Who Are The Boogaloo Bois? These Hawaiian Shirt-Wearing, Gun-Toting Americans Want War

Sarah Midkiff

The “boogaloo” movement has regained national attention in the wake of mass protest, particularly after investigators linked a suspect in the shooting of two California officers to the extremist anti-government group. It seems that the boogaloos (or boogaloo bois) — an anti-government group that identifies as the libertarian citizen militia — are hiding in plain sight at Black Lives Matter protests in hopes of perpetuating a “race war.” The details of this new case, though, seem to illustrate the movement’s agenda by attacking both protestors and law enforcement.

On May 29, federal protective services officer, David Patrick Underwood, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Oakland, CA when a white van pulled up outside a federal courthouse. Security footage shows the van’s door slide open and a man shooting two security officers outside, killing Underwood and critically wounding another unnamed officer. At the time, a protest against police brutality was happening nearby. This prompted questions over whether or not the fatal shooting was tied to the protests or not.

Just one week later, on June 6, Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller was shot and killed after responding to a call about a suspicious van parked off the road containing guns and bomb-making materials. The van was seen leaving the area when deputies arrived. They followed the vehicle to a residence in Ben Lomond — about 12 miles outside Santa Cruz, CA. Deputies were ambushed upon arrival with gunfire and multiple homemade explosives. The suspect fled. Soon after, police received calls about a carjacking. Officers arrived on the scene and the suspect, who was reportedly armed, was shot while being arrested. He was treated and released from the hospital, according to a press release from the Santa Cruz sheriff’s department.

Two other officers were injured in the shootout, according to the same press release. The suspect, Steven Carrillo, an active-duty staff sergeant station at Travis Air Force Base was arrested in connection with both shootings. He now faces a federal murder charge for Underwood’s death, reports CNN. He remains a suspect in the Santa Cruz case.

In each of the three vehicles Carrillo used, police found a boogaloo patch, firearms, and bomb-making equipment. They also found three messages scrawled in blood: “Boog,” “I became unreasonable,” and “Stop the duopoly.” Facebook correspondences show that Carrillo and his Oakland accomplice, Robert Alvin Justus, Jr., planned to use the protests as a distraction, alleges a criminal complaint filed with the United States District Court in northern California. Justus faces charges of aiding and abetting murder and attempted murder after he admitted to the FBI that he drove the van during the Oakland shooting.

Even after Carrillo was apprehended, his motive was clouded with concern: These aren’t standalone crimes committed by a man who took an ideology to an extreme, they are part of a larger movement — the boogaloos — which pose a very real threat. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into other boogaloos who have been charged recently with fomenting violence at other protests, reports the Washington Post

The boogaloo movement is made up of a culmination of far-right groups: a quick search scan will show you affiliations with terms like white supremacy, neo-Nazi, libertarian citizen-militia, and race war. If these ideologies were circles represented in a Venn diagram, pro-gun, anti-government, and white supremacist groups would converge in the overlapping circle known as the boogaloo movement. There is also some correlation with the militia movement and survivalists, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.

“The Boogaloo brand was cobbled together in the ugly recesses of the internet, away from the gaze of the mainstream,” Devin Burghart, President of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights told Refinery29. “They’ve grown by being incredibly active on social media, by appealing to a younger demographic than most other far-right paramilitary groups, and by having a brand built for the chaotic times that surround us.”

The name is innocuously spawned from a cult-classic, “so bad it’s good” 1982 break-dancing film called Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Its title became a meme format to joke about low-quality or terrible sequels, for example: Frankenstein 2: Electric Boogaloo, Lord of the Flies 2: Electric Boogaloo, or in this case a sequel to the civil war. The term boogaloo has been used to inconspicuously describe racist violence or a race war since the meme first emerged in the early 2010s in anti-government and white power spaces online. As the leaderless faction gained momentum, it adopted igloos and Hawaiian shirts as iconography based on memes riffing on the boogaloo name for sounding similar to “big igloo” and “big luau,” according to the Washington Post

They may have all arrived in this far corner of the Internet for different reasons, but boogaloos are united in the belief that a violent sequel to the American Civil War is imminent. Although followers all believe in a second civil war to reset American society, it appears that they do not all agree on what this “new world” would look like. Some want the reset to focus on armed libertarianism while others believe it to be an embrace of racism in line with a race war or a white revolution, reports the Los Angeles Times. This is where motives conflict, but remain equally dangerous.

In the wake of both protests and online activism, boogaloos are surging. Boogaloo-related phrases can be found online alongside hashtags such as #dotr or #DayOfTheRope, both of which are references to a novelized blueprint for a white revolution known as The Turner Diaries written by neo-Nazi, William Pierce. Furthermore, they believe they will be a part of the new civil war. Now, this previously far-flung niche online reserved for coded 4chan chats moved onto mainstream channels like Facebook and Twitter before assembling in the real world in January.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves throughout the country, Boogaloo activists used the lockdown to spread their brand across social media platforms, followed by high profile appearances at ‘reopen’ rallies,” Burghart explains. Before Black Lives Matter protests, armed boogaloo bois have also been spotted gathering at anti-lockdown demonstrations in April and May, believing the lockdown to be a sign of government tyranny. Since then, this loosely knit group has grown and is using peaceful protests against police brutality and racism to spread white supremacist rhetoric and ignite a race war. Regularly donning Hawaiian shirts, Burghart says the group is seeking “to accelerate conflict and chaos.”

The emerging incarnation of extremism became further emboldened following President Donald Trump’s call for “MAGA night” on Twitter on May 30 when protestors gathered in front of the White House. After that, Burghart says, he saw an increase in alt-right participation in the rallies set into motion after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. “We only saw a handful of instances,” said Burghart of the protests prior to Trump’s unsubtle invitation. “We saw more boogaloo bois showing up at rallies with their Hawaiian shirts.” Three boogaloo members were arrested and charged with terrorism offenses in Nevada for alleged attempts to “spark violence” in protests earlier this month, reports the Associated Press.

Social media platforms have caught on to the dangerous nature of the group. On May 1, Facebook amended its policy on violence and incitement to prohibit the use of the word “boogaloo” specifically “when used with images or statements depicting armed violence.” It also set out to make groups related to the movement harder to find on the platform. In response, groups and pages with tens of thousands of members and followers began using alternate terms like “Big Igloo,” “Boog,” and “Big Luau” to evade restrictions. Masked under the guise of the right hashtags, boogaloo boi content has even proliferated on TikTok, despite the platform’s struggle to contain it within its user policy.

But their recent actions and ciphered terminology has now caught the attention of the US government. “Indiscriminate targeting of law enforcement officers by those motivated by violent extremism of any stripe is contrary to our nation’s values and undermines the powerful message of peaceful protesters,” said assistant attorney general for national security, John C. Demers, in a statement made on Tuesday. “We stand firmly against anyone who seeks to hijack the protests with acts of violence and destruction.”

So what’s next for the boogaloo bois? Based on Burghart’s study of the group – which he believes is better categorized as a brand people identify with rather than a movement – he theorizes that the glare of mainstream media attention could lead to a scattering effect with those involved joining other far-right groups like the Proud Boys, existing militia-type organizations, and neo-Nazi accelerationist groups.

“We anticipate the brand changing again now that ‘normies’ (particularly law enforcement) know how to spot a boogaloo boi,” says Burghart. 

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