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Plovdiv a safe haven for American far-right extremists



The American far-right extremist Rob Rundo is hiding in Plovdiv, reports the investigative website Bellingcat, reports BGNES.


Rundo faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of sedition and conspiracy in a trial due to begin next spring in Los Angeles. He has a far-right fashion brand that he promotes and constantly posts on his numerous Telegram channels without indicating where he is. But from a photo posted to one of his Telegram channels on October 31, 2022, showing him wearing a new jacket, Bellingcat discovered his whereabouts.


Using Google Street View, investigative journalists revealed that the wall he was photographed in front of was on an apartment building in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city. A co-founder of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a now-defunct American white supremacist gang, the 32-year-old Rundo was charged in 2018 in connection with violent clashes at several rallies in California in 2017. In June 2019, his case was dismissed by a California judge on the grounds that the Anti-Riot Act, under which Rundo was charged, was unconstitutional. At some point after that, Rundo left the United States as a free man and headed to Europe. In comments about the trial, Rundo claimed that he acted in self-defense.


In November 2020, Bellingcat revealed that Rundo, anticipating the outcome of the federal appeal of the dismissal of his case, was building a new base for himself and his operations in Belgrade, Serbia. Less than three months after the investigation was published, Serbian media reported that Belgrade had expelled Rundo from the country. But as Bellingcat later found, by November 2021, Rundo was back in Serbia.


However, the Supreme Court rejected his request for an appeal in January 2022. His trial is scheduled to begin in a Los Angeles federal courtroom in April 2023. Rundo is charged with two counts under the federal Riot Act (aiding and abetting a riot and conspiracy to violate the Riot Act), each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. One of his three associates was arrested on the same charges in May 2022 and is in remand. His other two associates are free on bail with conditions that include surrendering their passports and travel restrictions to Southern California.


Rundo is not known to have participated in any of the 2022 court hearings; a public court document from March even notes that Rundo's attorney "failed to contact and communicate" with him.


On October 16, 2022, after several weeks of posting photos and video from locations in North Macedonia and Greece, Mayfield posted a black-and-white photo of himself with the caption "On the Road." Unlike previous posts, Mayfield does not note the location of this photograph. However, Bellingcat was able to determine the geolocation of this Mayfield photo - Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The exact location was also found: a bus stop in the northern part of the city.


22 October 2022. Rundo posted a link to color photos of him modeling a new clothing brand. This clothing line is sold by a French neo-Nazi clothing retailer. On November 1, Rundo posted a black-and-white photo from the same location showing him wearing black sunglasses and the same brand of jacket.


On November 3, 2022, he was seen in a photo taken by the police. Rundo posted a black-and-white video showing him shadow boxing in a small boxing ring. Rundo deleted the video less than four hours after it was posted. Thanks to a wall image seen in the background, the location was soon revealed - Perfect Fitness, about a 20-minute walk from the location of the previous photos.


On November 7, 2022, he posted on his fashion brand's Telegram channel a so-called "supporter photo" showing an unidentified man with his back to the camera sitting at a bar. There are a few clues in the photo that immediately indicate its location - Rock Bar Download, a popular bar in the centre of Plovdiv, half an hour's walk from the wall photos.


Bellingcat has contacted Bulgaria's Interior Ministry to ask if it knows about Rundo's presence in the country and if it is working with U.S. authorities to track him down, detain or extradite him. A ministry spokesman referred questions to Bulgaria's national police, who told Bellingcat they were aware of the questions but, as they related to operational (potentially ongoing) investigations, could not provide comment at the time of publication.


Rundo's main channel on Telegram was banned from Google Play and Apple's App Store in May 2022, meaning users must download apps directly from Telegram to access it. Subsequently, the number of Rundo followers dropped from over 13,000 subscribers in May 2022 to approximately 10,400 subscribers as of November 2022, a 20% decline.


"Rundo is less popular than he'd like," Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher at the US-based NGO Counter Extremism Project, told Bellingcat. "Rundo doesn't have the influencer profile he probably wants, which is also hampered by his inability to easily use mainstream social media."


Rundo's other Telegram channels aren't doing well either. The backup "uncensored" channel that Rundo created in May still had fewer than 5,000 subscribers as of November 2022; others, including his fashion brands and a new personal channel he launched in April 2022, have just a few thousand followers.


But Rundo's international presence clearly allows him to learn from the experiences of other far-right movements. On one of his Telegram channels in May 2022, he posted the following. Rundo posted an audio recording of a nearly three-hour conversation with Alex Davies, co-founder of the British neo-Nazi group National Action, which was declared a terrorist group by British authorities in 2016. At the time of the conversation's publication, Davis had been convicted of membership in a terrorist organization and imprisoned, ultimately receiving a sentence of 8.5 years. However, Rundo described National Action as a "pioneer in street youth politics" and encouraged his followers to "take notes and learn from National Action".


Fisher-Birch warns that Rundo is still dangerous and "trying to gain a following on the American far right." Rundo continues to run a pattern of fight clubs in the U.S. and abroad, targeting young men and recruiting them in high schools, gyms and elsewhere. In addition, Fisher-Birch told Bellingcat, Rundo increasingly stresses the need for members to be trained, ready and determined as "warriors" to use physical violence against their enemies. Bellingcat reached out to Rundo via his Telegram account to request comment for this article, and asked him if he has a legal right to be in the European Union, why he left Serbia, and whether he will return to the U.S. for the April 2023 trial. At the time of publication, he had not responded to the request. Rundo appears to be busy with his fashion brand. "We will have one last big launch of all new items before Christmas, so stay tuned," Rundo wrote on his brand's channel on November 29, 2022 - re-posting a photo taken in front of the unremarkable single red stripe wall in Plovdiv.


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