When the Boogaloo Bois make an appearance at demonstrations, they are easy to point out. But who they are is not such an easy distinction.
January 12, 2020
By Masih K.
Nothing is simple when it comes to civil unrest. In the chaos of frenzied nights, shots are fired, Molotov cocktails are thrown at police, and in the worst case, people die. Thanks to the instantaneous communication of the digital age, the media and millions of Twitter users, in addition to the police, try to make sense of what is happening as it happens. But matter how little or great the evidence, confirmation bias has a way of filling the gaps. When this happens, generalizations can be made, often grouping people in the left or right-wing bubble.
Extremists on both sides of the spectrum take the spotlight, whether driven by the leftist ideology of Antifa or that of the right-wing Proud Boys. These extremes tend to dominate political discourse and shape our sense of American politics even if they’re not an accurate representation of it.
One of the movements that have gained infamy in recent times is the Boogaloo movement, a loosely connected network that bloomed during the recent ongoing civil unrest in the states. But as they often repel elements of the alt-right and that of the alt-left simultaneously, it can become unclear who they are and exactly where their ideology stands. To make things more confusing, some Boogaloo members have been seen committing acts of terrorism while others, such as Mike Dunn, have been seen shaking hands with police chiefs.
Anyone who kept up with last year’s U.S. presidential election likely observed the influence polarization can hold on the political process. In the first round of the presidential debates between President Donald Trump and then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump, “…are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities…?” Trump responded by saying that he sees more violence “from the left-wing, not from the right-wing” – often referring to Antifa to characterize the left. When Trump asked Wallace to define a specific group, Wallace responded saying, “white supremacist and right-wing militias.” Trump insisted that the left-wing is to blame for the violence. To that, Biden said that Antifa is “not a militia” and that “unlike white supremacists”, it is an “idea, not an organization.”
Polarization, a divide of the people into two on a left to right spectrum may be the simplest way to understand politics, but it is far from the most comprehensive.
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A new addition to the alt-right?
The “Boogaloo Bois” first caught my attention when news reports about their activities became prominent in the mainstream media. Once they appear at demonstrations, they are easily identifiable. Their uniform is virtually the same across each state as they often show up in colourful Hawaiian shirts with floral print, armed with rifles, handguns, and other tactical gear.
Since pandemic restrictions started taking place, the movement has gathered steam on social media, often posting anti-government memes as well as weaponry handbooks (which their pages are often shut down for). A simple Google search will produce endless results calling the Boogaloo movement an extremist, “alt-right” militia meant to derail peaceful protests and spark further violence. As some Canadian “Boogaloo” social media pages surfaced, CBC news wrote an article named “Far-right Boogaloo movement gathers steam in Canada.”
It’s not hard to see why the movement has been characterized as alt-right. For starters, the beginning of the movement mimicked that of many newer alt-right groups. The term Boogaloo became popularized on 4chan, a forum website that saw the origins of many white supremacist symbols. The Boogaloo movement borrows its name from a mix of meme culture and a film from the 80s called “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
Although why the term Boogaloo was chosen is unclear, it quickly became shorthand for a type of revolution or second civil war against the government that many members believe is imminent. A popular meme within the movement is the title “Civil war 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
It’s important to note here that the Boogaloo movement may be hard to define because their ideology is often not consistent among all members. They generally oppose government control, police overreach and gun control but they may not agree on the specifics of each issue. For example, one boogaloo member may side with some anarchist, communist ideologies of the far-left while another may vow to attack any communist that crosses their path. However, the movement is particularly libertarian, the usually right-wing political stance that emphasizes individual freedom over government control.
The term Boogaloo bloomed on social media in late 2019, but it was much earlier that the Boogaloo meme became prominent on two different 4chan forums, according to a report done by Bellingcat. The first was 4chan’s /pol/ forum which is meant for political discussion but mostly included discussions that many would deem “politically incorrect.” At the time, /pol/ was a hotbed for racist comments that aligned with alt-right sentiments. At the same time, though, the term Boogaloo was more heavily popularized by 4chan’s /k/ forum. The /k/ forum was heavily focussed on firearms and not as much on political discussion or any other political stance other than the protection of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Americans the right to bear arms. Upholding the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has become in recent times a much more right-wing stance, with more republican politicians defending its importance.
