Robert Rundo, co-founder of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement, is back in the United States, extradited to California from Romania to once again face federal rioting charges. Rundo, who left the United States for southeastern Europe after his criminal case was briefly dismissed in 2019, remained an active participant in the transnational white supremacist movement during his time abroad. Rundo’s time in Europe was characterized by his emergence as a prominent white supremacist leader, driven by his development of “white nationalism 3.0.” 

This decentralized model has resulted in the creation of localized white supremacist Active Clubs, which promote fraternity and a so-called white “warrior spirit,” while also engaging in physical training for what members perceive to be an impending race war. Rundo also established a propaganda arm, Media2Rise, and an online merchandising entity, Will2Rise, to create a white supremacist brand that could expand Active Club messaging and deepen connections between Active Clubs and other white supremacist groups like Patriot Front.

As Rundo returns to the United States to face federal charges five years after his initial arrest, the Active Club network, now the latest iteration of his white supremacist movement, represents an enduring threat and legacy that will persist long after the founder’s potential incarceration.

The Rise of the Rise Above Movement

Rundo co-founded the Rise Above Movement (RAM) in 2017, alongside fellow white supremacist Ben Daley. RAM quickly established itself in the Southern California white supremacist scene, growing from a small crew of right-wing gym enthusiasts to roughly 50 active members. Rundo’s strategic messaging in the early years of RAM played a key role in the group’s initial success, establishing the organization’s brand as the “premier MMA club of the Alt-Right.” As part of this branding, RAM focused on mixed martial arts (MMA), race-based physical fitness, and transforming keyboard warriors into real-world street fighters. Rundo and Daley’s framing allowed the organization to expand its influence beyond the borders of the United States and network with a growing white nationalist fight scene in Europe.

From its inception, RAM sought to act as the “violent vanguard” of the white supremacist movement, taking the mantle from the prominent skinhead gangs of the 1980’s and 1990’s. RAM members functioned as street fighters who wanted to commit acts of violence against those they regarded as their adversaries. They positioned themselves as white patriotic crusaders who were fighting against the perceived threat posed by “communists” or antifa and advocated on behalf of a perceived victimized white population in the United States. 

In 2017, RAM members were part of a series of violent clashes at rallies in Berkeley and Huntington Beach, California. On April 15 of that year, a fight broke out between white supremacists and anti-fascist activists at a rally near UC Berkeley, which resulted in 20 arrests and at least 11 injuries. Rundo was arrested during the event on suspicion of battery of a police officer. Though these charges were later dropped, he celebrated the violence of the day — which became known by white supremacists as the “The Battle of Berkeley” — remarking that the event signaled an “awakening in the White American consciousness.” In August 2017, RAM members also traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to take part in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally. Three RAM members would later be charged and sentenced for provoking and engaging in fights as part of their conspiracy to riot.

On October 24, 2018, Rundo was taken into custody after he and three fellow RAM members were charged with planning and intentionally engaging in violent attacks and assaults against counter-protesters at various political events in Huntington Beach, San Bernardino, Berkeley, and more. In 2019, the case was temporarily dismissed because the judge ruled parts of the 1968 Federal Riot Act unconstitutional. An appellate court subsequently overturned that ruling.

The de facto Leader of a Decentralized International White Supremacist Network

Rundo fled to Europe soon after his criminal case was temporarily dismissed. While living outside the United States, he reportedly lived a transient lifestyle in eastern Europe. During this period, Rundo sought to maintain relevance within the U.S. white supremacist scene, as well as secure means to finance further extremist activities.

Starting in late 2020, Rundo began to shift his focus towards creating a decentralized international white brotherhood, called “Active Clubs.” Rundo explained this shift in a December 2020 essay, calling it “White Nationalism 3.0.” Rundo imagined a movement of small white supremacist cells that would focus on local-level engagement, making it harder for researchers and law enforcement to identify and shut down their operations.

