Neo-Nazi Fight Clubs Are Fat-Shaming Men Into White Nationalism

Fitness groups and fight clubs exclusively for white men, known as “active clubs,” have become a crucial recruitment tool for white nationalists in the U.S.
Sam Eagan
New York, US

In a grainy Android video posted to his favorite neo-Nazi influencer’s Telegram page, a man wearing a balaclava, emblazoned with a neo-Nazi black sun, clutches a raw steak and rips into it with his teeth like an animal. 

“Forty pounds gone in two months and still going,” he wrote in the group, called “Rundo’s Spot.” He then broke down his weekend diet in a series of rapid posts.  

“I hardly ate anything and when I did, it was a raw bell pepper,” he wrote. “I fucked up bad toward the end of the week on lunch break at work but aiming to be down another five pounds on Friday.” 


The user, whose frequently changing username was recently “fascist jumping spider,” is a prolific poster on the channel. It’s named after Robert Rundo, a 32-year-old neo-Nazi who fled the United States to escape riot charges in 2017. Within the chat, the user constantly posts updates about his extreme weight-loss efforts, sends pictures of his lunches, and goes on rants about his struggle with body image—sometimes to the annoyance of the rest of the group.

“I'm in fat-recovery, so I'll take whatever you got,” he wrote to one neo-Nazi giving him workout advice. “Headed out with a 20 pound weight vest as we speak.”

“Fat-shame me, I need it,” the user added. 

“Rundo’s Spot” is part of a growing network of neo-Nazi men’s groups operating under the guise of fitness or martial arts that have become one of the most important recruitment tools for white nationalists in the United States. Euphemistically referred to by their members as “active clubs,” the network now has at least 30 groups in 17 states and 60 Telegram channels.

To appeal to disaffected, young, white men, these groups tone down their overt racism and sexism, at least initially, in favor of messages of self-improvement and brotherhood. Rundo, who dreamed up the idea, refers to the clubs as part of “white nationalism 3.0”—a class of cleaner-cut neo-Nazis with a more palatable image, as opposed to the skinheads of the ‘80s and other, more recent terrorist groups. 


“Active clubs are the dominant brand in far-right militant networks today,” said Matt Kriner, the managing director of the Accelerationist Research Consortium, which shared the data exclusively with VICE News. “Because active clubs and ‘white nationalism 3.0’ are rooted in lifestyle and a cultural outlook that values physical fitness and self improvement, they are far more approachable and alluring to a wider audience.”

One former member of an active club who spoke with VICE News on the condition of anonymity said he would estimate the number of participants in the U.S. at around 300 and 500 worldwide. 

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The clubs get together multiple times a month, often in a member’s garage or public park, where they lift weights but also train martial arts, like jiu-jitsu, boxing, or wrestling. The workouts are typically led by whoever is the most experienced within the group, since most professional coaches don’t give personalized classes to neo-Nazis. The groups also hold large tournaments where neo-Nazis travel cross-country to fight, network, and participate in creating propaganda. 

Outside the ring, members of active clubs have shown up to events and intimidated LGBTQ protesters in a handful of states. At one anti-drag brunch protest in South Carolina, they held up a banner that read “LGBT = Groomers”; at another in Tennessee, a Nazi flag. 

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A screenshot from Telegram showing active club members holding a Nazi flag at an anti-LGBTQ event in Tennessee.

The leaders of these active clubs also maintain connections with several pre-existing far-right groups, some of whom have perpetrated hate crimes. “Violence is the underlying feature of all of this,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, an analyst for the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit that combats extremist groups. “If you're training people in combat sports in this capacity, it seems like a matter of time before someone is going to use that against someone else.” 


Active clubs aren’t just recruiting ready-made racists either; they target struggling young, white men desperate for community. One former member of an active club told VICE News that his club attempted to recruit people outside of the white supremacist movement and then slowly radicalize them.

“They'll just make jokes here and there and try to normalize making jokes about Blacks and Jews and things of that nature, seeing how the other guy reacts," he said. “‘Oh man, did you see another Black guy attacked a white girl on the news?’ Then, if he reacts in such a way that we see potential, we just up the ante a little bit at the next meetup.” 

“Finally it's like, ‘Hey, we're gonna go, uh, cover up some BLM stickers and some Antifa stickers. You wanna join us?’”

And for some, that’s partly why the groups are so enticing. “The one thing that attracted me to [the groups] is that it’s [white nationalist] without being overly overbearing about it,” one member recently wrote in an active club chat on Telegram.  

Active clubs are the brainchild of Rundo, who first came to prominence by founding a neo-Nazi street-fighting collective known as the Rise Above Movement (RAM) in 2017. The influential group counter-protested at several large anti-Trump demonstrations in California that ended in violence in the late 2010s. As a result, Rundo and two other members faced federal rioting charges and fled.


