A Portrait of the Fascist as a Younger Man | by Ali Winston

As the specter of political violence looms over the 2020 presidential election, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are making ready for an appeals listening to for the founding father of a neofascist road gang on the coronary heart of the earliest road violence of the Trump period. 4 years in the past, Robert Rundo, a thirty-year-old Queens native, building employee, and ex-convict, cofounded a bunch named the Rise Above Movement (RAM). Ostensibly a mixed-martial-arts membership for younger white males in Southern California, the group has additionally promoted identitarian, nativist politics, with a selected antipathy for antifascist activists who, on the time of RAM’s founding, had been bodily confronting far-right activists throughout California.

In 2019, a US District Court judge threw out Anti-Riot Act costs towards Rundo and three different RAM members on grounds that the statute itself was over-broad and criminalized expressions of political opinion, even when they resulted in violence. It’s these costs, initially introduced due to their involvement in violence at protests in Orange County, San Bernardino, and Berkeley in 2017, that federal prosecutors at the moment are searching for to reinstate on the listening to on November 17.

The Anti-Riot Act has been used to prosecute activists from each side of the political spectrum, most notably in 1969 with the trial of the “Chicago Seven,” who had been accused of conspiring to foment violence on the 1968 Democratic Nationwide Conference in Chicago. Final 12 months, 4 different members of the Rise Above Motion pled responsible on anti-riot costs in Virginia for his or her half within the Charlottesville Unite the Proper rally.

There have been different prosecutions of far-right teams on a wide range of violent offenses, together with the Proud Boys, Atomwaffen, and The Base, however no such case has risen as excessive within the federal courtroom system as Rundo’s. The Rise Above Motion spearheaded political violence in California in 2017, properly earlier than such clashes went nationwide. Till the group was damaged up in 2019 by concerted legislation enforcement motion, RAM was a figurehead of the alt-right, its street-fighting exploits the topic of quite a few memes. It additionally constructed ties to violent right-wing extremist teams throughout Central and Eastern Europe, in addition to forging connections within the US with old-line skinhead gangs just like the Hammerskins and the Aryan Brotherhood.

Federal prosecutors’ renewed effort to convict RAM’s founder comes at a time when the FBI has issued an intelligence evaluation that warns of the “violent extremist menace” across the election and its aftermath, and when a plot by anti-government militia members to kidnap the governor of Michigan was foiled by federal legislation enforcement brokers. Whereas Rundo’s group as soon as fought Antifa with taped fists, armed teams in battle fatigues and carrying military-type weapons have gotten a customary sight at right-wing counterdemonstrations towards social justice protests. RAM itself had begun coaching with firearms and training drive-by fashion shootings earlier than legislation enforcement descended on the group. This harmful evolution is what makes Rundo’s profession such an instructive case research of rising militancy amongst far-right violent extremists within the US.

Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Photos/LightRocket through Getty Photos

Antifascist and white supremacist protesters clashing on the Unite the Proper rally, the place Rise Above Motion members had been concerned in brawling, Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017


Rundo returned to america for his listening to earlier in September after months of journey via Serbia, Ukraine, and Hungary. In some respects, this was an homage for Rundo: when he first fashioned RAM, he was consciously taking on the street-fighting custom of European far-right teams like Italy’s CasaPound and Russia’s White Rex; and he has been again numerous occasions to rekindle the connections.

“The most important affect was from White Rex,” Rundo stated in a current interview with a far-right podcast. He cited, particularly, the group’s founder, Denis Nikitin, a former member of soccer hooligan gangs for FC Köln and CSKA Moscow who hosts far-right MMA tournaments throughout Europe, sells neo-Nazi-themed clothes, and took part within the riots throughout a Euro 2016 soccer match between Russia and England.

Of RAM’s 2016 founding (the group was first referred to as “DIY Division”), Rundo stated, “The American scene on the time didn’t have this road activism that I noticed that was very profitable in Europe. It was one thing that I noticed to me that was very interesting.” RAM’s attraction to alienated white American youth got here via the potent mixture of fight sports activities, graffiti, and road tradition that mimicked European soccer hooligans in addition to Southern California’s road gangs.

“I can’t bear in mind what chapter it’s in Mein Kampf,” he went on, turning to the topic of Adolf Hitler, “[where] he says we want extra those who take up boxing than [we need] intellectuals.”

Whereas staying in Rome in 2018, at a hostel and youth heart that belongs to CasaPound (the identify refers back to the American poet and fascist sympathizer Ezra Pound), Rundo was stunned to see crowds of younger Italians turning up for a rap live performance. When he requested why CasaPound can be internet hosting a live performance of non-white music, a member informed Rundo that it was what was common—higher to adapt right-wing concepts to common tradition than threat falling into irrelevance.

