Armed Conflict

The boogaloo movement is trying to use Black Lives Matter to push its own agenda

Some U.S. anti-government extremists have tried to rebrand their cause as multicultural and inclusive — but a strong current of prejudice and division still runs through it

Last week, a suspected anti-government extremist was charged with the killing of a California federal security officer. Air Force Sergeant Steven Carillo allegedly shot dead David Patrick Underwood, who was guarding a building in the city of Oakland, during Black Lives Matter protests in late May. 

Carillo also faces charges for allegedly opening fire and killing Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputy Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller in the climax of an eight-day manhunt. Both Carillo, a member of an elite military security force, and the man believed to be his accomplice, Robert Justus, have been linked to the boogaloo movement.

The boogaloo is not a conventional organization. Rather, it is a decentralized grouping, following in the footsteps of numerous leaderless resistance, patriot and militia movements on the American far right. Its culture is rooted in an internet meme that has somehow managed to convince a significant number of people that starting a second American civil war would be a cool thing to do. Now, boogaloo adherents appear to be latching onto anti-racist protests in major U.S. cities.  

Taking its name from the 1980s dance movie sequel “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” the movement had up until recently been a largely online phenomenon. However, over recent months, its ideology has grown in visibility, owing to a series of heavily armed protests against lockdown measures in cities across the United States. In the past six weeks, at least six men connected to the movement have been arrested on various charges, ranging from murder to conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.

In one recent Facebook post to a boogaloo group, a user wrote, “I just watched the President of the United States give a live address from the Rose Garden. He took no questions from the press. He has officially declared all anarchists, anti-fascists, protesters, looters, and rioters as terrorists.” In so doing, Donald Trump had “declared War on his own people,” they added.

While the boogaloo’s origin story is long and convoluted, it came into being on 4chan’s /k/ board — the libertarian sister of the far-right /pol/ board. Many members of the community describe themselves as “bois” and spend much of their time discussing the second amendment, military history and weaponry. Their online culture is characterized by colorful memes, while their real-world gatherings often form a sea of garish Hawaiian shirts, elaborate facial hair and high-velocity assault rifles.

Some followers can be described as hardline libertarians, others as anti-government radicals and accelerationists, who seek to hasten a total societal collapse and bring about the downfall of the U.S. government. Another sizable minority comprises national socialists and white supremacists, who see the boogaloo as prime recruiting ground for their cause.

The history of contemporary anti-government movements in the U.S. can be traced back to the Posse Comitatus and the John Birch Society in the 1960s, and an upsurge of militia groups following the sieges of Ruby Ridge and Waco in the early 1990s. A rich seam of resentment and suspicion of the federal government also runs through mainstream American politics and has been plain to see in conservative circles, from the Tea Party to certain sections of the Trump movement.

The boogaloo’s gaudy aesthetic may encourage some observers to not take it entirely seriously. But, while some participants are content to simply live out a bizarre online meme, others are clearly willing to kill and die in pursuit of their goals. 

Boogaloobook

With its deep online roots, the boogaloo has a presence on almost every platform — Reddit, Twitter, Discord, YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok and Gab. Its two main outlets, however, are Facebook and Telegram. According to Bellingcat, 125 associated groups were operating on Facebook in late April. That number has fallen after recent events, but at the time of writing 92 are still up and running.

Their content is primarily based around anti-government memes. Given their style of communication, themes and the channels they use, it is often difficult to distinguish boogaloo groups from those of online neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements. However, since the Black Lives Matter protests began, admins of a number of boogaloo groups have sought to rebrand them in a more inclusive light. 

This has taken the form of promoting gun ownership in African-American communities as a means of defense against the police, and even embracing LGBTQ Pride events. Recently, one user wrote: “If there was ever a time for bois to stand in solidarity with ALL free men and women in this country, it is now. This is not a race issue.” 

Facebook-owned Instagram also functions as a springboard for boogaloo memes. Such content has recently taken a strong anti-law enforcement position, with users posting slogans like, “Police do not serve to protect, they serve to terrorize and murder.”

However inclusive they are attempting to appear, there is a serious problem with such positions. They are deeply revisionist and demonstrate a willingness to both erase Black identity from the recent protests and to ignore the role of racism in the killings of people of color by law enforcement agents. 

By glossing over these issues, boogaloo adherents appear to view police brutality and the government’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests as just another expression of an overarching and non-racialized state tyranny. Essentially, they are railing against the exact same things that they have been during their anti-lockdown protests, and nothing more. 

Boogaloogram

Telegram, meanwhile, plays a different role for the boogaloo movement. There, its accelerationist intentions are even more openly expressed. Members often distribute manuals on weapons maintenance, how to make firearms and explosives, and combat survival skills. This content is intended to be practical and implemented in real-life scenarios. Some users have even shared information on the best way to engage in a shootout with the police. 

This platform is also where Neo-Nazis most visibly attempt to advance their own racist causes within the movement. Take, for instance, this recent post, in which a user shared pictures of white-supremacist counter protests against Black Lives Matter activists: “White men need to have the capability to respond when their territory is threatened. I hope that White men across the country can see these pictures and do similar actions in their towns.”

While some boogaloo Facebook groups fly rainbow flags and post inclusive iconography, these messages prove that a significant number of individuals within the movement are willing to take violent action, based on deeply held beliefs of prejudice and division. What is more, both sides only wish to further undermine social cohesion in an increasingly turbulent nation.

As another recent Telegram post stated, “We do not wish for law and order, because it means continued existence within this rotten system. Anything which contributes to friction can only help us in the long run. Anything that contributes to stability is our enemy.”

Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

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Marc-André Argentino

Marc-André Argentino is a PhD candidate and 2020-2021 Public Scholar at Concordia University, Montreal. He is an associate fellow at GNET and an associate researcher at CEFIR.

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