clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

‘Keep the Flame Alive’: The revival of a US based neo-Nazi fight club

Karim Zidan delves into the Rise Above Movement, a neo-Nazi fight club linked to the deadly Charlottesville rally in 2018, and their revival following a string of arrests. 

In October 2018, the FBI arrested four members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a US-based white supremacist fight club, over their role in the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The men — Benjamin Daley, Thomas Gillen, Michael Miselis, and Cole White — were charged with inciting a riot and conspiracy to incite a riot and faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Despite proclaiming their innocence, each of the four men pleaded guilty, including one of the group’s leaders Ben Daley, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to riot. Three of those members were sentenced in July 2019. Daley received a 37-month prison sentence, while Miselis, a doctoral student at UCLA who was exposed as a RAM member, was given the lightest sentence of 27 months. The successful prosecution of these violent white supremacists was seen as a victory for the U.S. Department of Justice.

“These avowed white supremacists traveled to Charlottesville to incite and commit acts of violence, not to engage in peaceful First Amendment expression,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said during the announcement of the guilty pleas. “Although the First Amendment protects an organization’s right to express abhorrent political views, it does not authorize senseless violence in furtherance of a political agenda.”

However, a separate case in California involving other RAM members not involved in the Charlottesville rally took a different turn. A district judge dismissed the charges against RAM founder Robert Rundo, Aaron Eason and Robert Bowman, claiming that the federal statute used to prosecute the members infringed upon their First Amendment rights. Tyler Laube, who had pleaded guilty, withdrew his guilty plea and had his case dismissed. The U.S. government plans to appeal the case.

While the sentencing of several prominent RAM members was supposed to be the fatal blow to the neo-Nazi fight club and street fight gang, the recent dismissal of the charges laid against other members, including one of the group’s founder, breathed new life into the fight club. As a result, one of the most dangerous groups of white supremacists operating in the United States will continue to find new ways to recruit new members, network with neo-Nazi groups around the world, and terrorize those who they have deemed their enemies.

MMA for the Extreme Right

Prior to the string of arrests in late 2018, RAM boasted over 50 members and branded itself as the “premier MMA club of the alt-right.” Founded in 2017, RAM members trained in various combat sports such as MMA and boxing, which they later applied during street fights and protests. The group has been spotted in Santa Monica, where RAM members tried to disrupt a Committee for Racial Justice meeting, and in San Bernardino, where they took part in an “anti-Sharia law” protest. They also engaged in physical violence during protests in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and Charlottesville.

Under the guidance of boxer Robert Rundo and Benjamin Daley, whom ProPublica identified as the owner of a southern California tree-trimming business, RAM members infiltrate protests and disrupt proceedings by fighting with those opposing their ultra-nationalist ideology. They conceal their identities using skull masks and goggles, while wrapping their hands with tape in preparation for physical altercations. They then glorify their antics in propaganda videos posted on social media. Prior to their arrest, RAM also reportedly had their own gym, though the location remained a secret.

RAM’s penchant for MMA and underground fight clubs is one of the main things that distinguishes it from various other white supremacist groups in the United States. It has also helped RAM expand beyond the borders of the US, recruit new members, and network with a host of other neo-Nazi groups dabbling in MMA around the world.

RAM founder Robert Rundo dressed in blue shorts

In May 2018, some of the leading members of RAM embarked on a European tour that included a stop in Kyiv to meet with Denis Nikitin, a Russian soccer hooligan and fight promoter who operates the Russian neo-Nazi fight brand White Rex. During RAM’s visit to Ukraine, Rundo participated in a boxing match for Reconquista, a white supremacist fight club based in Ukraine that is also associated with the far-right ultranationalist Azov Battalion.

The Azov Battalion was formed in May 2014 in response to the Russia-backed separatist advance sweeping across eastern Ukraine. The group, which is comprised of volunteers, has roots in far-right soccer hooliganism groups known as ultras, and have now been incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard. Since 2015, the group has organized annual summer camps for children and teenagers to learn practical military tactics mixed with lectures on Ukrainian nationalism.

The group’s insignia features the Wolfsangel and the Black Sun, which are both neo-Nazi symbols adopted by many white supremacist groups around the world. Despite their obvious links to fascism, including members with swastika and SS runic tattoos, the group continues to deny its status as a neo-Nazi group, instead claiming to be a “party fo Ukrainian patriots.”

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT Photo credit should read EVGENIYA MAKSYMOVA/AFP via Getty Images

The group is also linked to the Reconquista far-right MMA shows, which borrowed its name from the fifteenth-century expulsion and genocide of Muslims from Spain. The term has now been given new life and meaning as a mission to expel all non-Europeans from their land.

