STATE OF HATE 2024 Feature



THE INTERNATIONAL trend of fascist martial arts clubs has come to Britain. In May 2023, a group using the name Active Club Scotland (ACS) posted its first propaganda video. HOPE not hate can reveal that the secretive group has members who have made bomb threats and marched with the now-banned nazi terror group National Action. Other groups in the UK are simultaneously incorporating elements of the international Active Club movement.

Small fascist martial arts training groups going by the name “Active Clubs” have been promoted since 2017 by American far-right activist Robert Rundo. The concept has its origins in the Rise Above Movement, a far-right street-fighting group in California. Since then, Active Clubs have sprung up across the US and Europe, forming a decentralised network without a central leadership. Through online channels on platforms such as Telegram, followers are encouraged to start their own clubs. Members attempt to keep anonymous, blurring their faces and identifying features in all videos and images.

Active Club Scotland members in Stirling

Far-right martial arts and fighting clubs have previously been active in the UK. For example, White Stag Athletic Club was exposed by HOPE not hate in 2022, collapsing after its leader was arrested and convicted for terror offences, and Sigurd Legion was active in 2014-16 and operated with a similar philosophy. However Active Club Scotland is the first explicit branch of the Active Club network in the UK.

The club has trained and recorded propaganda videos for its Telegram channel at the commercial mixed martial arts (MMA) gym Evo Gym in Stirling, where two of its members, one of which is Shaun Caldwell (AKA Shaun McAlonan), also regularly work out. When HOPE not hate contacted the gym for a comment on the club recording videos on their premises the owner defended ACS, saying that “it doesn’t look like far-right propaganda to me, it’s just guys training” and claiming that he has known one of the clubs members “for years”.

Active Clubs aim to recruit young men by giving them a way to channel their beliefs into something tangible offline. The concept directly challenges what they see as an increasingly passive far-right movement and seeks to exploit a feeling of impatience with online activism. Active Clubs often deride existing fascist groups and present themselves as an elite force at the forefront of the movement.

Active Club Scotland members

The aim is to increase the combat readiness of its members for an imagined future marked by violent conflict between ethnic groups, or even a possible fascist revolution. The expectation of violent conflict seeps through all messaging from the Active Clubs. “Those who bleed more in training bleed less in battle,” an American club posted on its Telegram channel in January. An oft-repeated slogan is to “awaken the warrior spirit”. This is a call to violence and discipline for a coming far-right mass movement that Rundo believes is around the corner.

Another central theme in Active Club communications is the idea that physical exercise and hardship are necessary to prove their nationalist beliefs and to fulfil the hypermasculine ideal. Developing physical strength and a capacity for violence is perceived to be contributing to the far-right movement overall, even if their direct political activism is minimal.

The groups are encouraged to downplay their politics to the wider world and instead focus on camaraderie between men and the benefits of physical fitness, encapsulated in their motto: “tribe and train”. ACS’s first Telegram message read: “We are not about politicking or engaging in the current nonsense plaguing the right in our nation, the soul [sic] aim is to create a strong band of brothers to tribe and train”

The call is not applied in practice. While direct calls to violence and terrorism have been criticised by leading members of the network, most clubs, including ACS, continue to make their politics explicit through the use of clear fascist imagery and slogans, as well as defacing anti-fascist and progressive stickers and posters. ACS frequently forwards messages referencing the white supremacist slogan the “14 Words” on its Telegram channel.

Peter Stewart in Darlington, County Durham in November 2016. Photo: HOPE not hate.

Key members of ACS are long-term far-right activists. The group’s Glasgow-based leader, Scott Cowan, has attended multiple anti-migrant demonstrations organised by Patriotic Alternative in Erskine, Renfrewshire, over the last year and was previously involved in the Scottish Defence League (SDL), a more overtly fascistic sister organisation to the English Defence League, as far back as 2009. Cowan is also a member of the nazi biker club Totenkopf MCC based in East Kilbride, a group named after the skull symbol used by Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (SS), which the club also uses on its patches. The club’s nazi sympathies are open. In one photo, Cowan and other members pose behind a version of the NSDAP flag with a Totenkopf in its centre. In another, Cowan wears a Blood Drop Cross of the Ku Klux Klan on his leather vest, along with a Confederate flag facemask and other white supremacist symbols.

Another member of ACS is Peter Stewart. Stewart has attended at least one anti-migrant demonstration in Erskine alongside Cowan, and is involved in Blood & Honour, the UK’s nazi punk scene. Notably, Stewart also marched with National Action (NA) in the group’s demonstration in Darlington, County Durham, in November 2016. HOPE not hate photographed Stewart holding a large flag bearing NA’s symbol. NA was a nazi network proscribed under anti-terror legislation by then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd just one month after the march in Darlington. A number of NA activists continued to organise despite the ban and one prominent ex-member, Jack Renshaw, hatched a plot to murder a Labour MP with a machete in 2017.

