The boogaloo movement is a loosely organized American far-right anti-government extremist movement. Adherents of the movement are often referred to as boogaloo boys or boogaloo bois. The movement has also been described as a militia.
Participants often identify themselves as "libertarian" and say they are preparing for, or seek to incite, a second American Civil War which they call the "boogaloo". The term boogaloo has been used on the fringe imageboard website 4chan since 2012, but did not come to widespread attention until late 2019. Adherents use the term boogaloo, including variations so as to avoid social media crackdowns, to refer to violent uprisings against the federal government or left-wing political opponents, often anticipated to follow government confiscation of firearms.
The movement consists of pro-gun, anti-government groups. The specific ideology of each group varies, and views on topics such as race differ widely. Some are white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups who believe that the impending unrest will be a race war; however, other groups condemn racism and white supremacy.[note 1] The boogaloo movement primarily organizes online and participants have appeared at in-person events including the 2020 United States anti-lockdown protests and the May–July 2020 George Floyd protests. Heavily armed, they are often identified by their attire of Hawaiian shirts and military fatigues.
In May and June 2020, several companies acted to limit the movement's activities and visibility on their social media and chat platforms. Since 2019, at least ten people affiliated with the boogaloo movement have been charged with crimes, including disruption related to the George Floyd protests and the killings of two security and law enforcement officers.
The term boogaloo alludes to the 1984 cult sequel Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Following the film's release, the phrase "2: Electric Boogaloo" became a verbal template appended to a topic as a signal of pejorative parody. The boogaloo movement adopted its identity based on the anticipation of a second American Civil War, popularly known as "Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo" among adherents.
Participants in the boogaloo movement also use other similar-sounding derivations of the word, including boog, boojahideen, big igloo and big luau. They have created logos and other imagery incorporating igloo snow huts and Hawaiian prints. The names and the broader imagery are used by adherents of the boogaloo movement to avoid crackdowns and automated content flags imposed by social media sites to limit or ban boogaloo-related content. Adherents attend protests heavily armed and wearing tactical gear, and sometimes identify themselves by wearing Hawaiian shirts along with military fatigues. They have also used other imagery popular among the far-right, such as the Pepe the Frog meme.
Groups in the boogaloo movement are far-right, anti-government and pro-gun.[note 2] Some groups have also been described as "alt-right" or "libertarian" and "right-libertarian".[note 2] The movement has also been described as a militia. The groups and individuals often self-identify as "libertarian",[note 3] although a few individuals have also described themselves as adherents of other ideologies, including anarcho-capitalism and minarchism. There are also "a few apparent anarchists", including some self-identified "anarchists".[note 4] J. J. MacNab, a George Washington University fellow researching anti-government extremist groups, has said that "most boogaloo members are libertarian anarchists who hate cops". Adherents use the term boogaloo to refer to violent insurrection against the federal government or left-wing political opponents, often anticipated to follow government confiscation of firearms. Members of boogaloo groups typically believe in accelerationism and support any action that will speed impending civil war and eventually the collapse of society. According to The Economist, boogaloo group members have supported to this end the "spreading of disinformation and conspiracy theories, attacks on infrastructure (such as that on New York's 311 line) and lone-wolf terrorism".
The boogaloo movement is a loose collective and groups hold widely differing beliefs on many topics. MacNab has said that opinions on racism and attitudes towards law enforcement are among the views that differ the most between boogaloo groups. Some boogaloo groups are white supremacist or neo-Nazi and specifically believe that the "boogaloo" will be a race war, but there are others that condemn racism.[note 1] Attempts by some individual elements of the movement to support anti-racist groups such as Black Lives Matter have been met with wariness and skepticism; researchers are unsure if they are genuine or meant to obscure the movement's actual objectives.
Some participants in the movement claim that the group and its ideology are nothing more than online jokes; however, law enforcement and researchers maintain that people connected to the groups have been implicated in plans to commit real violence. The Tech Transparency Project has observed that, while public posts on boogaloo Facebook pages tend to be satirical, members of private boogaloo groups "exchang[e] detailed information and tactics on how to organize and execute a revolt against American authorities". Some of the private groups ban the sharing of memes, to keep conversation focused on serious topics. The Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) has also commented on the mix of serious and joking content, writing: "This ambiguity is a key feature of the problem: Like a virus hiding from the immune system, the use of comical-meme language permits the network to organize violence secretly behind a mirage of inside jokes and plausible deniability".
