Mon, Dec 02, 2019 - Page 7 News List

RAM’s revival and the fight against far-right fight clubs

White nationalist-linked mixed martial arts groups appeared to be on the retreat in the US, but there are signs of a growing network of such organizations across the globe

By Karim Zida  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

In October last year, the FBI arrested four members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a US white supremacist group that trains in mixed martial arts (MMA), on rioting charges related to their participation at the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

The four men, including RAM cofounder Ben Daley and University of California, Los Angeles doctoral student Michael Miselis, pled guilty and were sentenced for their crimes.

The prosecution was a contrast to another case the previous month against RAM members accused of rioting at a rally in Huntington Beach, California, in 2017. A district judge dismissed the charges against RAM cofounder Robert Rundo, Aaron Eason and Robert Bowman, claiming that the federal statute used to prosecute the members infringed upon their first amendment rights to free speech. Tyler Laube, who had pled guilty in a separate hearing, withdrew his guilty plea and had his case dismissed. The US government is in the process of appealing the case, although it appears that the damage has already been done.

“RAM has definitely gotten a second life thanks to the court rulings that have cleared their members on federal criminal charges,” said A.C. Thompson, an investigative reporter for ProPublica.

“The group was absolutely on the verge of collapse, with its leaders and key members locked up — and new recruits scared off by fears of going to federal prison. When you look at the history of the white supremacist movement in the US, you can see many instances in which white power groups survived prosecution and came out the other side stronger and even more hardcore,” he added.

Prior to the string of arrests, RAM boasted more than 50 members and marketed itself as the “premier MMA club of the alt-right.”

Founded in 2017 by Daley and Rundo, RAM members trained in various combat sports such as MMA and boxing, which they later used during street fights and protests, including Charlottesville. Dressed in skull masks, RAM members specialized in attacking protesters who opposed their ideology. They would then glorify their antics in propaganda videos posted on social media.

With the dismissal of the Huntington Beach charges, RAM has been handed a lifeline. Armed with a new lease on life, one of the most dangerous white supremacist groups in the US is set to retake its place among a growing international network of far-right fight clubs.

RAM’S REVIVAL

In the days and weeks following the California judge’s decision to dismiss the charges against Rundo and his associates, the group took to social media to drum up support for its cause and to re-establish its base.

Using an account on the far-right social media platform Gab, RAM posted pictures celebrating the charges being dismissed against its “wrongfully imprisoned” members. One of the posts boasted a new hype video under the title Keep the Flame Alive, while another showed Miselis flexing beneath the caption: “They can lock us up, they can lie about us, but they can’t stop a idea whos [sic] time has come.”

To monetize its cause, RAM reached an agreement with far-right clothing store Our Fight Clothing Co to feature several of its branded T-shirts, the proceeds of which it claims will “go directly to our legal defense.”

RAM also used the far-right clothing store as a personal blog to promote its violent ideology.

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