White Nationalism 3.0 was a departure from many of the traditional white supremacist groups of the past. The model also distanced Rundo from the movement, making it difficult to tie him to any one crew’s illicit activity but allowing him to serve as a de facto leader from afar. The Active Club network reflects a larger trend driving the current white supremacist landscape: replacing hierarchical organizations with decentralized and localized cells. Local regional crews will carry out the group’s core goals while simultaneously pursuing their own local objectives. This “do-it-yourself” white supremacist activity has grown in prominence in recent years, largely in response to federal law enforcement actions targeting hierarchical white supremacist movements like Atomwaffen Division and The Base.

Active Clubs are largely the ideological successor of RAM. They promote a white supremacist worldview that is inspired by the prominent “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, advocate for raising “white racial consciousness,” and train so-called white “warriors” for an ongoing war against a system that they claim is deliberately plotting against their race. These Active Clubs are deeply rooted in physical fitness and influenced by Rundo’s time in the European MMA-ultranationalist scene. According to Rundo, the Active Club network was meant to “fill the gap” among American white supremacist groups. This decentralized network of European-styled MMA athletic clubs represented a clear organizational shift. RAM was limited to Southern California, but the decentralized Active Club network has now established new nodes across the United States and even abroad. 

In addition to launching the Active Club model, Rundo wanted to build a white supremacist brand empire that would allow him to raise money for his activities abroad, while also bringing the white supremacist community together under stylized optics. Rundo launched Media2Rise in the summer of 2020, a media production arm that serves as a white supremacist news platform. Media2Rise crafts stylized documentaries covering white nationalist events and leadership, such as those by the white supremacist Patriot Front or the National Justice Party. In 2021, Rundo founded Will2Rise, a far-right merchandise company selling everything from clothing, stickers, and even soap sporting white supremacist slogans. The clothing line has since become a staple among white supremacists, regularly being worn by members of groups like Patriot Front, the National Justice Party, and, of course, Active Clubs.

Looking Ahead

Acutely aware of the threat of criminal trial, Rundo set out to create a community resilient enough to withstand any potential arrests of key leadership, including himself. As of August 2023, ADL data shows that Active Clubs claim to maintain an active presence in at least 33 states, including Arizona, California, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. In addition, Active Clubs continue to emerge abroad, in countries like Lithuania, France, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Croatia. While the true extent of Active Club membership is opaque, it is unlikely that any resulting prison time for Rundo, or further arrests of key leadership, will significantly stymie this growing decentralized network.

Rundo’s arrest and extradition have become a rallying cry within the international white supremacist landscape, who view the legal process against him as an injustice. “Free Rundo” stencils, stickers, banners, and graffiti have been distributed across the United States and Europe, framing Rundo as a political prisoner facing “federal hoax charges.” Immediately following Rundo’s arrest, individuals associated with Will2Rise and Media2Rise released a public statement: “We can assure you that although one of our movement’s most dedicated activists has been detained, our struggle still continues.” Will2Rise is now crowdfunding for Rundo’s legal fees and brand empire. “Free Rundo” demonstrations have been held in Russia, Sweden, Canada, and more, illustrating the degree to which his influence has expanded.

Regardless of the outcome of Rundo’s trial, new Active Clubs continue to form in both the United States and abroad, while the Will2Rise and Media2Rise franchises remain active nodes for the white supremacist ecosystem. The Active Club network in the United States continues to be one of the most active elements of the white supremacist landscape, regularly organizing fight nights, distributing propaganda, and hosting demonstrations. Perhaps most concerningly, Active Clubs are increasingly targeting LGBTQ+ events in their offline activities. Recent incidents in Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon have seen local Active Club members protesting drag queen story hours and Pride festivals. As anti-LGBTQ+ narratives and conspiracies continue to serve as potent drivers for extremist mobilization and violence across the United States, the addition of Active Club members seeking to return to the violent origins of RAM only further increases the risk of extremist-related violence within the United States.

IMAGE: White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” clash with counter-protesters as they enter Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)