As Neo-Nazi ‘Active Club’ Grows, Charges Against Its Founder Dismissed

Known hate group ‘Active Club’ has seen explosive growth while the group’s founder was nearly released by a federal judge last week

Central District of California — Highlighting the growth of Active Club, a prominent global violent neo-nazi group with nearly 50 chapters in the United States, more than 100 new symbols for the group have been added to the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism’s (GPAHE) database. Evolving from what was once the alt-right Rise Above Movement (RAM), Active Club has been especially active in its targeted recruitment of mostly young white men online. 

US Active Club Symbols | Source: GPAHE Global Extremist Symbols Database

Both RAM and Active Club were created by Robert Rundo, a self-professed fascist and white nationalist who promotes antisemitic tropes. Rundo was a fugitive from 2018 until 2023 for charges stemming from participating “in a series of violent attacks at political rallies in 2017, including events in Huntington Beach, Berkeley, and San Bernardino,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney after Rundo’s arrest. Four other members of RAM were charged in a separate indictment for their participation in the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

The case announced today follows the filing of an indictment in federal court in Charlottesville, Virginia that charges four other California RAM members with violating the riots statute during violent altercations at a torch-lit march at the University of Virginia and Unite the Right Rally in August 2017. The affidavit unsealed today in Los Angeles noted the connections between the defendants in both cases,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement reads.

Rundo was eventually apprehended in Romania and extradited to the U.S. in August 2023. While on the run, Rundo was building the foundations for Active Club. He was coordinating with other neo-nazis in Europe and creating separate far-right media and merchandising arms. Tools to help promote their message and “serve those throughout European civilization who have been slighted for defending their nation and identity.” Unicorn Riot previously covered Rundo’s organizing while in Europe to build a global neo-fascist movement with far-right groups.

District Court Judge Cormac Carey dismisses charges against Robert Rundo

On February 21, Cormac Carney, US District Court Judge for the Central District of California, dismissed charges against Rundo for the second time. After evading U.S. federal authorities for more than five years, Judge Carey granted Rundo’s motion to dismiss on the basis of “selective prosecution” alleging RAM and Antifa are essentially the same – aside from their differing views. To make his case, the judge included a host of photos in his court order of alleged Antifa members attacking people at protests.

This is the second time Carney has dismissed these charges against Rundo, even though he admits that he was involved in criminal conduct,” said Heidi Beirich, Ph.D., co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “It is very rare for selective prosecution cases to lead to such a result and the ruling, especially where the judge talks about Antifa, has to make you wonder why he has let Rundo and his co-defendant off. After all, they didn’t just attack political opponents, but also police officers.”

Immediately, the U.S. Attorney’s Office appealed the decision to drop the charges against Rundo and sought a motion to stay the district judge’s order to release him on bail pending the appeal. The prosecution argued that Rundo is a flight risk citing that he had previously fled the U.S. when Carney ordered his charges dismissed in 2019. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, leading to Rundo’s arrest in Romania last summer.

On Feb. 22, the 9th Circuit granted an emergency order again reversing Carney’s decision to release Rundo saying, “Robert Rundo’s immediate release is temporarily stayed pending resolution of appellant’s motion to stay release pending appeal.”

[In 2020, Judge Carney made headlines when he stepped down as the Chief Judge of the Central District of California after making “racially insensitive comments regarding the court’s top administrative official, a Black woman,” according to the LA Times.] 

Active Club’s Growth

Global Active Club locations. Source: GPAHE

Active Club’s tremendous growth is largely due to its use of the internet and its decentralized nature organized similarly to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). While the nature of how they operate is often compared to European far-right groups, the KKK’s success in operating a decentralized organization provided other groups with a blueprint that has been duplicated all over the world. The structure intentionally makes hate groups difficult to track, infiltrate and take down, while making their recruitment efforts complicated for friends and family to detect.

Far-right groups use everything from seemingly benign memes to monikers like “wokeness” and access gaming platforms to reach young white men and radicalize them. Underscoring the depths of their organizational structure, neo-Nazis can also be found spreading misinformation and hate on platforms like Telegram and most major social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram. They rely largely on the ostensibly impenetrable barrier to a teen’s online life, thus, making parental intervention exceedingly difficult.

The Active Club network is without a doubt one of the largest worldwide white supremacist movements,” said Beirich. “And for all its decentralization in terms of leadership, these groups seem to be very much on the same page. As a movement dedicated to hatred and racism, and opposed to democratic systems, this has to be at the top of the list of groups posing a danger on the far right. And that is a worldwide problem, given these groups are in so many countries.”

To help spread misinformation and racist conspiracy theories, Active Club groups supplement their content with fitness, graffiti, merchandise, and MMA fighting videos. Each has its appeal providing broader entry points for potential recruits. They regularly invoke antisemitic tropes alongside xenophobia, Latinophobia, queerphobia, and anti-Black rhetoric. Their messaging isn’t unique in that it revives much of the Western bigotry heard throughout recent history.

This evolution can be linked to the normalization of dog whistles and growing extremism in politics and media. Pundits such as Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson along with U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, former president Donald Trump, and many more have reintroduced hate – once relegated to the fringes of society – into the mainstream. In doing so, they’re paving the way for hate groups to proliferate across Western societies. 

We are facing an explosion of such groups in multiple countries, as well as the rise of far-right political parties that share many views with white supremacists, especially the Great Replacement conspiracy theory and anti-immigrant beliefs,” said Beirich. “These movements pose an existential threat to multiracial democracies. The far-right and its bigoted ideas have to be pushed back to the fringes if vibrant, diverse democracies are to survive.”

Growth in Active Club Telegram channels. Source: GPAHE

Politics plays a large role and in many cases, mass media does too – exposing blind spots in how stories are reported. Many conservative media pundits and politicians traffic in the racist “Great Replacementconspiracy theory where they believe there is a concerted effort to eliminate white people. In turn, they target migrants, Black people, Indigenous people, and other non-white and non-cis groups in their broadcasts and speeches broadcast across the country.

For example, many conservatives intentionally use language to dehumanize nonwhite groups and enflame their white cohort, referring to migrants as “illegals” and migration as an “invasion”. But when more liberal media or politicians use words like “crisis” when referring to migration they inadvertently help bolster the white nationalist narrative claiming that  “millions of migrants” are pouring across the border constantly. This often leads to situations that result in far-right militias and other racist groups traveling long distances to spread hate and do harm to marginalized communities. 

Espousing bombastic rhetoric under the pretext of “white extinction” ensures Active Club’s messaging stokes fear among their members regardless of who they target.

Rundo will remain in custody while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals considers motions regarding his release. The latest order blocks any lower courts from releasing Rundo, saying that for now, “No lower court may order his release absent further order of this Court.”

Cover image composition by Dan Feidt. Sources: Wikimedia, GPAHE Active Club list and report.

Past Coverage:

Travels of Hate: An American Far-Right Extremist in Greece [July 2023]

‘Task Force Butler’ Veterans Share Skills to Track Far-Right Groups [January 2023]

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