But even during the early days of the Boogaloo on 4chan, the Second Amendment is where the /k/ forum moderators drew the line on political discussion. A pinned post in the forum asks users not to discuss politics on the forum as it is only meant for discussions about “weapons and military equipment.”
Within the firearms community exists groups of “preppers,” which range from those who take precautionary measures in case of a potential apocalypse to those who prepare for an armed civil conflict. Many Boogaloos fit into this fringe of preppers who often form militia-type units.
In November 2019, the Boogaloo meme became more prominent on mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Instagram. Although they were swiftly banned from much of the mainstream internet, it took until May 1, 2020, for Facebook and Instagram to update their “violence and incitement” policy to ban “Boogaloo terms,” if they are posted alongside images or statements promoting armed violence.
Although the first time the FBI was seen investigating the movement was through a leaked FBI report from October 2020, there is no doubt that its members were already wary of a federal investigation. Thus, the term Boogaloo became a euphemism, with “Big luau” and “Big Igloo,” among others, replacing the initial word for members to avoid being flagged by social media companies or government agencies. This might explain the significance of the Hawaiian shirts.
Then, 2020 happened. Perhaps March of last year was the defining time the Boogaloo movement gained its bearings. On March 12, 2020, the Montgomery County police department’s SWAT team executed a no-knock raid on a home in Potomac, Md. This was the home of Duncan Lemp who, since that night, has become a martyr (a person who becomes a symbol for a broader movement after they are killed) for the Boogaloo movement. Lemp was an avid supporter of the Second Amendment who, according to a well-known Boogaloo Boi who chose to remain anonymous, was trying to make a centralized forum for libertarian gun enthusiasts and Boogaloo members.
There are competing theories regarding what happened that night. His family as well as several other Boogaloo Bois maintain that Lemp was shot in his sleep through a window. Police authorities, however, state that Lemp was armed and prepared to engage with officers when he was killed.
According to a report by the Montgomery police department, officers reported:
“Lemp was lying on top of the IWI Tayor X95 rifle when they entered the room. One officer stated that upon observing the rifle, he attempted to kick it away from Lemp’s body. As he did so, he stated that the firearm’s magazine (where ammunition is stored in a gun) came flying out of the rifle… The rifle was moved before the crime scene technicians arrived on the scene and could properly photograph where the weapon was located on the floor.”
On Dec. 31, 2020, the Howard County state department’s investigation into the matter ruled that the killing of Lemp was justified and that no criminal charges be laid on the SWAT officer who shot Lemp.
Lemp was not the only martyr for the movement. In Madison Heights, Mich., the FBI attempted to execute an arrest warrant for Eric Allport near a Texas Roadhouse restaurant. According to an FBI report, Allport opened fire on officers and a shootout ensued, resulting in his death. Allport was part of a militia in Michigan called the Wolverine Watchmen that is generally said to lean towards the right-wing.
Still, the Boogaloos now carry his name as one of their own. Shortly after the shootout, one of the movement’s popular members Mike Dunn, posted to Youtube saying, “… the feds have done it again, this time killing Eric Mark-Matthew Allport… As far as I know, he was a Boogaloo Boi. He embodied our ideology, our beliefs, he lived with liberty in his mind and they killed him.”
Mike Dunn became a popular Boogaloo member after Vice News featured him in a documentary about the decentralized group. He has since been called the leader of the movement, although he rejects this responsibility, saying the movement should not have a leader and that he only represents it.
Yet, the Boogaloo movement is not without its extremism. In early October 2020, six men were arrested for plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer was widely criticized by some alt-right elements for her restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Since the arrests, more men have been charged in connection to the plot. Though many of the conspirators were members of the right-wing Wolverine Watchmen militia, at least two had been seen in Boogaloo uniform at BLM protests earlier in the summer.
Others have explicitly tried to instigate violence against police officers in protests, some saying with the goal of sparking a civil war or revolution. On May 29, 2020, self-proclaimed Boogaloo member Steven Carrillo showed up at a federal building in Oakland, Calif., in a white van. Surveillance images released by the FBI show the side door of the van opening before Carillo begins opening fire from inside the van, striking two officers, one of whom later died from his wounds.
