Warrior's Spirit: White Supremacist Visual Messaging in White Rex Merchandise
Symbols denote belonging. Universities, sports teams, companies, and countries have colors and logos, and wearing these symbols is the quickest way to express affiliation, rendering the act of verbal communication unnecessary. Visual symbols, however, function as an identity marker only to others who understand them, and while symbols are usually widely advertised to maximize social capital, some sets of symbols are kept coded, purposefully intelligible only to a smaller group — or to those outsiders who work to decode them. One such set of symbols is used in white supremacist visual messaging, allowing the wearer to be identified by like-minded individuals and inviting connection on the basis of shared ideology. Founded by Russian-born soccer hooligan and white supremacist Denis Nikitin, who is also the founder of the whites-only MMA tournament series Dukh voina (“Spirit of the Warrior), the clothing brand White Rex features a consistent set of symbols, through which its merchandise conveys and validates messages of violence. The brand’s name uses the Latin word “Rex,” meaning “king,” to espouse the view of white superiority — “White Rex” means “white is king.” White Rex’s logo features the face of a Teutonic knight haloed by a sonnenrad.
Nikitin officially founded White Rex on Aug. 14, 2008, which often appears on White Rex merchandise as “14.08.08.” The string of numbers 1488 is shorthand for the combination of white supremacist David Lane’s “14 Words,” an avowal of the racist conspiracy theory that the white race is at risk of extinction, and the phrase “Heil Hitler,” with each eight representing an H, the eighth letter of the alphabet. “14.08.08,” however, provides plausible deniability — if pressed, it could be argued that that is the date on which the brand was founded, and that is the European date format. This is precisely how White Rex, and other white supremacist brands, deploy symbols with just enough ambiguity to make restricting their display difficult. Cynthia Miller-Idriss’ 2015 The Extreme Gone Mainstream provides an excellent discussion of the pervasive commercialization of far-right visual messaging among German youth, and explains the phenomenon far better than could be hoped within the scope of this article.
White Rex merchandise often, though indirectly, deals with the question of Slavic whiteness. Historically, there has been little to no consensus on the racial identity of Slavic populations — some believe that Slavs are whiter than ethnic Western Europeans, while others say they are “not quite white” without further specification, and yet others say that Slavs are just Slavs, and why should they be anything else? To participate in white supremacist discourse, however, White Rex must be considered a “white brand,” and so its merchandise avows white identity. White Rex’s specific brand of white identity draws from multiple heritages — merchandise is equally likely to feature Christian, Norse pagan, or Slavic pagan imagery. The use of these symbols does not strictly denote affiliation with the associated belief: it indicates the right to use them, or belonging to the culture from which the symbols originate. Similarly, White Rex merchandise often features a figure representing the “noble warrior,” which may appear as a medieval Teutonic knight or as a Viking, neither of which are Slavic, but both of which are commonly associated with white identity.
Through analysis of White Rex merchandise, recurring symbols can be identified and explained. The University of Texas at Austin’s Initiative for the Study of Politico-Religious Ideation and Influence (ISPRII) performs studies such as this to identify and interpret harmful narratives in visual messaging. This research does not represent support for the opinions espoused by White Rex, Denis Nikitin, or any of their affiliates. Screenshots have been taken from White Rex’s website for research purposes only.
In this design, a set of knuckle dusters has become a European Imperial closed crown, denoting belonging to a legacy of European identity, which is here conflated with superiority. Given the meaning of the phrase “White Rex,” it is a safe assumption that, in White Rex’s narrative, “royal blood” means “white blood.”
Где варяги, там напряги
This shirt reads “where [there are] Varangians, there [you should] worry: [we have been] creating disorder since the 9th century.” The use of the term “Varangian,” a synonym for “Viking,” and the mention of the 9th century both mark the shirt as a reference to Kievan Rus’. Kievan Rus’, a Slavic state founded by Varangians in the 9th century, appears in contemporary discourse on the question of Slavic populations’ racial identity, with the argument being made that if Kievan Rus’ was founded by white settlers from the Nordic countries, the present-day Slavic populations ostensibly descended from them must also be white. This shirt takes a firm stance to avow Slavic whiteness, specifically to represent the wearer as a direct Varangian descendant.
The blonde beard, the design of the helmet, and the dragon’s heads on the prows in the background all signify to the viewer that the figure in the image, and by extension the wearer, is a Viking. The warrior’s axe is still dripping with blood, and the water appears to be thick with blood as well, exemplifying the disorder referenced in the text. The lightning bolts that frame the image are in tribute to the Nazi Schutzstaffel insignia — these can be distinguished by their shortened form, with only two parallel segments. The warrior’s shield, bearing the initials WR, directly ties White Rex into the narrative of white identity and violence.
Considered as one, the visual and textual elements of this design convey a threat of violence. The violent actors are identified as varyagi, the modern descendants of Varangians, but the victims are left nameless, leaving the threat open to any who may come afoul of the wearer.
This shirt, marketed under the name “European Reconquista,” references the Medieval Reconquista, grouping the wearer with the European Christian knights that besieged Muslim populations of the occupied Iberian Peninsula. A significant amount of this shirt’s message is conveyed through purely visual means. In the bottom left corner, a mounted knight carries a waving pennant and a shield bearing a red Templar Cross, all of which marks him as a Christian knight of the Holy Crusades.
On the shirt’s nape, a Jerusalem Cross has had the traditional smaller crosses replaced with the initials WTRX, further demonstrating White Rex’s goal of integrating the brand — and the wearer — into historical narratives of white Christian aggression. The text “Don’t Stop” is of minimal significance to the narrative, as it only emphasizes the message conveyed by the images and phrase “European Reconquista.”