The boogaloo movement has attracted active-duty members of the military and veterans. While the number of active and former military members is believed to be small when compared to the overall size of the movement, extremism researcher Kathleen Belew has said that their participation "is not a problem we should take lightly" due to the threat that they could "dramatically escalate the impact of fringe activism, pass on explosives expertise, [or share] urban warfare expertise". Four men who have been arrested and found to have ties to the boogaloo movement, including the alleged perpetrator of the killings of security and law enforcement officers in California, have been veterans or active military servicemen.
While boogaloo groups are often described as a part of a larger boogaloo movement, MacNab has said she does not agree with this characterization "[s]ince the majority of participants were radicalized elsewhere prior to donning a Hawaiian shirt—either in anti-government militant groups such as the Three Percenters or the militias, or in white supremacy groups—the Boogaloo shouldn't be considered an independent movement at this time". Speaking to the United States House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism on July 16, 2020, MacNab testified: "The boogaloo movement, for example, isn't really a movement. It's a dress code, it's a way of talking, it's jargon. The people who belong to it came from other extremist groups, usually on Facebook. They might have been militia, they might have been a white supremacy [group]. They picked it up somewhere and they donned that Hawaiian shirt, and yet they're treated as a separate movement, and the problem is you're ignoring the underlying areas that they came from". Bellingcat and the Southern Poverty Law Center have also stated that other groups with their own distinct identities have adopted the boogaloo meme, including militias, groups comprising the patriot movement, and the Proud Boys.
Memes referring to the "boogaloo", a violent uprising or civil war, developed simultaneously among anti-government and white supremacist online communities in the early 2010s. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), both types of communities regularly used the term to refer to racist violence or a race war. Researchers at Bellingcat and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) both traced the origins of the boogaloo meme and the later movement based around it in part to the fringe imageboard website 4chan, where the meme was often accompanied by references to "racewar" and "dotr" (day of the rope, a neo-Nazi reference to a fantasy involving murdering what the posters view to be "race traitors"). On /k/, 4chan's board devoted to discussing weapons, the term was found in posts tracing at least back to 2012. According to Bellingcat researchers, users of /k/ overlap with those of the political discussion board /pol/, where "militant white nationalism" is the "default ideological position". Although the researchers do not consider the /k/ board to be white nationalist, and the community actively discourages political discussion, they note racist content is commonplace. CTEC researchers attribute the growth of the movement to the /k/ board, but write that the meme itself also "grew organically on the racist board /pol/, due to significant user overlap between the two communities". The boogaloo meme migrated to other online communities and the SPLC wrote that boogaloo was a "well-established meme in some of the most violently racist spaces on the internet" by 2015. They traced usage of the meme back to 2013 on the now-defunct Iron March website, a fascist and neo-Nazi web forum known as the birthplace of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi terrorist organization.
Extremism researchers took notice of the word boogaloo being used in the context of the boogaloo movement in 2019, when they observed it being used among fringe groups including militias, gun rights movements and white supremacist groups. Megan Squire, a computer science professor and online extremism researcher at Elon University, observed the term begin to be used among white supremacists on the Telegram messaging app in the summer of 2019, where they used it to describe a race war. Researchers at the Network Contagion Research Institute found that use of the term boogaloo increased by 50% on Facebook and Twitter in the last months of 2019 and into early 2020. They attribute surges in popularity to a viral incident in November 2019 where a military veteran posted content mentioning the boogaloo on Instagram during a standoff with police and to the December 2019 impeachment of Donald Trump. The boogaloo movement experienced a further surge in popularity following the lockdowns that were implemented to try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and the Tech Transparency Project observed that the boogaloo groups appeared to be encouraged by President Trump's tweets about "liberating" states under lockdown. The Tech Transparency Project found that 60% of boogaloo Facebook groups had emerged following the pandemic lockdowns, during which time they amassed tens of thousands of adherents. Bellingcat identifies Facebook as a particularly important platform for the movement and Bellingcat and the NCRI both estimate the movement to have tens of thousands of adherents. A Facebook spokesperson said that Facebook and Instagram had changed their policies as of May 1 to "prohibit the use of ['boogaloo' and related] terms when accompanied by statements and images depicting armed violence".