Carillo escaped but officers from the Santa Cruz sheriff’s department caught up to him at his home, where yet another firefight ensued. Carillo again shot two officers, killing one and injuring the other. During his escape, Carillo attempted to hijack a car after writing “Boog” on the hood of the car in what is said to be his own blood.
Right: A surveillance image of the van in the Carrillo case when he opened fire on officers (San Francisco FBI)
Another event that caught the nation’s attention was the shooting by Kyle Rittenhouse. In late August 2020, Rittenhouse, 17, attended a protest while armed in Kenosha, Chicago. He became known after a video surfaced on social media showing him shoot three protesters during two separate confrontations with Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Rittenhouse was also photographed earlier in the protest with Boogaloo members. Soon, he was simultaneously grouped with the white supremacist alt-right and the Boogaloo Bois.
There was a Facebook profile picture under Rittenhouse’s name showing him standing, armed, in front of a Thin Blue Line flag – a blue version of the U.S. flag meant to support police officers in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the now-deleted account was also shared a Chicago Police logo with a thin blue line across it and a tribute to a Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty in 2018. But Rittenhouse’s support for the police is the opposite of the Boogaloo movement’s anti-state and anti-police sentiment.
Defining ideology: Libertarianism
When speaking to Burnout Digital, some Boogaloo members said that they were not in support of Rittenhouse.
“Rittenhouse most definitely was NOT one of us,” one told Burnout Digital. “He was a police supporter, back the blue type, and has no affiliation with us whatsoever. The reason some of the boog movement supports him is that he defended himself from these looting thugs, and the gun community admires people who use their Second Amendment rights to defend themselves.”
The first Boogaloo member who Burnout Digital spoke to said, “the idea is, everyone in this movement believes in total freedom, no arbitrary laws like ‘you can’t own this kind of gun’ or ‘you have to be this old to do this’ things like that restrict our freedoms. The whole idea here is, so long as you aren’t hurting anyone or stealing from them, you can do whatever you want.”
During the BLM protests, many Boogaloo Bois had been showing up in support of the movement, though others showed up to protect small businesses against looting. The Boogaloo Bois are decentralized, so they have no one commander and no one member necessarily supports the actions of another. Although they often pledge to protect both sides of any protest against police brutality, Boogaloo Bois can be on different ends of the political spectrum, or at least in theory.
It’s important to note that the Boogaloo movement not only opposes police overreach but often advocates for violence against police officers and government agents. Despite remaining anonymous, the Boogaloo members who spoke to Burnout Digital refused to comment on the Oklahoma City federal building bombing carried out by libertarian extremist Timothy Mcveigh. Another example is the 11-day Ruby Ridge standoff where Federal agents performed a siege on Randy Weaver’s property after he failed to show up to court for firearms charges. Boogaloo memes often glorify instances such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the Ruby Ridge standoff as examples of citizens standing up against tyrannical government forces rather than examples of criminality.
The Boogaloo Boi that was seen walking with Kyle Rittenhouse, for example, had his social media connected to neo-nazi messages by the group Hatewatch. Around that time, however, the group began denouncing white supremacists and members of the alt-right. At this point, they were trying to befriend the Black Lives Matter movement. Although the reaction across the country regarding this was mixed, with some BLM protesters attacking Boogaloo Bois, some BLM groups embraced the movement’s support. Mike Dunn has often made posts with images alongside black activists from BLM as well as the black militia group, the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC).
But wherever the Boogaloos show up, their fight is mostly concerned with authority rather than civilian politics.
“The one thing that all these groups have in common is they resent and oppose the power, authority and practice of the FBI, on principle because the FBI has surveilled and infiltrated groups across the political spectrum, often the ones that are merely exercising legitimate first amendment rights,” said Christopher Capozolla, the head of the history department at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
“So you get into some really interesting political philosophy here,” said Eliga Gould, chair of the history department at the University of New Hampshire.