Rundo spent the next several years in Europe, rubbing shoulders with far-right leaders in whatever country he thought wouldn't extradite him. But his luck ran out at the end of March, when he was detained by Romanian authorities, and courts there have promised to extradite him.

Despite Rundo’s vision to create less obvious neo-Nazis, active clubs still manage to network within the far-right eco-system. Over the summer, a Southern California active club and Patriot Front, a well known white nationalist hate group, put on a boxing tournament that drew dozens of neo-Nazis from across the country. Inside the ring, they stood toe-to-toe and duked it out. Outside the ring, men in skull masks with black sun and Nordic pagan tattoos stood shoulder-to-shoulder hooting and hollering. 

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A screenshot from a propaganda video showing two men partaking in the fight tournament held in Southern California.

“They never were like, ‘You need to learn how to fight so you can beat up people of color. It was like, ‘You need to learn how to fight because people want to kill you in the future,’” the former active club member said. “They believe that there's an inevitable cultural war that'll come and because they tie culture directly to race, a culture war means race war.”

Members of the Hammerskin Nation, a violent skinhead organization formed in the ‘80s, have embedded themselves in several active clubs. They’ve even shown up at fights, according to Alec and Aiden, two antifascist researchers with the SoCal Research Club, a group of antifascist researchers. (They asked that VICE News not use their last names.)


The Hammerskins have been connected with murders and violent assaults. In 2012 a member of the organization opened fire in a Wisconsin Sikh temple, killing six people before turning the gun on himself. In January four men tied to the Hammerskins were found guilty of gang-beating a Black man who was DJing in a bar. 

“Members… have admitted that these [active club] groups are an entry point for the larger white nationalist movement,” the researchers told VICE News. “One San Diego Hammerskin has been lending his years of experience to members of the SoCal Active Club.” 

In one case, a simple internet shitposter joined an active club and began sporting Hammerskins gear within a year, according to the researchers. Members of an Idaho active club chapter were also recently photographed wearing Hammerskin shirts and jackets while dressed in traditional skinhead garb. 

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Screenshot from Telegram showing Washington state active club members giving Nazi salutes during their fight tournament.

Peter Smith, a journalist with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, attempted to infiltrate a Canadian active club network in 2022 and said he came face-to-face with Hammerskins when he was vetted. Smith was able to identify several of the people he met and published his findings. Since then, he’s seen the Hammerskins building their numbers through active clubs in Europe and, particularly, Scandinavia. 


“Rundo's model has been so successful that it certainly wouldn't surprise me if other kinds of more traditional [neo-Nazi] organizations are going to use it in a similar way,” Smith said. 

Other sources told VICE News that former members of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, which has been designated a terrorist organization in Canada, are playing key roles in organizing active clubs north of the border. 

If you have any information regarding neo-Nazi organizing or active clubs, we would love to hear from you. Please reach out to Mack Lamoureux or Sam Eagan via email at and or on Twitter at @macklamoureux and @sam_eagan.

While each club may have different connections, the overwhelming message is the same: physical activity and brotherhood with their fellow neo-Nazi. Through fitness and weight loss, the organizers find people desperate for a community and build them up. 

“There's a big thing too about pumping up the person,” the former member said. “Where they will make the person feel good, make the person feel great like they’re badass. “‘We're so glad to have you hanging out with us, or we're so lucky to have you here.’ Because it gives that person a sense of pride and ego that they may not have already had.” 


Experts worry that by attaching real-world positives, like a sense of belonging or self-defense, to participating in active clubs, the movement can build strong loyalty to the group—and by extension, its problematic ideas. 

“I'm seeing these scrawny guys come into a club that couldn't do a pushup that are now doing 15-to-20,” the former active club member said. “I can't knock the fact that I'm seeing guys who couldn't hold a job are now working the same job and have held it for a year or two. I can't knock the fact that these guys are going out and doing graffiti cleanup.”

While active clubs’ recruitment tactics may seem new, they’re using tried-and-true fascism: tying the survival of a race of people to physical fitness. The strategy goes all the way back to Hitler Youth and the Third Reich’s weaponization of the Ubermensch, an idea of a physically superior Aryan race. Active clubs, however, are making the decades-old pitch to depressed young, white men during what they view as a time of calamity in the Western World. 

“A big part of the messaging is also about perceived white victimhood.”

“A big part of the messaging is also about perceived white victimhood. It is the effort to create a counter-cultural fascist movement that draws from a mainstream interest in MMA and combat sports,” Fisher-Birch said. “Part of this is also about creating an image seen as appealing to women.” 


Weaponizing public good and community-building has also been a tactic of the far-right for decades. The KKK, for example, has attempted to organize highway clean-ups for years, many of which have been challenged in courts. 

Now, neo-Nazis’ prospects for philanthropy aren’t just cleaning up highways but giving misguided advice about a young white man’s BMI. 

Starting an active club is easy. Essentially anyone can pick up the brand, and, if it does well, they'll be accepted into the network.