On March 12, 2020, Duncan Lemp, a boogaloo Facebook group leader, was fatally shot by police in a no-knock raid of his home in Potomac, Maryland. Police had obtained a no-knock search warrant based on a tip that Lemp was violating a restriction from possessing firearms, although Lemp's family has said they were unaware that he was under any such restriction. Lemp's family has also asserted that he was asleep when he was killed by police. Some far-right groups have theorized that Lemp was killed by police for his anti-government beliefs and his position in the boogaloo movement. J. J. MacNab, a fellow of the George Washington University extremism program, has described Lemp as a "martyr" of the boogaloo movement and warned that the increase in anti-police sentiment among boogaloo group members following his death may lead to violence against the police in the "foreseeable future".
Adherents of the boogaloo movement have been observed at pro-gun rights demonstrations, protests against COVID-19 lockdowns and the May–June 2020 George Floyd protests. Believers in the movement can also appear unexpectedly at events and protests initiated by others with apparently different affiliations.
In January 2020, members of boogaloo groups attended the 2020 VCDL Lobby Day, a gun rights rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency for the day of the rally in response to intelligence that indicated there was "a threat of an armed militia groups storming our capital". Under half of the 50,000 attendees predicted by organizers actually appeared at the demonstration and the event ended peacefully. The rally, which is an annual event, was particularly contentious this year due to a number of gun control bills that are progressing through the Virginia legislature following the 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach. These included allowances for localities to ban firearms from venues and functions, red flag legislation that would allow law enforcement to confiscate weapons from those considered a risk to themselves or others, a law that would require background checks to buy or transfer a firearm and a law that would impose a limit on the number of handguns that could be purchased in a month.
Adherents of the movement were also observed attending the anti-lockdown protests that began in mid-April throughout the United States, including in Washington, Tennessee and New Hampshire. They viewed the lockdowns and related restrictions, which were imposed by state and local governments to try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, as governmental overreach and some described them as "tyranny". Some members of boogaloo groups offered armed protection to businesses who wished to reopen in defiance of state shutdown orders.
Some members of boogaloo groups attended the protests that occurred across the United States in May and June 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd. According to Vice, although the boogaloo groups tried to position themselves as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, they generally avoided addressing police brutality as a racial issue. Extremism researcher Robert Futrell spoke of the varied motivations of the adherents of the boogaloo movement who attended the protests, saying: "Some folks who identify as Boogaloo Bois share anti-police sentiments. Some are acting as self-appointed security, vowing to protect businesses from protesters. Some say they're monitoring the protests. Some are white supremacists trying to antagonize protesters". Posts in some online boogaloo groups called for their members to loot police stations and set fire to government buildings while some encouraged actions emulating the "rooftop Koreans", a reference to Korean store owners who shot at looters from roofs during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. There were a number of criminal incidents related to boogaloo adherents attending the George Floyd protests as well as a series of killings of law enforcement officers believed to have been committed by two men associated with the boogaloo movement who used the protests as a distraction to commit their attacks.
Groups belonging to the boogaloo movement organize on mainstream online platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit, in chat rooms on Discord and Telegram and on more obscure platforms such as 4chan. Online extremism researcher Megan Squire observed references to the boogaloo in white supremacist Telegram chat rooms in the summer of 2019, before the movement began to become popular on gun forums in September of the same year. Vice has also noted the boogaloo meme was popular on the TikTok video sharing application, where the #Boogaloo hashtag had over two million views as of June 2020[update], although many posters are not believed to be serious adherents of the movement.
Social media companies have taken steps to limit boogaloo content and groups on their platforms. However, Squire observed in mid-June 2020 that despite Facebook's policy and enforcement changes to remove and demote boogaloo-related content, membership among boogaloo groups on the platform as well as on Discord and Reddit had remained steady or increased.
Since 2019, at least ten people affiliated with the boogaloo movement have been arrested. Some of the charges against people affiliated with the movement include murder, conspiracy to damage and destroy by fire and explosive, possession of unregistered firearms, making a terroristic threat against a peace officer, inciting a riot, aggravated breach of peace and drugs charges.
