On April 23, 2018, over 1000 skinheads, neo-nazis, and white supremacists descended on Ostritz, a small town on the German-Polish border, to attend the far-right festival known as ‘Shield and Sword.’ The two-day event, held to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday, boasted a line-up of far-right attractions, including a rock concert with extremist and racist bands, political speeches, clothing stalls promoting far-right merchandise, and a mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament hosted by Germany’s far-right promoters.
The festival, which was organized by the far-right and ultranationalist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), shed light on how Europe’s violent neo-nazis are marketing themselves to a younger crowd in the hopes of expanding their appeal. One of their tactics has been the use of violent combat sports such as MMA, which they use as a platform to spread their ideology, as well as a training system, and branding opportunity. According to Vice News, who were on-scene reporting at the festival, many of the young festivalgoers were dressed in t-shirts promoting Kampf der Nibelungen, a German far-right MMA promotion.
The festival also featured stalls with far-right clothing brands such as White Rex, the far-right Russian clothing brand that appeals to MMA fans and football hooligans. White Rex produces shirts, hoodies, pants, sports gear, and other items branded with fascist and neo-Nazi symbols. Occasionally, the symbols are disguised, but not always; for example, they have produced t-shirts that clearly show the black sun and swastika amalgamated into a single symbol. Some of the White Rex shirts openly state slogans such as “Zero Tolerance,” “Angry Europeans,” and “White Rex Against Tolerance.” Others, including women’s wear, sport symbols such as “88,” which stands for “Heil Hitler.”
Given the growing presence of far-right movements across Europe and North America — including the aforementioned festival in Germany, a country where promoting nazi politics is illegal — it has become evidently clear that these radical groups are using MMA and the promise of violence to attract young people to join their cause. Coupled with extremist rock music and alcohol-laden events, the MMA subculture has become one of the primary forms of entertainment used to entice a younger crowd.
The ‘Alternative’ MMA Promotion
One of the most prominent (and infamous) far-right combat sports promotions in Europe is Germany’s Kampf der Nibelungen, an organization that features kickboxing, boxing, and MMA match-ups. Their events, which are usually held in secret, attract a range of neo-nazis and radical football hooligans.
The promotion’s name translates to ‘Battle of the Nibelung,’ which is a reference to the lineage of the Burgundians who settled in the early 5th century at Worms, Germany. In Norse mythology, the Burgundians were known as the Nibelungs.
Kampf der Nibelungen describes itself as an organization for “young Germans who unite the dedication and enthusiasm for ‘their’ sport and who do not want to be under the yoke of the prevailing mainstream.”
The ‘About Us’ section on their website concludes with this statement: “The Battle of the Nibelungs therefore wants to provide a stage for all athletes and sports fans who are longing for an alternative to the prevailing honor-free and valueless zeitgeist. Participate, visit our events or get in touch with other athletes and become a role model to encourage others to turn their backs on the system of losers, hypocrites and weaklings.”
There is hardly any official information available about Kampf der Nibelungen. While their website actively describes the promotion’s mission statement, there are no news posts, photographs, or event schedules featured on the site. A single video with select highlights from previous events is located on the homepage.
The website also features an online clothing store which sells t-shirts for men and women. Each is emblazoned with the Kampf der Nibelungen name or logo, as well as a words such as “discipline” and “winner.”
Given the scarcity of information about Kampf der Nibelungen, the promotion has managed to stay under the radar and continues to operate in Germany. The idea behind the promotion’s secrecy is to “organize an event for whites in a friendly atmosphere” without disturbing “outsiders.”
According to one report, by 2017, Kampf der Nibelungen had already hosted five events in Germany, including shows in Hamm, Hesse, and Sauerland. And while their inaugural show in 2013 brought in 150 guests, that figure had quadrupled by 2017, emphasizing the show’s growing popularity. Their 2017 show at a shooting club in Sauerland drew over 600 people, who descended on a small town in the hilly region to attend the MMA event. Reports suggest that the city was caught off guard by the unexpected show.