“Reconquista is a call for the reconquest of the World—the world to come,” read a sign at the show (h/t The New Republic.) “Reconquista will make Europe great again. Reconquista has already begun. Has begun from Ukraine. The future belongs to us!”

it should be noted that parts of the Azov battalion were trained by the United States government. This means that the U.S. government knowingly trained and armed neo-Nazis in Ukraine during a time when the country was remarkably unstable. While Congress passed legislation in 2018 that banned military aid to the Azovs on the grounds of its white supremacy ideology, the Trump administration still authorized $200 million in weaponry and aid to the Ukrainian military, which still raises concerns that the weapons will end up in the hands of the volunteer battalion.

While Rundo lost the fight at Reconquista, the event was still a moral victory for RAM, who expanded their network and built a newfound alliance with a neo-Nazi fight club tied to a powerful militia in Ukraine. It is this friendship that will likely help RAM rebuild after the arrest of several of its most prominent members.

RAM’s Revival

“We’ve returned with a spirit of defiance.”

This is the statement RAM shared on their various platforms, including far-right social media space Gab. The statement came with a new video featuring footage commemorating the RAM members who were “wrongfully imprisoned.”

In the weeks that followed, the group posted several other significant posts, including a lengthy blog post titled ‘Intangible Goals,’ which summarized the various components that make up their ideology. This included “nationalist activism and fashion,” combat sports, and the “individual.”

“Simple activism such as putting up posters or stickers is a very effective tactic. Basic activism is commonly over looked by Nationalists simply because they don’t think it effectively does much. However, despite popular belief basic forms of Activism are extremely effective. Even if you were to do a propaganda run on a completely hostile area it would still help build the framework for an underground youth movement. This gives it more appeal the bourgeoisie suburban white teens who are tired of their meek and dull existential existence. Activism is also a great way to test the dedication of a new nationalist. It’s very easy and convenient to simply write off basic activism as ineffective. Those who are willing to participate in activism have at least the most basic dedication needed to be among out ranks. Lastly, activism can be exhilarating and a great adventure for young men in our movement.”

Regarding the importance of fashion as a tool for far-right activism, RAM’s post added, “The goal is to create an authentic Right Wing dissident street culture with an urban style. This approach to “far right fashion” is a tactic that is very successfully used all throughout Europe. Specifically in Italy with Casa Pound and Germany with the Identitarian movement. This has yet to become widely implemented in America, we seek to change that in the up coming future. In order to more successfully attract more of the youth to our struggle we must implement this tactic here in the U.S. we should adopt the ideals of the quote “New Style, Old Attitudes.”

In a separate post, RAM founder Robert Rundo espoused the importance of combat sports in the “greater movement” for the extreme right.

Since the start of the cultural war in the 60’s, the right has almost always come in second in terms of trends and such. Whether it was music, film, style etc. This sport culture is something we can lay claim to, this is something we are setting the trend in. And what better trend to set for our people to become in shape, active and capable. Meanwhile the left is burning itself out pushing drug culture, consumerism and apathy.

Now this is not some far out idea but something that’s going on all over Europe drawing larger numbers than almost any other events nationalist put on. Last year I had the honor to be one of the first Americans to compete and take part at one of these events. It was put on by one of the founders of this active lifestyle movement White Rex in collaboration with Kampf Der Nibelungen in Germany.

Rundo concluded his blog post by stating, “In a time of weak men it only takes some effort to rise above all. Combat sports is that way up.”

Rundo’s post sheds light on the importance of combat sports as a tool for recruitment, motivation, and mobilization of the far-right. He references other successful extremist ventures such as Kampf Der Nibelungen in Germany and White Rex in Russia, both of which have been covered extensively on BloodyElbow.

While it remains unclear whether RAM will resume its activities in the United States, it is appears to be mobilizing online. The group released new fundraiser t-shirts with the RAM logo to raise funds for imprisoned members. They have also shared photos of RAM members standing in fight stances with boxing gloves beneath the caption, “Together we Rise.”

The group also posted a photo showing the imprisoned member Michael Miselis flexing. The caption reads, “They can lock us up, they can lie about us but they cant stop a idea whos [sic] time has come.”

UFC News

Manel Kape slams ‘coward’ Alex Perez after mid-event fight cancelation

UFC News

Cory Sandhagen explains Merab Dvalishvili callout: ‘I don’t want to shy away from challenges’

UFC News

Alex Perez reveals seizure led to mid-event fight cancelation at UFC San Antonio

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bloody Elbow Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your MMA and UFC news from Bloody Elbow