United States Air Force sergeant Steven Carrillo and accomplice Robert Justus were charged with the June 6, 2020 murder of a Santa Cruz County deputy and the May 29 murder of a Federal Protective Service officer in Oakland. Carrillo is an active-duty member of an elite Air Force unit tasked with guarding American military personnel at unsecure foreign airfields. Carrillo wrote "Boog" and the phrases "I became unreasonable" (a popular meme among boogaloo groups) and "Stop the duopoly" in his own blood on the hood of a vehicle he hijacked. The white van allegedly used in the murders also contained a patch with a boogaloo symbol and a ballistic vest bearing the boogaloo symbol of an American flag with an igloo instead of stars.
Authorities linked the crimes to the boogaloo movement and said the men used recent demonstrations against racial injustice as a cover to attack law enforcement. The FBI agent in charge of the investigation said in a news conference that the alleged perpetrators did not appear to intend to join the protests, saying: "They came to Oakland to kill cops". Authorities have not yet determined a motive behind the shootings. Several conservative commentators inaccurately linked the killing of the African American officer in Oakland, Dave Underwood to the George Floyd protests that were occurring at the time. Media Matters for America, a left-wing organization that monitors right-wing media, characterized right-wing coverage of Underwood's death as an attempt to "discredit the wider Black Lives Matter protests". Fox News anchor Eric Shawn spoke of the George Floyd protests, saying that "we have been under attack from domestic terrorists" and then reported Underwood's killing. Sean Hannity asserted Underwood was "murdered by rioters". On June 1, President Donald Trump repeated the claim in a speech about the protests, saying: "A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero, was shot and killed. These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror".
On November 23, 2019, a police officer approached the Mahopac, New York, home of Alex Booth, a 28-year-old Afghanistan veteran, to investigate an accusation of domestic violence. When Booth refused to come out, police set up a cordon around his home. Booth began streaming the events on his gun-themed Instagram account, where he used the username "Whiskey Warrior 556". Booth, who was wearing body armor and a knife, believed police had arrived to confiscate a 30-round magazine under his state's red flag laws. During the standoff, Booth began livestreaming on Instagram about the standoff, referencing the boogaloo and posting memes. He gained over 100,000 followers during the incident, some of whom urged him not to surrender to law enforcement. One follower with a large following of his own encouraged others to travel to the town and "shoot traitors". Booth's own posts became increasingly threatening, but he surrendered to police after a seven-hour standoff. Booth was arrested on charges related to the domestic violence accusation. The county sheriff's office denied Booth's claims that the arrest was related to his Second Amendment rights and reported that officers had found no firearms or magazines in the home. The event was later identified as the cause of a large spike in boogaloo-related comments on the 4chan /pol/ board as well as on other boogaloo sites and right-wing militia social media pages, where followers organized to disrupt police by bombarding them with phone calls and posted incitements of violence.
A Facebook user, who was later identified as Aaron Swenson, was arrested on April 11, 2020 in Texas after streaming a live video on Facebook in which he stated he was driving around looking for police officers to ambush. He was apprehended after a high-speed police chase and found to be wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying loaded firearms and ammunition. Swenson had shared boogaloo memes on his Facebook page and other adherents of the movement watched and commented during his live stream. Swenson had also posted a photo to Facebook the day after the shooting of Duncan Lemp in which he wore a Hawaiian shirt and combat vest and used the hashtag "#HisNameWasDuncan".
On May 30, three men who identified themselves as members of the boogaloo movement were arrested on terrorism charges in Las Vegas, Nevada. The men, who had been plotting since April to bomb an electrical substation, had decided instead to focus on the protests that were happening throughout the country in response to the killing of George Floyd. At an anti-lockdown protest in Las Vegas several days earlier, they had told a confidential informant that they intended to try to incite violence and kick off a riot at a George Floyd protest. They were arrested when they were found filling canisters with gasoline and creating Molotov cocktails on their way to such a protest on May 30 and each was charged with the federal crimes of conspiracy to damage and destroy by fire and explosive and possession of unregistered firearms. They were also accused in state court of felony conspiracy, terrorism, and possession of explosives. The men have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges; as of June 24, 2020[update], they have not entered pleas for the state charges.
