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By now a lot of us are aware of the “Boogaloo Boys”––a seemingly loose-knit group of militiamen and gun enthusiasts who fetishize having a “Civil War II: Electric Boogaloo.” These types first got on the mainstream media’s radar because they showed up to the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s massive gun rally in Richmond way back in January. Reporters were puzzled by attendees wearing Hawaiian shirts under their plate carriers and carrying signs and flags with a cartoon of an igloo on it. “Big Luau,” “Big Igloo” and most recently “Bungalow” are their oronyms of choice to get around social media censoring the word “Boogaloo.”
After COVID19 hit, these libertarian-presenting, gun-wielding online boys next popped up at the semi-astroturfed anti-quarantine rallies at state capitol buildings across the country. They, like many others, bandwagoned on the moment as the next excuse to have big tent right-wing rallies.
But then something weird happened. As Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned into a nationwide uprising, the Boog Boys started popping up there too, claiming they were in standing solidarity with BLM.
Perhaps many of them genuinely feel they are standing with the protesters, but a trove of internal messages from one Boogaloo Boys’ group’s internal chats leaked to LCRW–as well as their publicly viewable memes and posts–show they’re at best forcing their own worldview and dreams of conflict onto other peoples’ struggles and at worst plotting to use the moment to start an armed conflict with the U.S. government.
“Gunfire is getting really heavy! This may be it!! This may be the boog my bros!!” one Boogaloo Boy in the leaked chats said on the night of May 26th as he and his cohort watched the uprising in Minneapolis unfold. He ended the post with a ‘praying hands’ emoji.
“THEY Have to be the ones to fire first. We HAVE to be acting in self-defense (But we can taunt the hell out of them to push them to the breaking point.)” another wrote in the same chat.
There were other signs that clearly show the Boogaloo Boys want to co-opt BLM protests for their own fantasies of insurrection.
One Boog meme tailored for Black Lives Matter even depicts an American flag with a ‘Big Igloo’ instead of the stars and the names of black people killed by police side by side with their own martyrs.
The militia crowd are big on the idea of mythologizing people who had shootouts with law enforcement–particularly federal law enforcement. The older “Patriot Movement” militia crowd had martyrs like 14-year-old Sammy Weaver–who died in a shootout with U.S. Marshalls as they tried to arrest his father Randy. Randy Weaver, who was chummy with people on the Aryan Nations compound, illegally modified guns for an undercover FBI agent who planned to entrap him and get him to inform on his neo-Nazi friends. The incident became known as “Ruby Ridge.”
The Boogaloo Boys have their own martyrs as well. The most well-known is Duncan Lemp, a 21-year-old from Potomac, Maryland who was killed in a police raid March 12th. The circumstances around his death aren’t clear. Police haven’t explained why he was so dangerous that they needed a pre-dawn no-knock raid to apprehend him. Lemp was associated with the III% Militia Movement, ran a couple of pro-gun groups and fantasized about the glory of battle with them. Police said he had juvenile convictions that prevented him from owning guns until he was 30, but the Daily Beast couldn’t find any convictions on his record and Lemp’s family’s lawyers said there weren’t any.
And so Lemp became a martyr for the Boogaloo Boys. They started giving their names as “Duncan Lemp” to reporters. Some also started plotting to kill cops, like Aaron Swenson of Texarkana, who live-streamed his failed plot to assassinate cops and posted the hashtag “#HisNameWasDuncanLemp.”
Others succeeded in their assassinations, like Steven Carillo, who killed a federal security guard in Oakland on the 31st and ambushed officers in Ben Lomond on June 6th, killing one and gravely injuring another with guns and homemade explosives. He wrote “BOOG” in his own blood on the trunk of a car he hijacked before being arrested.
The problem, in short, is that the Patriot Movement and its Boogaloo successors’ martyrs are often either people who, like Lemp, fantasized about a violent insurrectionary conflict with the government (or like Lavoy Finicum who actually got one) or, like Weaver, had ties to bigotry and extremist violence. These movements aren’t interested in addressing that. Instead, they want to equate their martyrs with black and brown people who don’t have to go out of their way to get killed by police.
“It’s part of a long legacy of white supremacists appropriating Black death to support their agenda,” Wagatwe Wanjuki, an activist and educator who writes about abuse–particularly abusers and their manipulation tactics–as well as trauma and Title IX issues, told LCRW. “It reminds me of the anti-choice activists who compared abortion to Floyd’s murder.”
Wanjuki said the Boogaloo Boys’ strategy of equating their own martys with black victims of police violence “touches upon two harmful trends that I see across the political spectrum as well (which I think is a warning to us.)”
“First, ahistoricism—they need lack of context and knowledge for it to slide—and, second, using a power-neutral analysis. It’s essentially using tactics that perpetuate white supremacy,” Wanjuki said.
