Chapters of an emerging white nationalist network from across the United States participated in a joint combat sports event in the Los Angeles area this August, according to open source evidence geolocated by Bellingcat.
Several Active Clubs, which experts say form a dangerous bedrock for far-right activity and recruitment, joined the second annual tournament alongside extremist groups like Patriot Front and the Hammerskins. Active Clubs are a network of white nationalist mixed martial arts crews inspired by the Rise Above Movement, a now-defunct militant streetfighting group whose neo-Nazi cofounder Robert Rundo is currently in jail awaiting trial on federal rioting charges. They focus on training their members in combat skills in order to prepare them to fight against their purported enemies.
“Their own propaganda says ‘we are a white nationalist sports network, it’s about fitness,’” said Alexander Ritzmann, a political scientist and senior advisor at the Counter Extremism Project who studies Active Clubs, in an interview. “But reading their documents and listening to their podcasts, I’m curious about if they are a combat sports network or if they are a militia hiding in plain sight.”
Participating groups sent fighters to the event, which was organised by white supremacist activewear brand Will2Rise, with winners awarded custom medals.
Promotional content for the contest, which was posted in a Telegram channel affiliated with Rundo’s defunct Rise Above movement, said it took place in Huntington Beach, California, on August 19. Using a video and photos released by a far-right propaganda outlet founded by Rundo, Bellingcat was able to geolocate the event to a gym space in the next city over, Fountain Valley. Both are located in Orange County within the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
(Bellingcat is not naming the outlet, which has promised to release footage from this event and other gatherings to promote white nationalism to a wider audience of young men, to prevent amplification.)
A co-owner of the gym that hosted the event, ION Strength and Conditioning, did not reply to requests for comment. ION has since closed and the space is now run under different ownership with no relation to the event.
Fascist Fight Club
The site where the tournament was held was a strength and conditioning gym. We identified the venue by matching its features to promotional material released by participating Active Clubs.
Several contextual clues in the videos and photos of the event allowed us to focus our search on strength and conditioning gyms in the Los Angeles metropolitan area:
- The gym featured items commonly seen in similar facilities, including climbing ropes, weight racks, and a peg board, and appeared to be in an industrial or garage space like similar facilities
- In a few frames of the promotional video posted of the event, a poster is visible on the office wall that Bellingcat was able to identify as a logo of part of a women’s CrossFit competition league based in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Based on this assumption, we searched Google Maps for locations of strength and conditioning gyms in the Los Angeles area. For each of the several dozen locations we found, we reviewed publicly available photos of the facility interior, as well as available Google Street View images of the exterior, to see if it could be a possible match.
When we began reviewing photos from a strength and conditioning facility in Fountain Valley, a city just north of Huntington Beach, it didn’t take us long to find a match. In one Telegram photo shared on September 18 by the far-right propaganda outlet, we noted several unique details outside the venue, including doors, foliage, and red lettering on a similar facility across what appeared to be a parking lot. These same features were visible on Google Street View images from outside the Fountain Valley facility.
Even though the organisers of the event had taken measures to obscure potentially identifiable details inside the facility, they didn’t manage to hide them all — and these clues helped us confirm we were looking in the right place. Many of these features from the gym were only partly obscured in the footage by the signs and banners of far-right extremist groups attending the event.
Among the signs were a sonnenrad and a Celtic cross, both symbols associated with far-right extremism, and a banner for the Hammerskins, a well-documented neo-Nazi group involved in numerous violent attacks.
The presence of Hammerskins symbols is significant because, as the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism notes, Active Clubs “work hand-in-glove” with other racist and white nationalist groups in North America and Europe. This sets them apart from past white nationalist networks, which were often uncooperative rivals.
“Traditionally, these right-wing extremist groups would not allow members to be members of another group,” said Ritzmann, the counter-extremism researcher. “The unique strategy is white unity at every opportunity, meaning Active Clubs have no problem with their members being in the Proud Boys, Patriot Front and Hammerskins.”
According to reporting by Vice and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Hammerskins in particular have nested themselves in multiple Active Club chapters in North America to enhance their recruiting networks.
“These far-right MMA tournaments can also fund other far-right activities through their dues, and fees, as well as through the merchandise that gets sold along with it,” said Meredith L. Pruden, a communications professor at Kennesaw State University who researches far-right groups, in an interview.