”There was no warning,” said Mayor Andreas Reinery. “We were surprised.”
During the five years that Kampf der Nibelungen has operated as a combat sports promotion, its organizers and fighters have gone to painstaking extents to protect their identities. However, it appears that the events were first organized by members of the “Hammerskins,” a self-proclaimed group of “elite” neo-nazi skinheads. The group also worked with Denis Nikitin, the founder of White Rex, who integrated them into his expanding neo-nazi network across Europe and Russia and helped teach them how to organize MMA events in Germany.
Kampf der Nibelungen’s events are not exclusive to Germans. Reports suggest that fighters from across Russia, France, Switzerland, and Scandinavia participate in the events. Many of the fighters are handpicked by the organizers, while others are selected from fellow neo-nazi fight clubs or promotions across Europe. Until 2017, fans who wanted to attend the shows had to transfer money to a private mailbox, contact the organizers on the day of the show, and meet at a secure location to be driven to the event.
Despite Kampf der Nibelungen penchant for secrecy, their participation in the ‘Shield and Sword’ festival marked their first publicly advertised event. Their decision to go public raises various concerns about the growing popularity of their promotion, its ideology, and its evident commercial success.
Disenfranchised Youth and the ‘Pan-European Network’
The ‘Shield and Sword” festival website is split into several subsections: politics, concerts, tattoos, and martial arts. Under the ‘martial arts’ heading is a description of the Kampf der Nibelungen promotion, beginning with the sentence: “Life is about fighting. Throughout history, it was fighters who defended their clan, their tribe, their homeland.”
This sort of language is typical of ultra-nationalist groups who believe in defending their borders from immigrants and from religions like Islam. Many MMA promotions linked to such nationalist and neo-nazi groups have similar indirect messaging. The official White Rex doctrine, which was available on their website until recently, states that: “Europeans, pressured by the propaganda of alien values, lost the spirit of a path-breaker, the spirit of a fighter, the Spirit of a Warrior! One of the main objectives of White Rex is to revive this spirit. Modern society brings up philistines and consumers; yet we want to see WARRIORS – people who are strong morally and physically.”
While groups like White Rex reject the “neo-nazi” label, its founder, Denis Nikitin, refers to himself as a “nationalist” and is open about his ideology as a white supremacist.
”I spent ten years in Europe: in Germany, Holland and Ireland,”Nikitin told Inosmi.ru. “Gradually, I began to understand the ideas of nationalism. I began to ask myself why the white man was oppressed, and realized that something was completely wrong. Since the Rights were driven out of politics, they had to express their resistance, going to the streets and beating up migrants. This was the only opportunity for protest.”
This correlation between the MMA subculture and political ideology is also found in Kampf der Nibelungen. On their website,their ‘About Us’ section concludes with: “We are convinced that our passion for sport shapes well-knit communities, which are rarely to be found in the depth of their bond in the democratic societies determined by materialism and boundless, individual self-realization.”
Why are these ultra-nationalist groups forming fight clubs, MMA promotions, and apparel brands? The answer lies in the violent nature of the aforementioned sport. Many of the disenfranchised and angry youth targeted by these groups are attracted to the promise of violence. MMA offers young ultra-nationalists the opportunity to live a more masculine lifestyle, and prepare themselves for combat whenever necessary — to “defend their homeland,” as stated by Kampf der Nibelungen.
The existence of MMA promotions such as Kampf der Nibelungen are also pivotal to the growth and development of neo-nazi networks across Europe and North America. Teams of fighters from ultra-nationalist groups across the world have competed at these shows, allowing neo-nazis to come together in a secret gatherings to strengthen their bonds and learn from each other. Nikitin and his White Rex brand continue to thrive on such attention, which is why he continues to make appearances at neo-nazi MMA events and promote his cause. As a result, MMA has become pivotal in the modernization of white supremacist ideologies.