“This is an inevitable result of mainstream media embracing ‘both sides,’” she concluded.
The tendencies of the militia movement, while distinct from white nationalism, are obvious fellow travelers and are deeply historically linked with one another. Even the term ‘boogaloo’ first got viral popularity among neo-Nazi accelerationists–who referred to it specifically as an apocalyptic race war. Like many other right-wing memes, it then became popular in less explicitly neo-Nazi-oriented parts of the extreme right–well on down to the line to “normies.”
Patriot Movement groups have consistently found common cause and common enemies with white nationalists. Members of the III% Militia showed up to provide security for the deadly white nationalist Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017. The Oath Keepers militia stood on the rooftops and patrolled the streets during the 2015 Ferguson protests, ostensibly to protect businesses. Boogaloo Boys during the Minneapolis uprising were seen guarding a tobacco shop in a similar manner. The Oath Keepers also showed up ostensibly to protect people at an alt-right rally in Berkeley in April 2017–though I remember their leader Stuart Rhodes took to the mic to disavow the explicit white nationalists who showed up.
The Patriot/milita and white nationalist movements’ ideological entwining runs quite deep as well. For example, The Turner Diaries, an insurgency manual disguised as a race-war fantasy novel written by neo-Nazi ideologue William Luther Pierce, was a favorite of the Patriot Movement. Timothy McVeigh, before he murdered 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, used to sell copies of the book at Patriot Movement gatherings and gun shows. Years later, Patriot Movement figures like Gary Hunt, who became part of Cliven Bundy’s circle during the Bunkerville standoff, said he was “supportive [of] McVeigh’s motivation” though he “would’ve bombed the building at night.”
Just as there are intricate connections between the last generation of Patriot Movement/Militia types and white nationalist groups, there are ties between this generation’s Boogaloo Boys and the neo-Nazi accelerationist terror circles which congregate on social media apps like Telegram. Antifascist researchers I’ve spoken to at length on background say a major pipeline exists between 4chan and 8chan’s fascist /pol/ and /pnd/ boards, which ostensibly discuss politics, and the more libertarian-seeming /k/ board, which discusses weapons.
Here’s how antifascist sources told me it works: the endless sectarian arguments among different strains of fascism on /pol/ eventually wear some users out. When that happens, many are quietly advised to head over to /k/ to learn about how to use weapons to enact their violent fantasies.
“The Boogaloo Movement specifically grew out of 4chan’s firearms-focused message board /k/,” according to Alex Newhouse and Nate Gunesch of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “[B]ut the meme itself grew organically on the racist board /pol/, due to significant user overlap between the two communities”
Further leaks obtained by LCRW show Boog Boys have their own public relations doctrine (link opens as a PDF.) The internal public relations guidelines come from a massive Boogaloo Boys coordinating group with over 2000 members and separate chapters for nearly every state.
“Big fat disclaimer: this is not about promoting the boogaloo scene. In fact I recommend you stay as far away from boog symbology as possible. This is about bring [sic] a good 2nd Amendment ambassador,” the top of guide called “Protest Tips and Countering Narratives (archive)” shared in the group says.
The guide recommends trying to stay away from the ‘boogaloo’ aesthetic when out protesting.
“Attire. I would be hesitant to wear boogaloo-themed clothing as hostile actors such as actual white supremacists (e.g Atomwaffen) may also co-opt that.,” the document reads. “If you wear a Hawaiian shirt, you may be mistakenly identified as foe. Same goes for other boogaloo symbols**.”**
Perhaps the most revealing part of the document is about how to get leftists on their side:
Speak their language and use their language to subtly inject pro-2A (pro-2A is short for Second Amendment) messaging. The majority of them are left-leaning and will only understand leftist language. Using right-wing or libertarian talking points will not likely resonate with them. Remember, they believe these protests are about BLACK lives. Avoid saying “All Lives Matter” or projecting any similar message. Yes, police brutality affects all races, but the focus of the protests is around black Americans. The focus of the conversation is around black Americans. If you detract from that subject, your message may be interpreted as hostile to some. The key is empathy. Be subtle or sympathetic in your message. Avoid posters like “Black Guns Matter” (unless you’re black) or anything that could be potentially construed as hostile or sabotaging the spirit of the protest. Do not convey any message that might be construed as hijacking their agenda or message.
If that isn’t enough, the document explicitly tells Boog Boys to counter-signal and obfuscate their own messaging to “confuse leftists:”
Use a neutral or sympathetic message on your sign or poster if you’re bringing one. Confuse leftists and introduce cognitive dissonance in their minds at first sight. They’re more likely to be receptive of you or question their own prejudices if you carry a “Black Lives Matter” poster rather than a Gadsden Flag. Again, use their own language to promote a pro-2A narrative.
