Among the far-right, it isn’t just Boogaloo types in Hawaiian shirts or men like the armed militia in New Mexico that are showing up to Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Violent white supremacist street gangs are also ominously posting online about their presence in the shadows of protesters clamouring for racial equality.
Two groups similar in organization and ethos to the Rise Above Movement (RAM)—a notoriously violent California-based white supremacist organization that is essentially a racist fight club known for attacking antifascist activists at protests—have been posting photos on Telegram of themselves inside BLM protests or stickering their insignia at locations where marches are taking place. One of the groups, which VICE News will not identify to avoid amplifying their message, has an alleged member who was a participant in neo-Nazi terrorist organization The Base, which has been under an intense FBI crackdown in recent months.
The news that white supremacist groups are appearing at marches protesting police brutality and promoting racial equality comes in the wake of the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers making noise about designating antifascist activism in its totality as a “terrorist organization.”
Although the Telegram activities of the groups viewed by VICE News have not involved distinct claims of carrying out assaults at protests, the supposed silent presence of white supremacist groups at protests seems designed to intimidate the activists they despise.
“The boys are on the ground at a potential BLM riot in the South End of Boston,” says a post from one of the groups, showing a row of riot cops and a man with American flag mask looking on. (The Anti-Defamation League noted that this particular group was handing stickers out at a protest in Boston.)
The street gang—which has an overtly Nazi aesthetic—cryptically asked followers to report “any and all communist, gang, and anti-white activity” to its encrypted email address and posted photos of its presence at recent protests in Knoxville, Tennessee. Days after that, it announced on Telegram that its members were pictured at a BLM protest in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee, bragging about how it “showed up next to the BLM demo’s stage, in full view of the entire crowd.”
The other group also posted a photo at a BLM protest in Boston, showing a television correspondent from a not-so-distant angle doing a live television hit.
“When the Journalists, Police, and Radical Left work hand in hand to encourage our downfall,” reads the caption to the photo, “we must witness and persevere.” That same group shared two photos of its stickers placed at protests days earlier, one in Indianapolis and the other in Atlanta in front of the CNN buildings.
According to Mollie Saltskog, an intelligence analyst at the Soufan Center, a non-profit terrorism watchdog, these types of Nazi street gangs use protests for reasons beyond an opportunity for violence.
“Whether or not members of these white supremacist organizations actively participate and conduct violence at the protests across the country, there are many other benefits for them being there, such as optics within the movement writ large, promoting their organization and violent ideology, networking, recruiting, and, perhaps most importantly, studying what tactics are successful in creating chaos,” she said.
Saltskog referred to the recent appearance of well-known Ukrainian neo-Nazis at the Hong Kong protests—something that perplexed onlookers who wondered why fascist activists would march in a pro-democracy movement.
“Remember the notorious white supremacists that showed up in Hong Kong last year—they were likely there to study the protests and learn successful tactics to bring back their own movement,” she said. “These white supremacists are not there for George Floyd, his family, and to bring positive change to America. They are there because it serves their own hateful agenda.”
By its own admission, RAM is interested in the protests. VICE News caught a now-deleted post from its Telegram channel directly referencing a BLM protest in Southern California in June, in a city where the group has a history of attacking protesters.
“(Huntington Beach) is the only place in all of America to fight back against antifa and BLM.” read the accompanying text with the post. “And of course you know our boy held the lines.”
RAM made national headlines after it came under an intense FBI probe, with four of its members arrested on federal rioting charges stemming from the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Though in the past it has denied being racist, one of its leaders was caught on camera embracing neo-Nazi ideology, while members have generally acted like classic skinhead hooligans that train in mixed martial arts—not unlike many European skinhead gangs. Lately RAM has undergone a revival of sorts after largely beating the federal crackdown.
In a recent video, Robert Rundo, the RAM founder who was once arrested by the FBI, criticized the handling of nationwide protests by federal authorities and preached that his group was previously innocent.
But in early June, RAM aggressively posted an uncaptioned image of a member stepping on a Pride flag (it is unclear if it was taken at a protest) and provided sham BLM sticker templates impersonating activists.
“Let's help BLM spread their message against Antifa traitors,” reads the RAM post with the fake BLM poster templates. “Whites that support the destruction of their own race or the worst of all enemies. So print these out post them who knows maybe some BLM activist will get ‘woke’ on antifa shills and start calling them out maybe even make a few victims.”
RAM has also glorified images of an incident in Philadelphia involving a gang of armed white men roaming the streets attacking BLM protesters, which it used in a propaganda video captioned: “Defend your neighborhood, white man.”