Rundo additionally drew on the writings of fascist thinker Julius Evola to conceive of the Rise Above Motion as a “meta-political” group that may foster its personal tradition, making it impartial of Western business tradition, which Rundo believes is sapping the vitality of white Individuals with mainstream TV, substance addition, junk meals, and multicultural values. Following Evola’s educating, he believed, the proper can present wayward white youth with path and function in life via political and bodily training. This is able to equip its robust younger cadres to “revolt towards the fashionable world,” in phrases of Evola that RAM made its credo, and put together them to confront ideological opponents.

“They did nothing with electoral politics, however they did every thing with road politics and constructing a counterculture,” Rundo stated of CasaPound. “Every thing we will try this’s outdoors of the mainstream, outdoors of their poison, we have to do.”

What Rundo himself dropped at this undertaking was a level of charisma that made him in a position to recruit others. As a younger man, he was concerned within the Unique Flushing Crew, a multiracial neighborhood gang in Flushing, Queens. After a spell in state jail for the 2009 stabbing of an MS-13 gang member, Rundo fashioned a small whites-only gang inside referred to as the 88ers (a reputation immediately recognizable to neo-Nazis as utilizing the eighth letter of the alphabet to check with “Heil Hitler”).

When he was initially outed after the Rise Above Motion was investigated by ProPublica in 2017 and a PBS Frontline documentary sequence the next 12 months (I contributed reporting to each), Rundo’s civilian life as a unionized laborer in Southern California got here aside. He misplaced his job, and his fiancée gave him an ultimatum—me or the motion—after which left him. His response was to dive deeper into right-wing militancy, and within the years since, his standing within the worldwide far proper has solely grown. In an internal memo about far-right domestic terrorism that was circulated in March 2018, the FBI labeled him as a “tier one operator.”

For the reason that group’s founding, RAM cast intensive ties to the older, legal white skinhead gangs, notably the Western Hammerskins, the West Coast chapter of the biggest skinhead umbrella group within the US. Reilly Devore, a outstanding San Diego Hammerskin organizer, has appeared in a number of of RAM’s slickly produced propaganda movies that had been a function of the group’s early renown. Matthew Branstetter, one other Hammerskin from Orange County who did state jail time for a 2011 hate crime assault on a Jewish man, has additionally educated with RAM.

Rundo himself has additionally blended with members of the Aryan Brotherhood at social gatherings. In the identical current podcast interview, he recounted how, whereas awaiting his 2019 courtroom listening to, he’d been accepted by the skinheads who dominated the roost over white inmates on the Los Angeles County jail.

In fall 2018, after the indictments in Virginia of four of his comrades, Rundo went on the run from federal authorities, aiming to cover in Ukraine, which has turn into one thing of an asylum for right-wing militants who’re or contemplate themselves to be fugitives from US justice. Due to journey restrictions positioned on him by American authorities, Rundo was turned again to the US whereas making an attempt to switch flights in London. Weeks later, he made a second try: he walked throughout the border into Mexico and made his technique to El Salvador—solely to be apprehended there and turned over to the FBI. He was flown again to Los Angeles, accompanied by FBI brokers, to face prosecution on the now-overturned indictment. In early 2020, having regained his passport and journey privileges, Rundo did pay a go to to Ukraine, reconnecting with one other former RAM member there and visiting RAM’s patrons within the Azov Battalion, an ultra-nationalist, far-right regiment in Ukraine’s Nationwide Guard.

Whereas RAM as soon as hoisted banners at rallies declaring “Defend America,” Rundo now believes, as he informed the podcast interviewer, that the nation “is collapsing.” He has urged fellow right-wing “dissidents” to flee america and, if potential, get hold of overseas passports with a view to keep away from journey restrictions just like the No Fly listing.

On the similar time, his picture has modified, from a SoCal-friendly, MMA gym-rat look to harder-edged, conventional skinhead iconography: he sports activities new tattoos—a Nazi-style Sonnenrad (“black solar”) tattoo on his proper elbow, and on his stomach, a dagger emblazoned with “Me Ne Frego” (“I don’t care”), motto of the Italian Blackshirts.

Following his launch from federal custody, Rundo once more immersed himself in far-right activism, connecting with an East Coast neofascist group named Revolt By way of Custom (one other Evola reference) that additionally trains in blended martial arts and posts propaganda movies that draw on RAM’s early work. In addition to such efforts to determine himself as an inspirational YouTube character of the far proper, Rundo has confirmed adept at turning motion politics right into a enterprise mannequin, currently hawking a line of extremist-themed clothes.