Paul Illingworth is a body builder and member of ACS. Like Stewart, he has links to Blood & Honour. An ardent antisemite, Illingworth bragged online about shouting “Sieg Heil” while on a holiday in Berlin in 2017 and he has shared Holocaust denial videos by well- known denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

Several members of ACS have links to Patriotic Alternative (PA). Scott Conner from Glasgow was a prominent member of PA Scotland, prior to the branch breaking away to form the Homeland Party. HOPE not hate has previously exposed Conner for his extreme beliefs. He has privately professed the view that “Big banks and the Jew owns [sic] the United States”. He also carries a deep hatred of black people, whom he describes as being “naturally very hostile towards other groups, Mentally retarded and are overly emotional. N****r is gonna n*g”.


A core component of the Active Club worldview is a narrative of white victimhood and attack from political opponents. These stories help motivate recruits, direct anger and empower members by making them feel like they are taking action. It also justifies violence in return. Messages by ACS make it clear that the capacity for violence is a central element of its organising. In June 2023, Scott Conner challenged members of Proud Boys Scotland on Telegram to a fight and said they would “learn the difference between an active club and a drinking club”.

Members of ACS have a history of making violent threats as well as practising martial arts, as have many others in the Active Club network internationally. The Rise Above Movement described itself as the “premier MMA club of the Alt-Right” and the Active Club network has internationally organised MMA tournaments. However, their violence is not limited to the ring. Rundo was convicted for assaulting a police officer at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, an event at which the anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer was murdered. Rundo also has a conviction for travelling to political rallies to incite violence in 2018.

Shaun Caldwell in skull mask

Shaun Caldwell is a former Patriotic Alternative activist and a member of ACS. Caldwell has, according to The Ferret, applied to the army reserves and wrote online in August 2021: “I have served and am serving again soon.” Caldwell has posted photos of himself making a nazi salute and posing with a sword and has also stated that he is ready for “guerrilla warfare” and claimed to have a “militia” consisting of “ex forces” men in Forth Valley. According to his own Telegram messages he “[u]sed to do a tonne of competitive martial arts”. ACS has trained at Caldwell’s regular gym in Stirling.

Member John Montgomery from Greenock was jailed for two and a half years for making bomb threats and death threats against Scottish Socialist Party activists in 2007. Montgomery also had material from violent nazi group Combat 18, including posters on his walls. Like Cowan and Stewart, Montgomery has links to the Scottish Defence League and attended a small demonstration organised by the SDL, alongside the National Action splinter group Scottish Dawn, in Alloa in March 2017.


Active Clubs are a clear example of the ongoing trend of physical fitness and building combat readiness in the far-right. But Active Club-like elements have also been incorporated into existing far-right organisations that similarly idealise hypermasculinity and seek to build a capacity for violence.

The British Movement (BM) is one of the few openly nazi groups still active in the UK today. Founded in 1968, it is currently led by Steve Frost and Benny Bullman. After a long period of little activity, the organisation has in recent years become more active, including opening a gym for training martial arts in Manchester in late 2023. In one of its blogs, the group explains the development in a similar way to the Active Club network, claiming to reject “the easy life of sitting in front of the TV on cold winter nights”.

British Movement activists training

The gym is run by ex-military John O’Brien from Lancashire. O’Brien was convicted of involvement in the Dover riots in 2016, during which he was filmed attacking people with a wooden pole. Similarly to ACS members, O’Brien also has a connection to Blood & Honour, and has acted as a bodyguard for its members.

In recent years, Patriotic Alternative has also sought to combine traditional activism with elements from the Active Club network through its “PA Fitness” subgroup, with ACS members Caldwell and Conner both having attended PA Fitness training sessions.

White Stag Athletic Club (WSAC), an Active Club- inspired hiking and martial arts club, also had links to PA Fitness, especially its Telegram chat group. WSAC collapsed after its leader, Ashley Podsiad- Sharp, was arrested and later convicted on terrorism offences.

Another example is Vanguard Britannica, which has been active in the UK since 2022. The group engages in traditional activism such as stickering and banner drops over highways, often with antisemitic messages. However, the group has increasingly adopted Active Club elements and now frequently organises martial art training sessions with its members. The group’s members have also met up with ACS and have connections with the international Active Club network.

The growing Active Club network shows that fitness and self-improvement is a powerful organising tool. It allows members to associate actual positive physical improvements to fascist ideology. Moreover, the focus on violence makes Active Clubs a direct threat. The fantasies of a violent future can motivate violence against its political opponents and minorities, not just in the future but today.



“State of HATE 2024: Pessimism, Decline, and the Rising Radical Right” is available now. This guide offers the most comprehensive and insightful analysis of far-right extremism in Britain today. Secure your free copy now.



We need your help to continue our vital research. Your support is not just a donation – it’s a stand against hate and division. It empowers our research and intelligence teams to effectively monitor far-right groups, ensuring we’re prepared for the challenges they bring. 


Stay informed

Are you getting updates from HOPE not hate? Sign up today to stay in the loop and receive the latest news and investigations directly to your inbox. 


I am looking for...


Useful links

Close Search X
Donate to HOPE not hate