North Pack: British MMA fight club promoting ‘heritage and culture’ forced to shut down after backlash

On September 2, 2019, North Pack — a UK-based fight club that promotes “culture, heritage, and fitness” as its primary ethos — announced that…

By: Karim Zidan | 4 years ago
North Pack: British MMA fight club promoting ‘heritage and culture’ forced to shut down after backlash
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

On September 2, 2019, North Pack — a UK-based fight club that promotes “culture, heritage, and fitness” as its primary ethos — announced that they planned to shutter operations after backlash from unnamed left-leaning entities who opposed the group’s existence.

The news, which was revealed on the group’s Instagram page, caught many of its members by surprise. North Pack had operated for more than two years and were public about their beliefs and ideologies. They actively recruited new members by promoting their group as an opportunity to connect with one’s Nordic roots, embrace their cultural heritage, and interact with likeminded people who are proud of their ancestry and heritage.

However, the group announceda couple of weeks ago that their “vision was shattered” and that the “left took a disliking to us from the beginning.”

“Apparently, using runes, one of the oldest languages in the world and part of the history of our home (the British Isles), can get you branded as a neo-Nazi,” the group continued in their Instagram statement. “It’s an insult to our heritage that the left have allowed the appropriation of this language and allowed it to permeate so deeply that using symbols from an incredible, fascinating group of languages immediately aligns you with far-right politics.”

While North Pack claims that their vision was misunderstood and that they bear no alt-right tendencies or rhetoric, the group has since removed its own Facebook page and have gone inactive on social media. As a result, dozens of reportedly damning photographs and posts have been removed as well. However, their Instagram page still revealed enough about the group and its overall ambitions. This article will attempt to explain the recruitment strategy of groups like North Pack and address how it contributes to the overall rise of alt-right fight clubs across the world.

Nordic Traditions & MMA as Recruitment Tools

Since its formation in 2017, North Pack has promoted itself as an MMA fight team built on the pillar of heritage and culture. They refer to this as a return to the “Old Ways,” which encompasses a “love and respect for history and traditions.” The group claims that in order to become a strong individual capable of building a strong community, one must go beyond physical and mental strength by being secure in their cultural identity.

As a UK-based group, North Pack is based on the culture and heritage of Northern Europe, primarily the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Celts, which is reflected in their merchandise, artwork and posts. Their logo, for example, is the outline of shield with a northward facing arrow instead of a sword — a subtle encapsulation of the group’s beliefs.

In their own words:

NORTHPACK was born through the loss of faith in the traditional political bullshit we have all grown to hate. Stuck in a world where politicians traded insults and neglected to serve those they represented, we stood and watched as our communities imploded. We formed a close-knit group of dissenters and outcasts. Using our experience in mixed martial arts, fitness and a love for our land, its people, culture and heritage, we set off on a separate journey to make a difference. We shed the labels. Our idea was to create strong individuals through training programmes, seminars, hosting events and festivals similar to our ancestors, in the hope that these individuals would create strong families and strong communities.

Similar to confirmed alt-right groups that camouflage themselves as heathen or heritage-based, North Pack used mixed martial arts as a recruitment tool to entice young, disillusioned British men to join their group. North Pack hosted outdoor training sessions, summer camps, and MMA events for its members, including its most recent event Ready for War 4.

Much like Russian-based White Rex and US-based Rise Above Movement (RAM), North Pack promoted MMA as an opportunity to learn to defend yourself, gain physical and mental fitness, become part of a community and lifestyle, and use it as a method to impart culture on future generations.

“MMA has become the go-to sport for egotists everywhere, turning the sport into a sort of comedy in which two fighters will battle with words for big pay cheques, only for mediocre fights to materialize. Lazy, overweight men – with little or no experience in MMA – scream at the telly telling their uninterested teenage son or daughter what the fighter should have done. Why do we pretend to be experts instead of becoming experts? Why do we sit, watch and admire these athletes whilst having no regard for our own physical health?”

