A propaganda photo released by a French Active club group in which they blurred their faces. Photo via Telegram.
Active Clubs—neo-Nazi clubs that focus on fitness and martial arts training—are growing at a rapid pace and not just in the United States. From Denmark, to France, and Canada, semi-autonomous white supremacist groups have been popping up across the globe and recruiting young white men to come train. According to a new report by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) that was shared with VICE News, “since the creation of the first Active Club in late 2020, at least 100 Active Clubs have been created in the U.S, Canada, and Europe.”
"This is an unprecedented growth. I've never seen a network in right-wing extremism grow so fast. Usually it takes years to build a transnational network,” Alexander Ritzmann, the report’s author and senior advisor to the CEP, told VICE News. “It’s concerning.” Active clubs could best be described as localized neo-Nazi groups built around the idea of working out and training martial arts—typically boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu—together. The groups are explicitly white nationalist but, like some other modern racist groups, try at best to hide their true intentions. The groups are run semi-autonomously on a local level and, according to the paper, can range in size from five to twenty-five members. They were founded by Robert Rundo—an American neo-Nazi known for his ties to street fighting organizations and running from a federal charge for which he was arrested last spring—in late 2020 after he was inspired by similar clubs in Europe and activists in Europe. Since that time, the CEP report states there are “at least 46 in the United States across 34 U.S. states.”
The groups have now begun appearing in real life, particularly at anti-LGBTQ protests, and have hosted fight tournaments where participants from across the United States come in. Large events are happening outside of America as well. According to Active Club Canada’s social media posts, they recently held a national event where members from the ten clubs that are sprinkled across the country came and trained together.
The report breaks down several of the countries where the clubs were started internationally. The most prominent are Canada and France, but it also includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the U.K., and Sweden. VICE News was told by a former member of an American Active Club that they offer assistance to each other, especially while a club is getting up off its feet. The report also includes evidence of this occurring internationally. In the most extreme cases, an Estonian national helped found a Swedish active club before being deported from the country in 2022. After being sent back to his country of birth the man then started an Active Club organization in Estonia.
There are several reasons for the group's rapid growth. Firstly, there is an ease of entry to starting clubs—anyone, anywhere can essentially start one and if it becomes big enough, it will be recognized. Secondly, Active Clubs are part of the latest iteration of white nationalism, dubbed "White Supremacy 3.0," where groups present a softer face to the public. This aids them both in recruitment and keeping law enforcement from looking too closely.
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 via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @macklamoureux.
“When recruiting, Active Club members should not talk about Jews and history,” reads the CEP report. “Instead, the focus in public should be on brotherhood, community, fitness, and self-defense.”VICE News has spoken to several people who had worked with Active Clubs and helped recruit people to the movement. They said they would slowly start introducing racist ideas and activities as time went on and the members became more and more ingrained in the club. In the end, though, the goal was obviously to train for future violence. The report outlines that this training isn’t simply to build bonds among the white nationalists and create loyalty by helping a young man become fit, it’s also to prepare a group for future violence. In some cases, members of Active Clubs have bragged about doing paramilitary style training, a few have taken part in criminal activities. In a lengthy quote that’s included in the report, Rundo outlines that he’s hoping to build something “like the minutemen (militia) in the early stages of the revolutionary war” for in the future when there is a “mass movement (and) a mass organization” ready to command it.“He's not expecting a boxing match,” said Ritzmann, the report’s author. “It's more likely that they're actually preparing for targeted violence on a professional level rather than just saying, ‘Well, we like boxing and sports, and maybe if we're in a bar and there's a fight, we can win against the other guys.’” “This could be the smartest and most dangerous way to organize right-wing targeted violence that I've seen for a long while.”