This shirt plays on European anti-Muslim sentiment, which has risen significantly in recent years in response to the developing global refugee crisis. By referencing a “European Reconquista,” White Rex is suggesting a second organized movement against Muslim populations to reconquer spaces, either physical or cultural, that they perceive as rightfully European.
Represented here at an imposing height is the figure of the Teutonic knight, looking down as if larger than life — a figure out of legend. The design, specifically the helmet and the sword’s crossguard, mark this knight as European and medieval, but the wings on the helmet evoke both the image of the Viking and the Nazi sonnenrad. Partially visible on the knight’s shoulder is a Slavic pagan kolovrat, distinguishable from the Nazi swastika by its curved arms and reversed direction. Similar to other pieces, the wearer of this shirt is proclaiming belonging to whiteness, to European identity, to nobility, and to a legacy of violence.
This design conveys a message similar to “European Reconquista,” but focuses less on the movement as a whole, instead illustrating an individual conflict. The suit space on the card bears an altered Jerusalem Cross, suggesting the crusader as the “family” to which the user belongs. Rather than the usual reflection of the same character across the card, the knight from “Teuton” has driven his longsword into the throat of a dark-skinned, snarling man who wields a scimitar. In this image, the pommel of his sword is visible, bearing the complete sonnenrad symbol suggested by the helmet. His victim, in contrast, wears an Ottoman soldier’s hat called a bork and a kaftan adorned with the crescent moon, which together identify him as a Turkish Muslim. The characters extend past the bounds of the card, suggesting that this is not merely a game, but a conflict that extends into the real world.
In this design, referencing the 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange,” the Teutonic knight is no longer impassive, but active, reaching out of the image as if blurring the boundaries between myth and modernity. On his fist, the initials WTRX brand his weapon, directly integrating White Rex into the narrative of violence. It appears that this is the knight of White Rex’s logo in action.
Мы разбойники, вы покойники
The central phrase of this design means “we are raiders, [while] you are dead.” This phrase, which originates from a 1969 cartoon produced by Soviet animation company Soyuzmultfilm, serves multiple functions within the narrative of the design. First, the text itself creates a divide between the wearer of the shirt and the reader, identifying them as members of two separate groups and implying that the raiders may be responsible for the impending death of the reader. Beside the direct implications of the text, the slogan functions as a marker of cultural belonging — those who understand the reference are, without any engagement beyond reading and understanding, drawn into dialogue with the text. The shirt asks the reader, “we’re raiders, and you’re dead — would you rather be with us, or with them?”
Beyond the text, this shirt holds an abundance of non-textual messaging. The full text is written in modern Cyrillic, but the arched text of “we are raiders” is in a font that brings to mind Russian Orthodox iconography, suggesting a connection between the raiders and holiness. If this connection feels tenuous, refer back to earlier examples of White Rex merchandise co-opting religious imagery to bolster a narrative. Less ambiguous are the multiple hate symbols worked into the piece. The forearm holding a gun features the “Aryan Fist,” a symbol directly referencing the Black Power movement, and the knuckles are tattooed with WTRX. The other forearm is adorned with a skull and crossbones sharing a remarkable resemblance to the Nazi Totenkopf, a banner reading “1488,” and lightning bolts that can be interpreted in reference to the Nazi Schutzstaffel insignia. As a whole, the coded message of this shirt expresses an exhortation to white violence against populations of color, disguised as a reference to a children’s cartoon.
This shirt, adapted from a poster advertising one of Nikitin’s international MMA tournaments in Lyon, depicts a “chevalier of modern times,” surrounded by and covered in symbols that emphasize white identity. The Totenkopf of previous designs reappears, along with an SS bolt on the man’s neck and a sonnenrad at the base of the image. The oak garlands around the fighter suggest a reference to the laurels of victory, but in the symbol set of the Norse pantheon, the oak tree represents Thor, god of warriors. The birds holding the garland appear to be ravens, representing the god Odin’s ravens Hugin and Munin. The French at the top proclaims, “one for all and all for one,” in the refrain of Dumas’ Three Musketeers, while the banner identifies the man as depicting “the spirit of the warrior” after which the tournament series is named. In addition to the narrative violence typical of White Rex merchandise, this shirt’s very existence is significant — it represents White Rex’s relevance in French far-right culture, and in international far-right culture by extension.
This design exemplifies White Rex use of Norse pagan imagery. The logo, large in the center, is again surrounded by the oak garlands of L’esprit guerrier, and the same ravens hold a banner, which this time proclaims “zero tolerance.” Runes from Futhark, a Germanic runic alphabet, have been used to write “White Rex,” though the runes do not actually correspond to the letters they represent. Together, these design elements indicate an avowal of Nordic identity. Medieval maces, resembling the modern spiked baseball bat, and knuckle dusters emphasize the “zero tolerance” announced by the banner, as do the human teeth scattered in the foreground of the image. It remains unstated for what, or for whom, there will be no tolerance.
White Rex and Denis Nikitin are responding to a discourse that they themselves have helped to construct. It is in White Rex designs that European identity is glorified and foreign identity is conversely demonized, with White Rex placing Slavic populations firmly with Europe. With phrases like “zero tolerance” and “don’t stop,” White Rex exhorts white European populations to violence against heterogeneous elements. In a global climate marred by violence between populations and individuals, White Rex serves to validate some of humanity’s worst tendencies: to look for somebody else to blame, and when that somebody is found, to do something about it.
Eliza is a SlavX host and first-year graduate student in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at UT, returning to CREEES to continue the research she began as an undergraduate with the department. Her research interests include conceptions of prestige and belonging in cultural spaces, the malleability of white identity, and the co-optation of origin stories and myth as a rhetorical strategy. Outside the department, she practices Krav Maga, reads a lot of science fiction, tries to get people from the department to hang out with her, and spends time with her cat, Raskolnikov.