Commentary  

Crowd Counting Blog: Tracking the Growth of Active Clubs

Graph of different US protest actions featuring Active Clubs

A couple of days ago, NPR ran a piece on the recent growth in the U.S. of Active Clubs, “a strand of the white nationalist movement that emphasize[s] mixed martial arts training to ready their members for violence against their perceived enemies.”

We can see this growth in Crowd Counting Consortium’s (CCC) data on U.S. protest activity. So far, CCC has logged 27 protest events in which at least one group with “Active Club” in the name has participated. As the map below shows, these events have spanned the country. We see clusters of events in the Pacific Northwest, California, Tennessee, and the Mid-Atlantic, but Active Clubs have also organized or participated in protests in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Alabama, Ohio, and Virginia.

Graph of different US protest actions featuring Active Clubs

As NPR’s reporting indicates, groups operating under the Active Club brand are relatively new on the scene. Per the following chart, the first event in our data involving an Active Club came in March 2022, and 21 of the 27 Active Club events we’ve recorded so far occurred in 2023. The peak month for Active Club protest activity in our dataset is the most recent complete month, June 2023, and we’ve already logged two more Active Club–involved events in the first half of July.

Graph of monthly counts of US protest events involving Active Clubs

Also consistent with the rapid-growth story, these 27 protest events have involved 13 different Active Clubs, and 10 of those 13 clubs made their first appearance in our dataset in 2023. Here’s a list of all the groups we’ve seen at protests so far, along with the dates and locations of their first appearances, the number of events at which we’ve seen them so far, and the names of other organizations that were present at any of the protests in which they’ve participated.

  • SoCal Active Club (March 12, 2022, in Thousand Oaks, CA; 1; White Lives Matter California, White Lives Matter Legion XIV)
  • Embrace Struggle Active Club (October 15, 2022, in Penn Valley, PA; 6; White Lives Matter Pennsylvania, White Lives Matter New Jersey, Garden State Nationalist Club, New Jersey European Heritage Association, National Socialist Youth Alliance, S14)
  • Tennessee Active Club (November 13, 2022 in Chattanooga, TN; 6; Tennessee Neighbors for Liberty, Patriot Front, League of the South, NSC-Dixie, White Lives Matter, Proud Boys, Protect the Children Now, Southern Sons Active Club, Alabama Active Club, White Lives Matter Alabama, Vinland Rebels, Heart of Dixie Active Club)
  • The Ohio Active Club (February 11, 2023, in Circleville, OH; 1; White Lives Matter Ohio, Patriot Front)
  • Evergreen Active Club (February 26, 2023, in Portland, OR; 6; Rose City Nationalists, Northwest Nationalist Network, Vinland Rebels, Proud Boys, White Lives Matter Montana, Big Sky Active Club, 14 Words)
  • Sons of Virginia Active Club (March 9, 2023, in Richmond, VA; 1)
  • NorCal Active Club (March 10, 2023, in Sacramento, CA; 3; Sacramento Proud Boys, White Lives Matter, Patriot Front)
  • Big Sky Active Club (May 20, 2023, in Bozeman and Livingston, MT; 4; White Lives Matter Montana, Evergreen Active Club, 14 Words, Northwest Nationalist Network, Vinland Rebels, Rose City Nationalists, Patriot Front, Wyoming Active Club)
  • Las Vegas Active Club (June 3, 2023, in Las Vegas, NV; 1; Clockwork Crew)
  • Wyoming Active Club (June 18, 2023, in Lander, WY; 1; Big Sky Active Club, Patriot Front)
  • Alabama Active Club (July 15, 2023, in Montgomery, AL; 1; Heart of Dixie Active Club, Southern Sons Active Club, Tennessee Active Club, White Lives Matter Alabama, Vinland Rebels)
  • Heart of Dixie Active Club (July 15, 2023, in Montgomery, AL; 1; Alabama Active Club, Southern Sons Active Club, Tennessee Active Club, White Lives Matter Alabama, Vinland Rebels)
  • Southern Sons Active Club (July 15, 2023, in Montgomery, AL; 1; Alabama Active Club, Heart of Dixie Active Club, Tennessee Active Club, White Lives Matter Alabama, Vinland Rebels)

We can also see in the CCC data how these groups, like many right-wing extremists of late, are explicitly linking homophobia and transphobia to their larger agendas — here, white supremacy or white nationalism. Of the 27 protest events we’ve logged so far that involved at least one Active Club, 16 (60%) included explicit anti-LGBTQ+ claims. That’s compared to five that included explicitly anti-semitic claims, two that specifically mentioned Rob Rundo, and one that featured a Confederate flag (unsurprisingly, the one in Alabama).

Finally, given the emphasis in the Active Club brand on training for violence, it’s worth noting that we’ve only seen a single counter-protester injured in a confrontation with Active Club members or their co-protesters at these 27 events. That casualty occurred in Bozeman, Montana, on May 20, 2023, when a participant in the Bozeman Pride Stroll who verbally confronted protesting Active Clubbers and other right-wingers got pepper sprayed in response.

As always, you can freely download the entire CCC dataset from the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository (here). For more information about what kinds of events those data do and don’t include and how we collect them, see our coding guidelines. For this analysis, I looked for the string “active club” (ignoring case) in the organizations field and selected for valence = 2 (right wing). If you’re an activist, journalist, or researcher who wants or needs some assistance in using the data, feel free to email me at julfelder@hks.harvard.edu.

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