From social media to US streets: Boogaloo movement makes its presence felt during George Floyd protests

Often seen wearing Hawaiian shirts, possessing guns and bent on starting a civil war, followers of the anti-government Boogaloo movement have also been seen at the protests against police brutality and George Floyd's death.

FP Staff June 17, 2020 06:57:33 IST
From social media to US streets: Boogaloo movement makes its presence felt during George Floyd protests

As protests against police brutality and racism draw lakhs in the US despite the coronavirus pandemic, movements like the antifa and Black Lives Matter have been blamed for incidents of violence witnessed during these gatherings.

Often seen wearing Hawaiian shirts, carrying guns and seemingly set on starting a civil war, followers of the pro-gun and anti-government Boogaloo movement have also been seen at these protests. On Monday, a Texas bodybuilder arrested for running a steroid trafficking ring, was found to have been publicly associated with the movement. He had used his social media accounts to advocate vigilante ‘guerrilla warfare’ against the National Guardsman patrolling Black Lives Matter protests, Fox News reported.

In another incident on Friday, a US Air Force sergeant wrote the word “boog” and the phrase, “I became unreasonable,” in blood on the hood of a car, shortly before being arrested on accusations of shooting dead a sheriff’s deputy in California’s Santa Cruz. He was also accused of throwing lit pipe bombs and shooting at other deputies and planning to kill more, Reuters reported.

From social media to US streets Boogaloo movement makes its presence felt during George Floyd protests

File photo of a police officer prepares to fire rubber bullets during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles. AP

On 30 May, the FBI arrested three individuals, all with US military experience and associated with the Boogaloo movement, on the way to BLM protests. They had in their possession Molotov cocktails that they were allegedly planning to use at the protests in Nevada, Las Vegas.

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly singled out antifa, a movement of primarily leftist anti-authoritarians, as a major instigator of the unrest, the term does not appear in any of the federal charging documents against 53 individuals accused looting and violence at protests held after George Floyd’s death on 25 May, a Reuters report said. The documents mention only one group – the Boogaloo movement, the followers of which are largely an assortment of right-wing extremists, according to hate group experts.

The movement began on the internet but is now spilling on to the streets of the United States. The name was derived from a 1980s film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The Boogaloo movement originated largely on 4chan’s /k/ forum, where users discuss weapons and guns. The term “boogaloo” has been used on the forum since 2012, in reference to "Barack Obama’s reelection causing a second civil war", according to Reuters. However, among the recent protests this year where supporters of the movement were seen was in January in Richmond, Virginia at a rally against the state’s attempt to bring in more stringent gun laws.

Boogaloo followers hold a resentful approach towards the law enforcement specifically and believe the government would restrict access to firearms. They believe in an accelerationist ideology, which entails disorder between the people and police to cause a breakdown of the political system.

By April this year, an advocacy group called the Tech Transparency Project warned that Boogaloo followers were discussing taking up arms while promoting protests to “liberate” states from coronavirus restrictions, according to Reuters. The group that tracks tech companies had reported on 22 April that Boogaloo groups are especially active on Facebook, where at least 125 operate. More than half of those groups have been created since January. Additionally, it was found that tens of thousands of people joined Boogaloo-related Facebook groups over a 30-day period in March and April.

Reddit shut down several Boogaloo-related communities in February and another set in May for inciting or glorifying violence. On 1 May, Facebook banned the use of Boogaloo and related terms when they accompany pictures of weapons and calls to action. It decided over a month later that the platform will no longer recommend such groups to members of similar associations, making it more difficult to find these groups. Terms like Boogaloo Bois, big igloo and big luau then emerged to evade scrutiny.

In a 27 May memo, the Department of Homeland Security raised concerns that domestic terror groups could target the protests, including allegations from the FBI that “a white supremacist extremist Telegram channel incited followers to engage in violence and start the ‘boogaloo’ by shooting in a crowd”, Vox reported. Far-Right militias and Boogaloo-related groups were present at 40 protests against police brutality and Floyd’s death, Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights found.

Whether boogaloos hold a white supremacist or white nationalist approach remains unclear. The movement’s members have showed up armed to protect stores from protesters on the one hand, while some of the most popular Facebook pages have celebrated the agitation against George Floyd’s death, The Guardian reported.

Claims that the group travels to various states to join protests are also unfounded. Of the 57 people arrested in Minneapolis on 30 May as protests against police brutality turned violent, 47 provided Minnesota addresses, while only 10 were from other states, The Washington Post reported. A US intelligence assessment released last week too said that most of the violence at protests appears to have been driven by opportunists. But the assessment also said there was some evidence that organised extremists were tied to violence or promoting it online.

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