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Another day, another Boogaloo arrest: this time an overconfident gun technician and a brand new network of civil war wannabes.
Thanks to a tip from the extremely handsome and charismatic Seamus Hughes at the George Washington University Project on Extremism LCRW is both amused and depressed to report the recent arrest of Matthew Chen, 26, of Pomona, a suburb of Los Angeles, and the existence of a brand new Boogaloo network known as the ‘Cali Bois.’
Regular readers may remember LCRW’s previous coverage of the Grizzly Scouts, a militia of about 25 people that included Stephen Carillo, expected to go on trial this summer for the murder of a federal security officer in Oakland in May 2020. Four other members of the group have also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges. Three will be sentenced later this month, while Blancas is scheduled to be sentenced separately in April.
In a warrant unsealed after Chen’s arrest, FBI agents hint at the dismantling of another network, although details so far are scanty. FBI agents allege the ‘Cali Bois’ had local chapters in the San Francisco – Sacramento area, and in both Los Angeles and San Diego. The warrant focuses on the ‘Southern California Cali Bois’. In the warrant,the leader of this group is referred to only by his initials ‘A.B.’ and his codename, ‘Unicorn’. Another member of the Los Angeles County chapter is identified only as ‘D.W.’ and codenamed ‘OpFor’ (military shorthand for ‘Opposing Force’, a generic enemy). Chen, described as having recently relocated to Southern California, was codenamed ‘Dolphin’.
As we’ll see, the FBI has invested significant resources in its investigation of the group, suggesting more charges to come.
Back in October 2021, ‘Unicorn’ invited ‘OpFor’, ‘Dolphin’ – Chen, and members of the ‘Cali Bois’ to the garage of his home in Murietta, a small city in southwestern Riverside County. Chen was the star of the evening, delivering a PowerPoint-assisted presentation titled ‘Fucking the ATF and making the NFA your bitch 101 – Suppressor Edition’. The audience were promised ‘EVERYTHING YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW ABOUT SUPPRESSORS’ before a slightly tamer offer to ‘provide baseline knowledge and resources on private suppressor manufacturing’; from there Chen went into ATF definitions about suppressors and essayed a legal analysis of the statutory language.
Suppressors, often called silencers, are of course the trademark of cinematic assassins, who fit them to pistols or sniper rifles at beginning of their deadly mission. There is a certain kind of firearms geek that just cannot resist their bad boy allure. While Siege kiddies wallow in orgasmic murder-suicide fantasies, other extremists see themselves as quiet messengers of death, looming out of the shadows to dispatch an enemy here, a target there, never ever getting caught.
All suppressors work on the same basic principle: the bullet is tiny and almost silent, but the wave of superheated gases pushing it out of the gun barrel must not be allowed to explode outwards with a bang. Instead, the gases are dispersed through tiny holes into a tubular maze, spending most of their force in dead ends and cutting the sound from a loud BANG to a soft thump, easily lost behind a wall or beneath the noise of traffic. Commercial models can cost thousands, and legal ownership requires paying the $200 and registering the device with the ATF after passing a background check – which can take up to a year.
But it’s hard to feel like a super-stealthy secret assassin after asking permission and telling every federal agent where you live, so there’s an avid market for instructions on homemade versions. For those who like to nerd out but do actually want to be legal, it’s a lot faster to make your suppressor at home in a workshop and then file a permit application with the ATF (weeks rather than months). For those who would rather fly below the radar, it’s not such a hard project for someone with the right tools and skills.
And then there are solvent traps. A solvent trap is a tube you can attach to the end of a firearm, or the oil outlet of a vehicle engine, as you pour motor oil through to clean it. The explosion of gasoline in an engine is not so different from gunpowder in a barrel: both leave a sooty residue that must be cleaned out periodically. A solvent trap has a series of chambers designed to let the oil flow through while the soot and gunk is dispersed through, you guessed it, tiny holes into a tubular maze, from which it can be washed out later. A solvent trap is not a suppressor, but by dismantling it, drilling a few additional holes, and carefully stuffing it with steel wool, it can make a very affordable substitute. Numerous companies sell them, many more or less acknowledging that they can be easily modified. But any modification is the decision of the buyer, allowing solvent trap vendors to take advantage of a regulatory gray area and the difficulty of enforcement. Of course, the ATF is aware of this market and monitors it closely, but while it has sent warnings to some solvent trap buyers that they may be in violation of the NFA it has yet to take more aggressive action.
Most of this information would have been in Matthew Chen’s garage show-and-tell. And as well as his PowerPoint slides, he brought several suppressors of his own for others to inspect. Two of the guests were especially interested, and asked if Chen would be willing to sell one; he agreed, and they settled on a price of $400 in cash, without any troublesome paperwork.