In the public Telegram chat for an Arizona active club, one member based in Maryland was discussing how he wanted to start a branch with a White Lives Matter crew in his home state. He was told to go to gyms or local business owners to “feel them out about nationalism.” 

“If you need help let us know, brother,” one of the main organizers of the Arizona club wrote in the chat. 

A day later, the Maryland member returned saying that he had four guys on board from his local White Lives Matter chapter. The man created a logo for his area and decided on a name. Within two days, that logo and name were sent across the active club network. Inside a week, the Maryland chapter was formed. 

Within the groups, the planning and chain-of-command often goes right to Rundo himself. Each active clubs’ leadership, often just one or two members, joins a secret chat with Rundo and the other groups’ leaders, the former member told VICE News. That’s where they strategize and keep others informed of their plans and actions.

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A screenshot from a propaganda video showing members of an active club working out in a park.

“It's not like everyone answers to Rob Rundo, but he influences,” the former active club member said. “That's a loophole that he's trying to ride, a fine line because of the charges and being on the run.”

In fact, Rundo even offers advice on how to start an active club on his podcast. He instructs his enterprising Nazis to be careful when coming up with a name: “Don’t call yourself like Aryan Terror Brigade Active Club or something like that.” He also urges them to edit their photos to make themselves look cooler and more buff.

When they’re not praying on non-radicalized young men with low self-esteem, new clubs often use established groups, primarily White Lives Matter, as feeder groups to pull members from. Another person familiar with the inner workings of active clubs told VICE News the members are extremely dedicated to the growth of the network.

“It is scary how fast the movement is growing and expanding, in areas where there are just one or two people interested in making an active club,” they told VICE News on the condition of anonymity. “They'll get support from all the other active clubs logistically. If they need stuff, it will be provided to them ... funds, outreach, they're willing to help with all that.” 

“It is scary how fast the movement is growing and expanding.”

“You'll have guys that don't care if they need to drive out and meet up with a group that's 500 miles away. They'll bring a team of guys with them and they'll make it happen. They'll reach out and make those connections and get these guys up on their feet and moving,” they continued. 


Right now, clubs exist in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington. Florida has at least four clubs active. And multiple clubs have opened internationally. In Canada, neo-Nazis are claiming to have nine clubs as well as a women's group. In Australia, there are at least two clubs. Clubs also exist in France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

But the exact number of active club members nationwide is unknown and constantly fluctuating. Each club is organized in its unique way, and the numbers can differ greatly among them. While some may only have a small number of members, others can have upwards of twenty supporters pushing through their doors. 

The clubs have even formed their own smaller localized networks. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, three active clubs have started working together and dubbed themselves the Northwest Nationalist Network. Two of the clubs held a small fight tournament in December, and the group has hinted it’s planning more. 

These tournaments provide an opportunity for active clubs to publicize themselves and expand their network. When the Southern California active club hosted its much larger fight weekend last summer, the propaganda arm of the network put together a half-hour documentary about the event, which was posted on far-right friendly video hosting sites. The arm is run by Rundo and Allen Michael Goff, a former ringleader in the far-right in Montana who’s been tied to a string of violent hate crimes, including the alleged shooting of a Latino teen.

Some active clubs have even gone so far as to launch clothing and lifestyle brands selling merchandise to their fellow racists and then putting a chunk of the funds back into the groups.

In podcasts, Rundo has spoken about his goal to create a secondary society where racists can do business with each other on the down low. He understands that's something far into the future, so for now he's just focused on the active clubs. 

“How do you get people who are normie-adjacent into this?' and being a guy with a swastika tattoo on your face isn't going to work.”

"Rundo is thinking about it in terms of building a counter-culture and specifically youth counter-culture," said Joshua Fisher-Birch, an analyst for the Counter Extremism Project. “'This question being 'How do you get people who are normie-adjacent into this?' and being a guy with a swastika tattoo on your face isn't going to work."

Now, with his extradition to the U.S. already underway, Rundo may finally get to see the neo-Nazi network he built first-hand. And experts fear that his arrest will do little to stifle the growth of active clubs across North America—and may even embolden them. 

“Even though Rundo has been the public face of the movement, it is unlikely that his arrest will blunt its continued growth, mainly because active clubs are local entities with their own local structure,” said Fisher-Birch. “Rundo’s potential detention will likely be a specific rallying call going forward for the movement and allied groups as they seek to create new narratives and expand.”

In a recent video put out by Rundo’s propaganda wing after his arrest, one of his closest cohorts heaped praise on the leader while surrounded by mustachioed or masked neo-Nazis. Reading a speech off his phone, he equated Rundo to an everyday working-class American. Because after all, if the government can come after a far-right figure who has spent years evading charges in Europe while building an international network of neo-Nazis, it can come after anyone.

“If you think the system’s oppression will only apply to the hard, far-right or white nationalists, you are sorely mistaken,” he said. “Your freedom will be stripped from you.”

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