One detail that helped Bellingcat confirm the location was a red square visible beneath one of the fascist symbols on the banners. We also spotted promotional materials for a fitness recovery drink — the drink company’s logo was also on a section of the wall alongside four posters of athletes. In that same corner of the gym, there is a sign with obscured contact and social media details. While the gym name was covered, the icons indicating what social media platforms it was on remained visible.
We used these identifying markers to match images from the far-right event to those in a gym rental listing and the gym’s Google Maps entry.
The red square turned out to be the corner of the letter I in the gym’s name, ION. The same posters and social media contact sign can be seen hanging in the corner. Furthermore, the images of the gym show ropes hanging from the ceiling that match ropes that are tied to the ceiling in the event photos.
Another feature we identified that was not covered with the groups’ banners was a workout peg board on a black back wall. We could also see fluorescent lighting to the right of the board. Again, using images of the gym from their rental listing, we matched this same peg board on a black wall with the lighting fixture to the right.
The gym’s Google map listing also features multiple images shared by users documenting the gym’s participation in the Barbellas competitions. Tickets and promotional materials for that event featured the same gym logo that Bellingcat initially identified, further confirming that the identified gym was the space used for the event.
When Bellingcat looked into the proprietor of ION Strength and Conditioning, social media profiles revealed that one of the gym’s owners has a troubling history of sharing far-right material and posting about white nationalist ideology online.
Jeremy Loo identifies himself as the owner of ION on LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. A business name registration for the gym in Orange County also lists Loo and another owner. An archive of ION’s website and social media accounts for Loo and the gym describe him as both an owner and head coach.
He did not respond to multiple requests for comment, including questions about whether the ownership of ION was involved in the organising of the event or posts on the social media accounts outlined below.
Loo has multiple social media accounts for his personal use and business, most of which are fitness-related. Of note, his profile on Minds, an open-source social network, contains a post referring to the conspiratorial and racist “Great Replacement” theory.
Bellingcat was able to identify the Minds account because the username includes Loo’s first and last name and one of its posts includes the hashtag #ionsandc, which the ION gym’s hashtag used for promotional purposes on its affiliated social accounts. He also shared a quote from Italian far-right philosopher Julius Evola on the short-form video platform TikTok and reposted it to his profile on Gettr, a conservative microblogging platform. Evola, a virulent antisemite and contemporaneous advocate of Benito Mussolini’s Racial Laws, remains influential across much of the international far right.
Bellingcat also identified an X account with a similar username as Loo’s Minds account that posts and reposts explicitly neo-Nazi content. This account follows Loo’s professional coaching account on X, and is followed by Loo’s personal account on X. Given that this account has only 18 followers, with Loo’s personal account being one of them, this leads us to believe that is likely Loo’s alt-X account.
This account also shared some of the same content as Loo’s Minds profile. In addition to posting tweets with neo-Nazi phrases like “1488” and the “Fourteen Words”, the account also liked another user’s post that links to the abovementioned Rise Above Movement Telegram channel where promotional materials for the far-right MMA event at Ion gym were posted.
Bellingcat also found a Telegram account with the same username as the X account that appears to be Loo’s alt. The Telegram account features a picture of Loo as its profile image — this is the same photo Loo uses for his personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, but with a glowing effect photoshopped over his eyes. The photo with the effect is also shared on the Google Map listing for ION, used as the profile picture for Loo’s Gettr account, and is an older Facebook profile picture.
This account is a public member of a number of conservative, conspiracy, White pride, and far-right groups including an explicitly neo-Nazi chat group called the “National Socialist Workers Party”. This group describes itself with terms like “Holocaust Deniers,” “Aryan Christians,” and “1488.”
One thing that is clear is that we can expect these types of combat sports events in the future as they function as a recruiting tool, funding mechanism, and community-building atmosphere. As Pruden told Bellingcat, “It’s important to call attention to the fact that these groups are making concerted efforts to co-opt mainstream mixed martial arts. They’re doing that because they see these sorts of combat sports as capable of mainstreaming far-right beliefs”.
White nationalist groups aren’t in some remote part of the world, but oftentimes right in our own neighbourhood.
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