“The libertarian sense of freedom and liberty and rights is a freedom from. Freedom from the government coming in and telling you what to do. And actually, there’s a lot on the left, that is very sympathetic to that; we don’t want the government telling us what to do with our bodies. We don’t want the government telling us who we can sleep with. We don’t want the government telling us what we can smoke and drink. I mean, that’s a very libertarian position. And there’s a lot about that, that actually syncs with positions that have a lot of play on the left.”
Issues like abortion and gay rights are where libertarians usually line up with the left-wing in a sort of “live and let live” stance, according to Gould. He said that where the right-wing diverges from libertarian ideals is when they get into the right to something. This may include the right to bear arms and show up armed to public protests in an individual capacity like many Boogaloo members.” When I think of the alt-right, I’m thinking of people who want to impose their worldview on other people,” said Gould.
Capozolla added that anti-statism “is best thought of as a trend or a sort of a set of opinions. And for the most part, it runs into the full spectrum of just general sense that the government is either too big or too nettlesome.”
Left-wing libertarian events are not unheard of. In a neighbourhood of Seattle, Wash., for example, protesters managed to get police officers out of the city’s eastern precinct as part of a de-escalation measure. Protesters then turned a section of the city into an autonomous zone called Chaz which was a lawless area governed by the state. A sign at the former entrance of Chaz reads: “You are now leaving the USA.” This was specifically a left-wing ploy, with protesters creating a block-long Black Lives Matter mural and calling for a shift in funding to community programs and services in historically-black communities.
“My hunch is that there isn’t necessarily a common goal [within the boogaloo movement],” said Capozolla. “There are divergent goals, but a shared anti statist vocabulary, right? And that does not really always rise to the level of ideology or political principle, but is a kind of, but does tap into a broadly shared anti statism across the political spectrum, from people who would otherwise be completely horrified by armed self-defence.”
The Boogaloo left?
Many members of the Boogaloo movement claim that they are not against the left or the Black Lives Matter movement. However, since the summer, many news agencies posted articles concerned that the Boogaloo movement is attempting to hijack the BLM movement and anti-police sentiments by bringing anti-statists together against the government. Boogaloo Bois willing to speak to Burnout Digital say that they show up to protests in order to protect Black Lives Matter protesters and other demonstrators from the police.
While BLM protesters have in some cases been seen attacking Boogaloo members, some of them embraced the movement’s support. A local reporter and host for 216thebeat going by the Instagram handle ThatGuyShane_216thebeat was attending a Black Lives Matter protest when a group of Boogaloo Bois showed up. Shane claimed in an Instagram post that “they are here in support of black and trans lives… they say they’re here to protect protesters.” When I caught up to him later, he said the Boogaloos remained peaceful.
Boogaloo Bois also see martyrs like Duncan Lemp in the same light as victims of police racism and brutality that sparked BLM protests, such as Breonna Taylor. One widely shared Boogaloo meme shows the names of Duncan Lemp and Eric Allport along with that of Breonna Taylor and George Flloyd.
But that doesn’t mean they whole-heartedly agree with BLM.
Speaking on the Boogaloo support of the BLM protests, one Boogaloo said that “most of us do not see it as a race issue, rather an issue of government overreach and lack of accountability within the police department. Boog Bois disagree on a lot, and I cannot speak for all of us, but the general opinion is that we support the protests, but we do not support the looting.”
“The media and statists believe we are white supremacists and they make everyone else believe it too,” he said. “We are not white supremacists and the few white supremacists that try to join us are bullied and disowned from the movement. We denounce racism.”
There is not a set structure or command within the Boogaloo Bois, they operate in their individual capacity or within whatever chapter they are in.
“Now we’re getting more and more bullshit laws and the police continue to look more like a military force than the police,” said another member.
“A lot of guys are mad to the point where they’re willing to go out and push the government back.”
As seen in Carrillo’s case, some Boogaloo Bois are far more extreme than others. Some really are connected to alt-right movements while some denounce them.
They’re not even all in full agreement regarding the “upcoming” civil war, other than the idea of one itself. Another well-known member who chose to stay anonymous told Burnout Digital that “if the country continues down this path, then I could see some sort of civil conflict being very likely.”