On June 5, two men were arrested in Richland County, South Carolina for attempting to incite a riot at a George Floyd protest. Law enforcement believe the men are affiliated with the boogaloo movement. Both men were wearing Hawaiian shirts when they were arrested; one also had boogaloo patches and a flag; the other had two pistols and two long guns.
On June 13, 2020, the United States Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Texas announced they had arrested a personal trainer with ties to the boogaloo movement. The man was arrested on steroids-related drug charges and in a search of his home law enforcement agents found steroids and firearms. The man had previously posted on social media about using "guerrilla warfare" against members of the National Guard deployed at the George Floyd protests, committing violence against looters and "hunting Antifa".
Federal law enforcement agencies and supporting organizations have issued statements warning of the possibility of violence related to the boogaloo movement. A May 29, 2020 memo published by the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement of an extremist white supremacist Telegram channel encouraging its members to commit acts of violence and inciting them to "start the 'boogaloo'". In June 2020, the Trump administration issued a warning to law enforcement and public safety organizations that adherents of the boogaloo movement might target Washington, D.C. According to a June 15 intelligence assessment by the National Capital Region Threat Intelligence Consortium, a fusion center that aids the Department of Homeland Security and other federal national security and law enforcement groups, "the District [of Columbia] is likely an attractive target for violent adherents of the boogaloo ideology due to the significant presence of US law enforcement entities, and the wide range of First Amendment-Protected events hosted here". The report also warned that adherents may live in D.C. or may be prepared to travel long distances to D.C. "to incite civil unrest or conduct violence encouraged in online forums associated with the movement". On June 19, the Department of Homeland Security published an intelligence report that drew a similar conclusion and stated that "domestic terrorists advocating for the boogaloo very likely will take advantage of any regional or national situation involving heightened fear and tensions to promote their violent extremist ideology and call supporters to action".
On June 26, Attorney General William Barr announced in a memo that he had created a Department of Justice task force to investigate "anti-government extremists" who had disrupted protests and attacked members of law enforcement, specifically identifying the boogaloo movement and "Antifa" as targets of the task force's investigation. The task force is led by attorneys Craig Carpenito and Erin Nealy Cox.
On May 1, 2020, Facebook amended its policy on violence and incitement to prohibit boogaloo and similar terms "when used with images or statements depicting armed violence". On June 5, 2020, Facebook told Reuters that it would make it harder to find groups associated with the boogaloo movement by no longer recommending such groups to members of similar associations. Facebook also told The Verge that it would be demoting boogaloo-related content in search results. On June 30, 2020, Facebook announced that it had removed a network of 220 boogaloo groups and 95 Instagram accounts as well as over 400 other groups that hosted similar content. Writing for CNBC, journalist Salvador Rodriguez observed that the removals occurred amidst a Facebook boycott in which companies including Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Volkswagen announced they would no longer advertise on the platform due to "the hate speech and misinformation that persists on Facebook". Paid advertisements for body armor and other products using boogaloo keywords ran on Facebook and Instagram for several months prior to the removals.
TikTok hides hashtags related to the boogaloo movement, and their content policies prohibit videos containing firearms outside of a few exceptions, such as when used in a fictional context or when "used in a safe and controlled environment such as a shooting range". On July 2, 2020, a BBC reporter was still able to find many boogaloo-related TikTok posts by users who had employed various methods to avoid detection by moderators on the platform.
A Twitter spokesperson said that Twitter views boogaloo content as free expression and does not ban accounts solely for their use of the term but have banned numerous accounts that used the term for violating other policies, such as trying to circumvent a previous ban.
In a June 24, 2020 article on Vice, Tess Owen wrote that some of the most active boogaloo communities were on Discord, a chat program popular among online gamers. Following the publication of the article, which included screenshots of a Discord server where members of the military were sharing their expertise, Discord shut down the server and deleted the accounts of its members, determining they had violated Discord policy against "threatening and encouraging violence". With 2,258 users, it was believed to be the largest boogaloo community on Discord. The community created and migrated to a subreddit after their removal from Discord, but Reddit banned the subreddit shortly afterward.