – Robert Rundo, the American founder of a violent white supremacist group linked to assaults on journalists and left-wing activists in the US, is openly living in Serbia despite authorities there banning him from the country for three years and expelling him to Bosnia last February.
Bellingcat investigators located him using a single photo that Rundo, originally from Queens, New York, had posted on the 8th of November to his Telegram channel, where he hawks a line of racist sportswear. As well as a clothing line that he claims no non-white hands are involved with producing, Rundo is helping to organise a decentralised network of fight clubs in the US and elsewhere, as well as run his own “media outlet,” Media2Rise.
The photo showed graffiti in Cyrillic script on the door of a building in the background. Despite Rundo, 31, deleting the photo within seven minutes and replacing it with a more tightly cropped photo without the graffiti, investigators had enough to locate the building in Belgrade, and put eyes on Rundo living nearby on the 23rd of November.
Rundo co-founded the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a white supremacist group that heavily invests in mixed martial arts training and violent confrontations with counter-demonstrators in pursuit of an ideology that claims Western society has been emasculated and crippled by leftist-influenced culture. RAM openly advocates violence against leftists and moderates, and aligned itself in 2017 with the virulently racist and violent Hammerskin Nation, an international skinhead movement that analysts consider extreme even by the standards of the genre.
In 2018, FBI agents returned Rundo to Los Angeles after he fled to El Salavador ahead of federal charges for instigating riots stemming from attacks on journalists and anti-Trump demonstrators in 2017. In 2019, a federal judge dismissed the indictment over constitutional law concerns before an appellate court reinstated them. Rundo’s indictment has been stayed until the 13th of December, awaiting a decision by the US Supreme Court on whether to hear the case. Four members of RAM have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to between 28 and 40 months in prison .
But despite his high-profile status as a violent white supremacist, Rundo was able to leave the US for Europe, where he’s been sighted since 2019 in Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Bosnia, Italy, Germany, Ukraine and other countries meeting with likeminded right wing radicals.
In Serbia, Rundo has capitalised on the local political situation where Serbia doesn't have a strong extradition treaty with the US – the two countries have tense relations at times and only agreed to an extradition treaty in April 2019 that’s yet to be used.
He has also been able to travel relatively freely into Republika Srpska, one of two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where most of Bosnia's Serb population lives. The area has historically been a multi-ethnic state home to Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims – and Serbs. In the 1992-95 Bosnian War more than 100,000 people were killed. The conflict was ended by the 1995 Dayton Accords, which created the sovereign state of Bosnia and Herzegovina – composed of the Serb-populated Republika Srpska and the Croat-Bosniak-populated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But media revelations that Rundo was living in Serbia by Bellingcat last February forced Serbian officials – who tend to take a disinterested view of foreign hard-right nationalists types, according to local journalists – to detain and expel Rundo to the neighbouring Republika Srpska (RS) in Bosnia in February.
“Serbia has an effective criminal system and smart intelligence and law enforcement officials, at least on paper,” an independent Serbian journalist told VICE World News, asking not to be named for fears of aggravating the Serbian government of President Aleksandar Vucic, which attempts to closely regulate the local media.
“The problem is Vucic doesn’t care unless Rundo, or arresting him, could be of some specific use, so rather than deal with some hassle he was sent to the RS, which often serves as a rubbish bin for unwanted Serbian problems,” said the reporter.
Bosnian journalists have determined that Rundo was held in a hotel in the RS border town of Zvornik for five days beginning in February this year by intelligence officers working for Milorad Dodik, a former prime minister and president of RS who is currently the Serb member of the shared presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Zvornik, Rundo’s movements were limited to a handful of cafes and an MMA club, where the fitness-obsessed Rundo was allowed to work out.
Through an intermediary, an officer for the Intelligence and Security Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, known locally as the OSA, told VICE World News that it appears that Rundo was allowed to travel around parts of Bosnia – the officer said the agency suspects but cannot confirm he met with Croatian Nazi groups based in the Bosnian city of Mostar before eventually returning to Serbia illegally.
