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White supremacist fitness clubs are fat-shaming Trump supporters and plotting a race war

Alia Shoaib   

White supremacist fitness clubs are fat-shaming Trump supporters and plotting a race war
  • White supremacist "active clubs" are spreading across the US.
  • The clubs recruit disaffected white men and promote physical fitness and masculinity.

A network of white supremacist fitness clubs is spreading across the US, recruiting men to prepare for what they believe will be a race war.

The groups, known as "active clubs," target disaffected white men by offering a sense of community, with members regularly meeting to practice martial arts or work out.

But the groups have a much darker agenda that's rooted in white supremacist ideology.

Their Telegram channels reveal their extreme views — they are filled with neo-Nazi iconography, racist and antisemitic memes, and negative news articles about people of color and LGBTQ+ people.

"They are quickly becoming one of the most prominent vectors for white terrorist radicalization in the United States in recent years," Jon Lewis, a Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told Business Insider.

"They're training for what they view to be this kind of inevitable race war, this inevitable violent clash for the future of civilization," he added.

One former member of an active club told Vice News last year that the group would slowly introduce extremist ideology to new members by making racist jokes and talking about stories in the news in which ethnic minorities attacked white people.

"They believe that there's an inevitable cultural war that'll come and because they tie culture directly to race, a culture war means race war," they said.

"They never were like, 'You need to learn how to fight so you can beat up people of color. It was like, 'You need to learn how to fight because people want to kill you in the future,'" they added.

In a promotional video, the leader of the SoCal active club said that they were not terrorists and simply wanted to build a "positive community" and get white men "off the internet and into the real world."

White nationalism 3.0

One of the main strengths of the clubs is that they work as decentralized networks, with white men nationwide encouraged to set up and run their own clubs, Lewis said.

In the US, there are at least 46 active clubs across 34 states, a 2023 report from the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) said.

The investigative news outlet, Bellingcat, has also reported that the white supremacist active club movement had spread to Europe.

The movement was inspired by Robert Rundo, who founded the white supremacist MMA club known as the Rise Above Movement.

His concept of "white nationalism 3.0" advocates for nationalists to operate in smaller, decentralized groups and improve their online image to evade law enforcement scrutiny.

While active club members do not regularly engage in overt violence, some are known to intimidate their enemies, particularly journalists.

The Tennessee active club has gained particular notoriety for its threats to local journalists, activists, and politicians and for the extreme views of its leader Sean Kauffman, who is a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier.

"While the Tennessee active club on the surface seems like an outlier because of what the leader Kauffman says publicly, and he waves the Nazi flag publicly, the other active clubs are thinking that too, they're just not doing it in public," Jeff Tischauser, a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who investigates active clubs, told BI.

In an increasingly polarized climate, political extremism and threats to democracy have become a top concern for US voters, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The groups sometimes mock and fat-shame Trump and his supporters

Although many far-right groups once aligned themselves with former President Donald Trump, most have since grown disillusioned and criticize him for not doing enough to advance their extremist agenda.

"The groups I track have long since turned on Trump," Tischauser said, adding that some viewed Trump as a "puppet to Jewish interests who steals their nationalist rhetoric to win votes" and who "cannot be counted on to enact nationalist policies."

In one video, the Central CA active club also hit out at the former president for not being a true "revolutionary."

Some clubs have also taken to mocking and fat-shaming Trump and his supporters.

A video posted by the Alamo active club on Telegram shows clips of Trump rally attendees, all of whom appeared either overweight or were people of color, captioned: "Average conservatives."

The video then cuts to shots of white men sparring and lifting weights with a caption saying "average nationalists."

A Telegram channel run by the owner of the Lewis Country Store in Nashville, which is associated with the active club movement, also regularly mocks Trump for his weight, something he has been seemingly sensitive about in the past.

While some in the movement see Trump as a useful tool for helping shift policies to the right, their distrust in the political system likely means many won't vote or show support for any political candidate, Tischauser said.

Many of the groups believe there is no political solution and advocate for a societal breakdown from which a white ethnostate can emerge, Lewis added.

"They see a violent revolution, a violent racial conflict as the only way to get to their desired end state," he said.

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