Another Boogaloo source who chose to remain anonymous and identified as anti-communist said, “personally, I believe in accelerating the collapse, tear it all down and start over, this country has lost all its values.” The former Boogaloo Boi, however, had been contacted by the FBI and recorded an interview with an FBI officer who he says had a “thick packet” of documents about the Boi. In the recording, he says the Boogaloo movement is mostly right-wing.
Conflict along the spectrum
I had almost abandoned my theory that the Boogaloo movement can be more than just alt-right when I saw a poster for a protest in Portland, Wash. Portland is known to have a large Antifa presence. Short for antifascist, Antifa is a group often blamed for rioting and extremism during the US protests and are mostly a leftist fringe.
The poster, posted on a social media app frequented by right-wingers banned from mainstream social media platforms, included details of the protest as well as Antifa and Boogaloo symbols together. This event, which occurred on the night of Nov. 4, 2020, seemed like one of the first left-wing Boogaloo events.
Although not all the comments by Boogaloo members were supportive, the user who posted it also wrote the following: “The more I surround myself with Antifa, the more I realized what kind of war to expect. All these cops, Republicans, Democrats, blueliners, Proud Boys, Trumpers, etc., are a virus killing true American liberty. While I listen to Antifa chanting for revolution, I see the statists sheepdogs arming up for a civil war. Statism is Stockholm syndrome and anarchy is the cure.”
This user was arrested in the Portland protest for inciting a riot. A press release from the Multnomah County sheriff’s office said they “arrested a man believed to have thrown a molotov cocktail at officers.” Among his possessions that were confiscated was an improvised explosive device, according to the release.
Not long after, the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, created a Parler post denouncing the Boogaloo movement, saying it has turned into a “Marxist libertarian thing.” The Proud Boys are an alt-right, neo-fascist political organization based in the United States. This post is likely not directly related to the Nov. 4 protest in Portland, but signals a shift in alt-right sentiment towards the Boogaloo Bois.
On Dec. 13, 2020, in Washington, D.C., when Antifa protesters clashed with Proud Boys, Mike Dunn was present. In a video taken after the clash, Dunn claims that the Proud Boys attacked the Antifa demonstrators. Then, he said he took part in the struggle against the Proud Boys, saying that although he does not agree with “communists, they have a right to speak.”
Mike Dunn @realmikedunn is a “Boogaloo Boy” who actually fought *against* the Proud Boys during that fight.— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) November 14, 2020
Mike says “I can’t stand commies” but he felt he had to protect their right to speak.
He adds that the Proud Boys “hit like a bunch of wooses.” pic.twitter.com/BYEsiXHPMw
Later, he posted a video from within a hotel room alongside a man dressed in Proud Boy gear. In the video, both men say that after what happened that day, the (former) Proud Boy had a change of heart and left the Proud Boys, giving his membership patch to Dunn.
In response to Tarrio’s earlier criticism, Dunn said, “I’ll be collecting more patches Enrique, stand by.”
Recently, though, some Boogaloo Bois have begun denouncing Antifa and communists as well. Many boogaloo symbols, for example, showcase communist signs being thrown in the trash have begun circulating on social media.
But recently, Mike Dunn stepped away from the spotlight as a Boogaloo member. Although he still considers himself a Boogaloo, he said on Twitter that the movement has become “overrun with commie simps.”
These tensions in the United States reached a breaking point last Wednesday when supporters of President Donald Trump raided the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Some Boogaloo Bois also denounced Mike Dunn after a group he created called The Last Sons of Liberty posted to the social media app Parler saying that Boogaloo units were vital to last week’s infiltration of the U.S. Capitol in D.C., although Dunn himself was not present inside.
The Boogaloo ideology is narrow and was seemingly exceeded by the much more complete and consistent ideologies it attempted to embrace. But rather than successfully infiltrate these movements as some political experts and journalists feared, the Boogaloo movement may now itself be in danger of crumbling as their conflicting ideologies push them apart.
The movement is still decentralized. It has no leader and thus, there is no head of the snake to cut off. This means the Boogaloo ideology may continue even as key figures leave. Some could be on the left, some could be on the right, some may be extreme anarchists, and some could just stay for the memes.
Regardless, what the Boogaloo members all have in common is not necessarily a distinct political ideology but a common means rather than an end.