Telegram is also a hugely powerful recruiting tool, giving this movement a platform free of censorship or restrictions to spread its message to a much larger audience than it would have on other mainstream platforms.
“Alt-tech platforms—and Telegram is really one of the biggest examples of this—provide these hate groups with a ready-made audience of people that already subscribe to this very hateful ideology,” Tischauser says.
The vast majority of the Telegram channels identified as belonging to the clubs listed in the CEP report are public, available for everyone to see. The transparency is part of Rundo’s White Supremacy 3.0 strategy where he urges groups to only post positive content about training of the sense of brotherhood that the clubs claim to inspire, while avoiding violent threats and Nazi symbolism. But some groups do not appear to be subscribing to Rundo’s ideals—chief among them, the Tennessee Active Club.
“I don’t think they got that memo,” Tischauser says. “They’ve always been posting Nazi stuff and glorifying Hitler, being very rabidly anti-Semitic. They showed up to at least two cities in Tennessee and they were flying the swastika, while Sean Kauffman, the leader, is seen giving the Heil Hitler hand gesture.”
Telegram tells WIRED that it is investigating the threats made in the Tennessee Active Club channel. “Telegram is a platform that supports the right to peaceful free speech, but calls to violence are explicitly forbidden on our platform,” Remi Vaughn, a spokesperson for the messaging app, wrote in a statement. “Our moderators proactively monitor public parts of the platform and accept user reports in order to remove content that breaches our terms of service.”
For everything we know about the growth and spread of active clubs on Telegram, there is an entire world that is off-limits to journalists and researchers, where members of these clubs coordinate and network in secret. A local anti-fascist activist in Tennessee, who is closely monitoring some of these nonpublic channels and requested anonymity due to threats to their safety from the groups they are tracking, confirmed to WIRED the existence of the secret chats, which they say are used to coordinate actions both locally and nationally.
While active clubs effectively operate independently—a deliberate decision, taken so that the movement can continue even if one group is deactivated—there still appears to be a level of national coordination happening, even while Rundo is in custody awaiting trial. This coordination was seen in August 2023 when a white nationalist fight club event took place in Southern California featuring members from multiple active clubs across the United States, including the Tennessee club, as well as members of other hate groups like Blood Tribe and Patriot Front.
“There’s some national leadership within the active clubs who are talking with each other, maybe it’s at the chapter leader level, where they’re talking and they’re organizing these events and then mobilizing folks to come out, which takes a lot of resources and logistics,” Tischauser says. “So there has to be some kind of structure there.”
Tischauser says he sees little preventing the active club movement from continuing to grow rapidly. He says he has already seen a number of new clubs emerge since the CEP report was published last month—and that’s a real concern because, as Ritzmann bluntly states in his report: “If Active Clubs are allowed to continue to operate and multiply, the likelihood for targeted political violence and terrorism by their members against supposed enemies of the ‘white race’ (e.g., Jews, people of color, Muslims, and LGTBQI+ people) will increase.”