On March 31, Romanian authorities arrested white nationalist mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Robert Rundo after U.S. officials requested his extradition to the United States to stand trial on federal rioting charges.

Rundo, 33, was arrested after police stormed an MMA gym in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. A photo published by a local Romanian outlet showed the American seated cross-legged on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. 

The American, who was reportedly traveling with falsified identity documents, left the U.S. for eastern Europe in 2019 after a federal judge dismissed the federal rioting charges levied against him for his role as the leader of the Rise Above Movement (RAM)—a white supremacist group based in southern California that referred to itself as the “premier MMA fight club of the alt-right.”

Founded in 2017, RAM boasted upwards of 50 members who trained in various combat sports such as MMA and boxing, which they later applied during street fights and protests. They attended political rallies and attacked anti-fascist activists, all while concealing their identities using skull face masks and goggles. At the time, the group’s penchant for MMA helped distinguish it from various other white supremacist groups in the U.S.

In March 2021, a federal appeals court  reinstated the federal charges against Rundo, allowing the government to resume prosecution. In January 2023, prosecutors issued a new superseding indictment alleging that Rundo and several associates committed assaults as several political rallies in early 2017. 

Since then, Rundo has lived in exile in various eastern European countries, including Serbia and Bulgaria. He was placed on a Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorist Screening Center’s no-fly list and was reportedly traveling with falsified identity documents. 

Now awaiting extradition, Rundo is likely facing several years in prison if convicted on the federal rioting charges. However, it remains unclear how his arrest will impact his far-right propaganda outfit or his international MMA fight club movement.

After moving to eastern Europe, Rundo began encouraging his followers to form their own “Active Clubs,” which were decentralized and localized white supremacist fight clubs largely inspired by RAM. 

“The active club is not so much a structural organization as it is a lifestyle for those willing to work, risk and sweat to embody our ideals for themselves and to promote them to others,” Rundo wrote on his Active Club Telegram channel. “The active lifestyle is the counter to the left’s culture of apathy, addiction, and vice. Get active today in your area and be the change you want to see.”

Having learned from his previous mistakes with RAM, Rundo dictated that the clubs were to remain small and localized. This would make it more difficult for the media and law enforcement officials to shut down the entire operation. 

“Even if the system and their dogs manage to put out one fire, it will lead to minimal results,” he wrote.

Since its formation in 2020, Active Clubs has been formed in more than 30 states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The network has also expanded beyond the borders of the U.S. to include an array of chapters in countries such as Canada, France and Finland.  

Active Clubs have also collaborated and overlapped with other white supremacist groups, including White Lives Matter. Several Active Clubs have been pictured distributing WLM propaganda in various regions around the world.  

Rundo later founded a far-right clothing brand called Will2Rise also launched a media outlet called Media2Rise, which he claimed would “counter” liberal narratives. Over the past few months, the former MMA fighter has used this platform to publish “Sons of the Founders,” described as a “documentary” about Patriot Front—an offshoot of the white supremacist Vanguard group that trains in “hand-to-hand combat.”

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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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