Ex-Pittsburgh Steeler turned MMA fighter sports far-right militia tattoo on Bellator broadcast

In their haste to find a legitimate heavyweight challenger for one of their rising stars, Bellator signed a fighter sporting a tattoo linked to…

By: Karim Zidan | 3 years ago
Ex-Pittsburgh Steeler turned MMA fighter sports far-right militia tattoo on Bellator broadcast
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

In their haste to find a legitimate heavyweight challenger for one of their rising stars, Bellator signed a fighter sporting a tattoo linked to the militia movement and anti-government extremism in the United States.

Brandon Calton, a former collegiate football player who also had a short stint with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004-05, was brought onto the Bellator roster to face pro wrestling star and MMA rookie Jake Hager. The two heavyweights headlined the Bellator 250 undercard, which was streamed on CBSSports.com. And while Hager eventually won a close split decision to push his MMA record to 3-0, 1NC, it was not without its fair share of controversy – controversy that manifested in the form of Calton’s leg tattoo.

The former pro football player sports a tattoo of a skull with a bandana face cover featuring the American flag. The frontal portion of the skull bears the Roman numeral III encircled with stars, the known logo used by The Three Percenters that has become popular among anti-government extremists.

Founded in 2008, Three Percenters (aka 3%ers and III%ers) are an American far-right militia movement that claims to be a group of dedicated “patriots” protecting America from alleged modern-day tyranny. The group derives its name from the dubious historical claim that only three percent of colonists took up arms against the British during the Revolutionary War but were still able to secure liberty for all Americans.

While the Three Percenters website claims it is not a militia, the Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes the Three Percenters as one of three core components within the anti-government militia movement, along with the Oath Keepers and traditional militia groups. According to the Anti-Defamation League, many Three Percenters currently support President Donald Trump and have not been as active in opposing the federal government, instead turning their attention to leftists, immigrants, and Muslims.

Three Percenters have most recently attempted to resist state level gun control measures, state-imposed restrictions and lockdowns to prevent spread of the coronavirus, and the protests that have taken place around the country over the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

There are currently Three Percenter-affiliated groups active in nearly every state, as well as Canada, where it has been deemed by some experts as Canada’s “most dangerous extremist group.”

In 2017, an Oklahoma man was arrested on federal charges of plotting a vehicle bomb attack on a bank in downtown Oklahoma City. During a meeting in 2017 with undercover FBI agents, Varnell identified with the Three Percenters movement and claimed his intention was to “start the next revolution.”

Then in 2018, one of the three men arrested in connection with the bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota was found to have connections to The Three Percenters. He was also a former sheriff’s deputy.

Another high profile Three Percenter is Tyler Tenbrink, a Texas man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2019 for shooting at counter-protesters in that state following white nationalist Richard Spencer’s appearance at a local university. Tenbrink and two other men reportedly threatened the counter-protestors, flashed Nazi salutes and chanted Hitler’s name. Tenbrink then took out a handgun and fired a single shot at the group of protestors, which missed.

In 2018, Chapel Hill police officer Cole R. Daniels was placed on paid leave after a Three Percenters tattoo was spotted on his forearm. According to Police Chief Chris Blue, “the pervasiveness of the concerns raised by many regarding his display of a tattoo that is associated with the ‘3 Percenters’ has caused the Department to question his ability to function effectively as a police officer within this community.”

Another notable incident occurred earlier this year when Justin Rohrwasser, a fifth-round draft pick for the New England Patriots, was found to have a three percenter tattoo on his left forearm. When asked about the tattoo by reporters, Rohrwasser pleaded ignorance and claimed that he “got that tattoo when I was a teenager and I have a lot of family in the military and I thought it stood for a military support symbol at the time. Obviously, it evolved into something that I do not want to represent.”

While it remains unclear whether Calton will continue to compete for Bellator given his extremist leanings, it appears the heavyweight is already working for the government, though he refused to explain his role when pressed by reporters.

“No comment,” Calton said.

Bellator has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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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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