It should be noted that North Pack has repeatedly claimed to be apolitical. They claim that there are issues with “both sides” and that they are “rising above both the far right and left.” However, their decision to lump white supremacy with left-wing politics is problematic and sheds light on the fallacies their organization is based on. This sort of false equivalence is a subtle tactic used by demonize progressives while minimizing the damage caused by literal neo-nazis. While North Pack may claim ignorance when it comes to their political agenda, their social media has raised red flags.

Back in March 2019, the group posted a picture on social media with a North Pack poster that read MILITANT STRENGTH CULTURE. The caption read: Our street teams are always active . This is an example of the sort of language that is coopted by the alt-right fight clubs that believe their combat and martial arts training is in preparation for violent confrontations on the streets. Another post shows an unnamed man with a black sun tattoo — a symbol used by neo-nazis and other far right groups — wearing one of North Pack’s branded shirts that said YOUR ANCESTORS WERE NOT WEAK.

Ahead of their eventual downfall, North Pack took to social media and revealed that they are being targeted online by the “far-left” and the “far-right” for being “guilty by association.”

At the moment, we have the far-left accusing us of peddling far-right symbols and imagery, and taking great issue with any associations with right-wing politics, be that the comments on our Instagram, who follows us, or who wears our t-shirts. At the same time, we also have the far-right accusing us of championing culture, heritage and ancestry, whilst not discussing immigration, issues around multiculturalism and “pandering” to the left. We’re guilty by association – with everyone, it seems. We can’t please everyone, and we don’t intend to. NORTHPACK isn’t yours to claim and steer towards your political narrative.

We are home to outcasts from both of your wings.

The Rise of Alt-Right Fight Clubs

MMA has provided a unique platform for white supremacists to promote their ideology and recruit new members. It allows far-right extremists to draw parallels between their training regimens and the appropriation of faux-medieval culture and history to suit their racist aims. Many such groups, including White Rex and RAM, view their MMA gyms as training grounds for upcoming race wars. They use Roman and Germanic mythology to romanticize their nationalist fervour, while brainwashing youth into “defending” their homeland against a common threat.

In 2018, hundreds of neo-nazis attended a far-right festival that took place over Hitler’s birthday. The two-day event featured far-right merchandise, heavy metal concerts, political speeches and an MMA tournament with competitors from some of of the most notorious white supremacist groups involved in the fight scene. The extremists even wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Keepers of the Race,” “White is my favorite color” and “Adolf was the best,” all while being guarded by a group called “Aryan Brotherhood.”

While the group planned to host another festival in 2019, a Dresden court ruled that they couldn’t have any alcohol, which allowed police officers to show up on each of the festival days to confiscate all of their beer. On Friday, the first day of the festival, officers seized an estimated 4,200 liters (1,110 gallons) of beer. On Saturday, they collected another 200 liters before the day’s events. The police tweeted photos of their alcohol seizures.

While the German courts managed to foil the far-right festival this year, there remains a growing concern about the rise of far right fight clubs that use both MMA and faux-medieval culturebased on a shared heritage to radicalize disenfranchised youth. Though

North Pack has never actively participated in violent or radicalized interactions similar to those committed by White Rex and RAM, demise could lead to further radicalization of its members.

North Pack is also not the only organization that is courting the far right. Other groups such as Operation Werewolf — a group that promotes itself as “equal parts fight club, strength regimen, motorcycle club and esoteric order” — have also surfaced over the past few years. They claim that “anyone living by the tenets of Operation Werewolf, truly embracing the simple philosophy put forth in the Manifesto and elsewhere, is someone who is “not of this world,” or a voluntary outlaw from polite society and the current virtue signaling police state.” After facing censorship on mainstream social media, Operation Werewolf moved most of its interactions to Telegram, where they can speak without fear of public retaliation. However, their Instagram account still features “wolves” proudly showcasing their neo-nazi tattoos such as the Black Sun.

The existence of such fight clubs is pivotal to the recruitment of young men and women across Europe and the United States, and is also a key component of the international neo-nazi network that continues to flourish on an international stage. Groups such as White Rex, RAM, Kampf der Nibelungen, Generation Identity, and other less prominent entities sympathetic to the alt-right such as North Pack and Operation Werewolf each play a role in furthering a far right ideology fueled on faux-medieval culture, white supremacy, and mixed martial arts.

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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