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Raid against neo-Nazi network Photo by Michael Reichel/picture alliance via Getty Images

Germany deals blow to far-right fight clubs after massive raid on local neo-Nazis

Among the targeted individuals were members of the US-founded Atomwaffen Division, the banned Combat 18 group, and far-right marital arts group Knockout 51.

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On April 5, 2022, German investigators staged dawn raids at the homes of 50 suspects in 11 states, marking one of the most significant crackdowns on far-right extremism in the country’s history.

Among the targeted individuals were members of the US-based Atomwaffen Division—a group linked to five murders in the U.S.—as well as the banned Combat 18 group, and far-right marital arts group Knockout 51.

Three of the men now in custody were detained in the eastern town of Eisenach, and are believed to be leading figures in Knockout 51, which prosecutors said “lures young, nationalist-minded men, indoctrinates them with right-wing extremist propaganda and trains them for street fighting”.

Beyond its attempt to radicalize disenfranchised youth through combat sports, Knockout 51 has also been focused on “committing serious crimes” over the past couple of years, including attacks on police and left-wing activists. Prosecutors also alleged that the group attempted to set up a “so-called ‘Nazi neighborhood’” in Eisenach.

Leon R, one of the arrested individuals whom prosecutors alleged lead Knockout 51, disbanded the group in November to join the youth group of the National Democratic Party of Germany, a far-right political party.

Several of the detained individuals were also affiliated with Combat 18, an extremist group that emerged from the British skinhead street-fighting scene that became the armed wing of the infamous neo-Nazi network Blood & Honor. The group, which is banned in Germany, is also suspected to have been involved in the murder of German politician Walter Lübcke in June 2019 and have been labeled a threat to European life by Europol, the European Union’s designated police agency.

Outside of a handful of details, very little is actually known about Combat 18. The number 18 was selected because it corresponds with the first and eighth letters in the alphabet — A and H — which are also the first letters in Adolf Hilter’s names. Their slogan is “whatever it takes” while their symbol is a white dragon emblazoned over the respective branch’s national colors. Leaders of the German faction are reported to be Robin Schmiemann and Stanley Röske, the former of whom served eight years in prison for shooting a Tunisian man during a supermarket raid in Dortmund.

Schmiemann is also linked to the neo-Nazi fight club scene through his ties to Kampf der Nibelungen (KdN).

Founded in 2013, KdN quickly became one of the most prominent far-right combat sports promotions in Europe. Their events, which are held in secret locations, are mainly targeted at neo-nazis and disenfranchised German youth. They regard themselves 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.”

During the nine years that KdN has operated as a combat sports promotion, its organizers and fighters went to painstaking lengths to protect their identities. Despite their efforts, the events were reportedly first organized by members of the “Hammerskins,” a self-proclaimed group of “elite” neo-nazi skinheads. Their list of sponsors represent some of the most prominent names in the far-right scene, including clothing brands such as Birds of Prey Wear, Black Legion and Pride France.

KdN also associates with Baltik Korps, another neo-nazi fight club based in Northern Germany that considers itself the “sports arm” of the ‘Action Blog’ network, a blog co-founded by extremist activist and boxing coach David Mallows that uses fear-mongering to incite hatred and violence against immigrants in Germany.

KdN also reportedly employed the likes of Schmiemann, one of the leading figures in the German branch of Combat 18. Schmiemann was also spotted at the Sword and Shield festival — a far-right festival with bands, clothing stalls, and MMA events hosted in celebration of Hitler’s birthday — in 2018-19, where he worked as a “bouncer” guarding the entrance to the festival from unwanted attendants.

The group later joined forces with Denis Nikitin, the founder of Russian neo-Nazi MMA organization 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.

White Rex was among the first entities to utilize the violent sport, later expanding to include a clothing line emblazoned with fascist symbolism. Nikitin also uses his brand to organize MMA events that provided a safe haven for neo-Nazis to congregate. From 2011 to 2015, White Rex hosted multiple MMA shows, some of which featured several notable Russian fighters, including Bellator star Anastasia Yankova (Yankova has since denied sharing White Rex’s ideology). White Rex also hired former Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko to train its fighters ahead of one of their shows in 2013.

While White Rex has not held an MMA event since June 2015, it continued to expand as a far-right clothing brand and as a financial backer for several other flourishing far-right MMA promotions, including KdN.

The past few years have seen countless examples of the far right taking advantage of combat sports spaces. Fascist fight clubs began appearing in places like Russia, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, as well as Canada and the United States, all of whom utilized combat sports as a tool for radicalization.

Among the most prominent examples are the “Active Clubs” launched by Robert Rundo, a neo-Nazi MMA fighter who was one of the founders of the Rise Above Movement (RAM) that was popular during former President Donald Trump’s tenure in office.

Rundo launched his Active Club outfit in 2020, shortly after completing a propaganda campaign for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with (and later acquitted of) the fatal shooting of two protesters during an anti-racism demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He encouraged his followers to form their own local clubs, which he defined as a “small group of comrades who share our values of identity.” The aim of such groups is to “focus on physical fitness” and “create displays of defiance that show your community that our culture will not be erased.”

To date, Rundo’s active clubs have formed across the United States, including in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Active clubs have even launched in several Canadian provinces.

While neo-Nazi fight clubs continue to emerge around the world, Germany’s recent raids can viewed as a significant blow to these extremist combat sports entities in the country.

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