John Rudoff/Anadolu Company through Getty Photos

Attendees carrying sidearms, knives, and golf equipment at a Proud Boys rally, Portland, Oregon, September 26, 2020

Courtroom paperwork from Rundo’s federal appeals case, in addition to hearings within the legal case towards RAM’s now-convicted cofounder, Ben Daley, clarify that federal legislation enforcement views RAM as a corporation able to political violence. In response to a submitting from prosecutors, Daley and Rundo organized coaching periods whose function was to “put together to have interaction in violence at political rallies, after which attended political rallies the place they assaulted journalists, law enforcement officials, and others.”

The USA Lawyer’s workplace in Los Angeles continued to maintain tabs on Rundo after the 2019 dismissal of his indictment. A movement filed within the attraction, in March 2020, expressed prosecutor’s concern about his actions—and with cause: in February, he posted a video of himself attending a neofascist rally in Budapest to commemorate wartime Hungarian volunteers in Germany’s SS divisions.

It was in early 2017, when RAM was brawling its approach via political rallies up and down California, that the FBI opened a home terrorism case centered on the group. Over the 2 years that adopted, it’s clear from prosecutorial information that RAM’s leaders had been escalating their militancy from road combating to potential armed operations.

Throughout Daley’s sentencing listening to in July of final 12 months, United States Lawyer Thomas Cullen recounted remarks Daley had made following the Unite the Proper rally in Charlottesville: that James Fields’s deadly automotive assault on counterprotesters was untimely, and the motion wanted to do extra to arrange excessive ways.

“The very fact he was turning into extra militant and probably extra harmful is evidenced by the truth that these defendants are within the desert of California taking pictures assault rifles and driving a white van taking pictures out of it and training, primarily, a drive-by taking pictures,” Cullen stated. “That’s disturbing proof in and of itself, however within the context of the bigger case, it offers you an thought of the street this group was heading on.”

When Daley was arrested by federal authorities in 2018, the FBI recovered a twelve-gauge shotgun, a loaded .357 pistol, and a knife with a Swastika insignia. Ammunition for assault weapons, smoke bombs, and flares had been discovered within the house of one other RAM member, Mike Miselis, a former Northrop Grumman techniques engineer, who has since served simply over a 12 months in jail and is now out on supervised launch.

The result of Rundo’s attraction listening to subsequent month will show decisive for his try to reestablish himself as a far-right figurehead via his Media 2 Rise undertaking on Telegram and YouTube. There, he posts educational movies on bodily coaching, political organizing, and journey, all whereas selling his private narrative in regards to the persecution of RAM by the federal authorities as “thought criminals.”

“It stays to be seen what Rundo does with all this Japanese European training…on easy methods to be structured,” stated a longtime investigator of white-power teams who was not approved to talk on the document. In current interviews, the investigator famous, it seems that Rundo’s strategy to organizing has grown extra subtle. “He’s maturing,” the investigator stated, evaluating Rundo now to Thomas Metzger, the previous Klansman and founding father of the group White Aryan Resistance, who’s an ideologue revered by the Hammerskins and different skinhead teams.

The tardy however escalating federal legislation enforcement response to the rising militancy of the far proper might sound welcome, however the renewed chance that one other central determine within the Rise Above Motion may serve jail time once more will not be essentially reassuring. Simply as occurred earlier in Rundo’s profession, jail usually results in larger radicalization and the forging of tighter legal–organizational bonds.

Rundo’s profession additionally reveals {that a} conventional legislation enforcement strategy to dismantling right-wing extremist teams is a recreation of Whac-A-Mole. Actors like Rundo have ambitions far past these of the foot troopers of conventional far-right road combating; they’ve a protracted recreation of forging a long-lasting social motion, and are deft at utilizing the instruments of influencing and culture-warring.

Deradicalization is a way more complicated job, one that can take years. The far proper has firmly entrenched itself in Western youth subcultures, each on-line and off. Xenophobic, nativist concepts that had been beforehand confined to fringe of American politics have been mainstreamed, from the Oval Workplace downward. And the “very nice folks” whom President Trump first hailed after the mayhem of Charlottesville in 2017 are as soon as once more gearing up for confrontation.

Though concerted antifascist organizing has served to blunt the resurgence of far-right militants, usually far outnumbering them at counter-demonstrations, teams just like the Rise Above Motion and Proud Boys have seen their hate-violence validated by America’s commander-in-chief. And not using a sweeping effort to handle the basis causes of radicalization, this evil genie will likely be very laborious to get again within the bottle. The organized thuggery that plagues international locations like Ukraine, Serbia, and Hungary, which Rundo and his motion search to emulate, threatens to turn into a long-lasting function of American society, too.

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