The substantive criticism of the Boogaloo movement’s entry into Black Lives Matter isn’t that they’re literal neo-Nazis; it’s that the movement is trying to use Black Lives Matter as a stepping stone to their violent goals. That’s qualitatively different than a neo-Nazi who works toward genocide for the sake of genocide, but it’s still racist. Yet under the “Countering Hostile Narratives” section of the document, all criticism against them is framed solely as leftists mistaking Boogaloo Boys for white supremacists.
“You may come across articles, social media posts, or other written or spoken propaganda falsely accusing you or any other armed protester as a “White Supremacist”. It is your duty to negate this narrative and counter it with positive messaging as best you can,” the document reads.
It’s a sleight-of-hand. The Boogaloo Boys’ argument here is that the only white racists are literal neo-Nazis. If they’re not actual neo-Nazis they’re not racists–so don’t worry about how racist their hijacking Black Lives Matter is. This is not a new tactic. It’s just a more clever version of the alt-right’s “you think anyone who disagrees with you is a Nazi” refrain.
If that wasn’t enough proof how racist their talking points are, the document tells Boogaloo Boys to accuse critics of racially profiling them for being white and carrying guns.
“State that by falsely accusing you (or someone else) of being a white supremacist, they are engaging in the same type of racial profiling they should be against,” the document says.
“This document just reeks of manipulation and it’s disgusting they’re co-opting a movement for Black lives to advance their agenda,” Wanjuki told LCRW. “White supremacy is all about domination and their tips show how conscious they are about redefining reality to their benefit.”
“It’s imperative for people new to the movement are aware that not everyone who marches with us are allies and we have to account for the fact that there are (and will continue to be) infiltrators,” she concluded.
“I think this document shows a very sophisticated level of observation, psychological data, and analysis, and the sort of attention to detail on messaging that I would only expect if a group has something to hide,” Brooke Binkowski, a disinformation expert and Managing Editor at TruthorFiction.com, told LCRW.
“Given the much higher level of white supremacist activity that we have been seeing lately, I would question where this sort of guidance might be coming from and to what end,” Binkowski said.
Boogaloo groups have indeed followed this PR strategy. An anonymous representative of a group called “The Redacted Liberty Network” wrote a press release for the group following the playbook.
“We are not racists, Nazis, white nationalists or anything alike and we are not looking for violence,” the RLN press release reads. It also claims that the Boogaloo movement, which if you recall gets its name from a slang term for second American civil war, wants “peaceful resolution, compromise, understanding, and cooperation throughout our mission to bring power back to the people and protect our constitutional rights.”
After LCRW published the initial leaked chats, “Oldmin,” an administrator of a popular Boog Facebook group called “Big Igloo Bois,” messaged me upset I hadn’t reached out for comment, as journalists usually do.
A researcher familiar with the documents reviewed correspondence between LCRW and Oldmin and said that that Oldmin’s reply “follows the “textbook” PR answer.” This researcher told LCRW that Boogaloo Boy groups “informally agree to follow up with every journalist or major poster who criticizes them.”
“I’ve tried very hard, successfully in some cases, to bridge the divide that has incorrectly labeled us all hateful and racist,” Oldmin wrote. “I have long preached a message of peaceful resolution for individual liberty for ALL people. This includes calling out natsocs etc and all the bullshit that goes along with a label unfairly applied with generalizations.”
“I have no hate in my heart. I have no desire for a civil war, race war, or anything beyond securing individual liberty for all people. This has always been my message,” he concluded.
As a policy, LCRW does not wait for comment to publish private communications from extremist groups. First I asked Oldmin why I should believe he doesn’t want a civil war when he’s running a literal Boogaloo group.
“Your portrayal is absolutely inaccurate. We have an unbroken history of preaching against violence, and the idea of a civil war,” Oldmin replied.
“In a way I kinda hope these scum open fire indiscriminately on the crowd , so the crowd lets loose and assaults INTO the precinct and take out everyone inside. No mercy for terrorists!” one Boogaloo Boy said in a the chats LCRW leaked that prompted Oldmin reaching out.
LCRW also asked Oldmin why he calls Nazis “natsocs”––short for ‘National Socialists,’ which is English for Nazi.
“If you’d watched our page for months, or had any of our actual chat leaks you would know we’re not aligned with any white supremacist/nazi/natsoc (incidentally, the term natsoc seems to piss them off because it applies the “socialist” label they hate),” Oldmin wrote.
“Natsoc” is term I heard a lot a few years among those on the alt-right. The people who described themselves as such just barely wanted to conceal their love of Hitler and thought they were being clever–though perhaps the attitude around the term, as Oldmin claims, has changed.
LCRW asked Oldmin about his group’s members’ desire to see police fire on the crowds so they could retaliate–and how he responded to criticisms that their attempted appropriation of Black Lives Matter was in fact deeply racist.
He didn’t answer.