“It’s not hard to cross that border without anyone noticing a fit white guy,” said the officer. “Walk through the woods, pay a smuggler 50 euros to take you across the Drina [the river that serves as the local border],” said the officer in response to questions by WhatsApp.
“Or walk across the pedestrian bridge and put a 20KM [about £8.75) note on your passport for the border guard who is not going to care unless you look Syrian or are Black. Then he might want 50KM (about £22).”
“Serbs don’t really patrol the border with other Serbs unless they’re worried about something,” said the Bosniak officer. “And if the US calls [Bosnia Federation] we’ll go find the guy if he’s here, but they have not asked so we don’t really care either. The CIA only calls us about jihadi terrorists. And we have lots of right wing racist assholes all over Bosnia, so why bother with some guy who can’t speak Bosnian. We have our own problems.”
Semir Mujkic, of the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network, has covered the Bosnian Rundo situation extensively and agrees Rundo could go back and forth across the border without problems: Serbian ban or not.
“He’s in good shape... he could probably do it himself,” said Mujkic this week from his office in Sarajevo. “But really nobody’s [officially] looking for him in Bosnia or Serbia because nobody cares.”
Turns out Michael Colborne, a freelance journalist and investigator for Bellingcat who has tracked Rundo for years, was looking and caught the slip Rundo made by posting the photo with the graffiti tag earlier this month.
Rundo, says Colborne, poses an interesting contradiction in that he appears to be at times equal parts competence and incompetence.
“On the one hand, when you look at what he does, especially online, he's almost a pitiable figure, someone whose output is so cringeworthy sometimes you wonder why anyone would listen to him, and you wonder 'is this guy worth any attention?’” he said. “But then you see the follower amount on his Telegram channel keep increasing, you see some people (young men, of course) buying into what he's selling. You see him constantly trying to build international networks.”
A Serbian who had met Rundo multiple times in Belgrade before his February deportation to the RS agreed to speak to VICE World News, with the agreement that his name not be published because he’s apolitical and has faced harassment for having briefly known Rundo. When they first met, said the Serbian teenager, nothing particularly stood out about Rundo.
“Only red flag was a lot of tattoos,” he said. “Nah nothing special, I knew he was rightist or however we can call it. He met a few people from Serbia that are nationalists. But none of them are famous or dangerous.”
The Serbian teen said that Rundo was exceedingly polite and charming and quickly made many friends, if only because of his exoticness in working class Serbian neighbourhoods that rarely see foreigners.
“He was interesting to everyone who [met] him because he is [an] American in Serbia,” said the teen. “To [the] Serbian people, all America is bad because US bombed our country [during the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia in the Kosovo War] so it's kinda weird to see someone who is against US politics.”
But things got weird because despite Serbia’s historical reputation as a fiercely nationalist place, the teenager said it became clear that right wing nationalism in Serbia was quite a different animal from the Nazi style beliefs that Rundo began to slowly espouse.
“[Nobody took him seriously] because the mentality here is so different,” said the Serb. “For us nationalists means loving the country and helping people of that country, making business in the country and helping the community grow, it doesn't mean anything bad at all. Rundo is a little extreme and not rational.”
But it appears Rundo found more approachable mentalities in other Serbian groups upon his return from Bosnia. And his ability to make these sorts of contacts along with his propensity for violence and his ability to learn concerns a central European intelligence officer, who deals with hard-right types as security threats and cannot be named in the media.
“He’s going to kill someone if he hasn’t already,” said the officer, who studied Rundo for this article, not having heard of him prior to being contacted by VICE World News.
“He always ends up meeting with the most serious people wherever he goes, he seems to know how to work his way through a right wing scene and identify who might be a real ally. He’s been in prison a few times, where one learns quite a bit about how to operate, and by deleting the mistake photo that caught him in Serbia after a few minutes it shows something very dangerous: He’s capable of learning from mistakes. Bellingcat got him twice but he’s learning how they work and adapting. That’s rare with these kinds of guys. I doubt he will make that mistake again. Someone needs to wrap this guy up, idiot or not, an idiot who can learn is dangerous and I think he’s on his way.”