Chen was no one-trick pony. In December, he informed other ‘Cali Bois’ members in an encrypted chat that he had recently purchased 6 Glock-compatible auto sears, which would allow a handgun to be converted from semi-automatic to automatic fire (see sidebar: Fundamentals of Gun Stuff). He offered to sell 4 of them to other members for $250 each. The same member who had bought the silencer offered to buy one, and in mid-January the the two met at a park in Pomona, where Chen delivered the parts in a ziploc bag. While they chatted about their mutual interest, Chen mentioned that he had an unused solvent trap kit at home, and offered to sell that too. The buyer agreed, and they drove over to Chen’s house.
In the kitchen, Chen showed the buyer a Glock pistol with the auto sear already fitted, as well as a folding stock for added stablity. He explained how to install it and demonstrated the mechanical operation, as well as showing the buyer a video of Chen and another ‘Cali Boi’ test-firing the gun on full auto in the California desert. Chen also showed off a rifle with a suppressor fitted, removing it to demonstrate the construction, and to show how it could be built from the brand new solvent trap kit, where the holes had to be drilled and so on. They settled on a price of $700, again in cash. Chen liked to take care of his customer, following up after the meeting by sharing additional instructional videos and resources, and offering to put the buyer in touch with someone who could help finish the kit if more help were needed.
Alas for Chen, his entrepreneurial skills had raced far ahead of his judgment.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, his generous buyer was an undercover FBI agent, who had been recording their conversation from the park to the kitchen table. Two days later, database checks confirmed that Chen didn’t have permits for any of the NFA items and modifications in his possession, and by January 27th a judge had agreed to issue the arrest warrant. Chen was arrested at dawn the following morning. A few days later, he was indicted on a single charge of illegal possession based on the silencer he had in October 2021. If convicted, he could face a $10,000 fine and a prison term of up to 10 years. While he appears not to have any criminal record until now, his stated intent of helping his fellow ‘Cali Bois’ to ‘fuck the ATF’ is unlikely to sit well with a judge.
But Chen’s problems started from simply being too eager to make a good impression. Newly arrived in southern California, his boldly titled speech on ‘how to tuck the ATF and make the NFA your bitch’ was the pure, uncut Boog fantasy – defeating a hated government agency, flouting an an archaic and infuriating law, like a silent assassin of tyranny. The undercover FBI agent had recorded every word – and shared the room with not one, but two other informants inside the ‘Southern California Cali Bois’ group. Both informants were selling information to the FBI. One has worked with the the FBI since 2020 and also relays information to another government agency, has earned $3,659.75 from the FBI (and a mere $300 from the other agency). The other informant, who recorded the garage meeting separately from the undercover FBI agent, is described as having no criminal history, but rather cooperating in exchange for payment – an arrangement which has so far netted the princely sum of $23,156.91.
For now, Chen has some breathing room. US attorneys have only indicted him on a single charge, though the evidence submitted by the FBI seems to implicate him in multiple other offenses. After some negotiation, prosecutors agreed to his release on $100,000 in cash bail offered by a close friend of the family and an additional $20,000 surety bond from a cousin. In return, Chen must wear an ankle monitor, surrender his passport, and avoid contact with other members of the ‘Cali Bois’, among other conditions.
There’s a lot to think about here. There’s the fact that despite the hammer of law enforcement landing with a crash on groups like the Oath Keepers, the Grizzly Scouts, and hundreds of J6 defendants, there are still multiple groups out there networking and actively preparing for a shooting war with their neighbors. There’s the fact that these guys are so eager to boog that the FBI can put not one, not two, but three people inside one of their meetings with two of them wearing a wire – suggesting the movement may be in an expansive phase, with enough new recruits to outnumber those lost to prosecution or paranoia. One civil warrior’s downfall, after all, is another’s opportunity to shine, and open-source insurgencies tend to be self-perpetuating. It remains to be seen how big of a network the ‘Cali Bois’ had, and whether their poor security will cause the whole thing to collapse or whether their ties are loose enough that they can drift off and reform under some slightly different flag.
On a more optimistic note, it may be that the Boogaloo movement ultimately limits itself because they’re more interested in LARPing as rebels than the pursuit of any specific objective. It’s remarkable that people like Matthew Chen take on the risk of decades behind bars for the shallow emotional satisfaction of spiting the government. Though high on ideology and constantly flirting with violence, Chen’s sorry tale also has a strong sense of middle class LARPing – suburbanite dudebros tricking out their firearms with illegal mods and doing magdumps in the desert for kicks, but unwilling or unable to develop ties to more conventional criminal gangs with infrastructure and experience in avoiding law enforcement.
And lastly, there’s the fact the FBI paid nearly $30,000 to two informants and a wannabe arms dealer in just one boog group, on top of whatever it costs to keep multiple FBI agents in the field. Did you know that’s more than twice LCRW’s annual budget? Look at all the stories, memes, dog photos and god-tier shitposting your donations support over a year. Now imagine twice as much! Or only half as many copy errors!
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