Examining Extremism: The Boogaloo Movement
June 30, 2021
The Boogaloo movement is a decentralized ideological network that believes in a coming second U.S. civil war—referred to as the “boogaloo”—and espouses anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric. While some Boogaloo adherents promote white supremacist beliefs, others have provided security for and demonstrated alongside racial justice protesters, making the movement difficult to classify along traditional political lines. During 2020, Boogaloo adherents increasingly attended protests and riots, and they often sought to capitalize on high tensions to incite violence and chaos. The movement’s decentralization, adherents’ proficiency in evading online content moderation efforts, and their ability to use social media to recruit new followers mean that the Boogaloo movement will likely continue to pose a threat—particularly to law enforcement and government targets—throughout 2021.
The term “boogaloo” has been used in Internet parlance, notably on imageboards such as 4chan, since the early 2010s to refer to any kind of sequel or subsequent installment in a series. Internet users later applied this usage to “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo,” indicating a belief there will be a coming uprising against the government. Boogaloo rhetoric and beliefs regarding the second civil war exist on a spectrum that shapes adherents’ actions. While Boogaloo adherents advocate preparing for a coming civil war, some explicitly argue that government actions such as gun confiscation will prompt a civil war, while more extreme elements advocate for direct action against the government in order to provoke a civil war.
The Boogaloo movement likely originated on 4chan’s /k/ imageboard, which is dedicated to discussions about weapons and firearms. It subsequently gained traction on the /pol/ imageboard, a 4chan politics forum that hosts discussions on accelerationism and other far-right topics. Over time, these conversations migrated to social media platforms such as Facebook, where groups with names like “The /K/oronavirus: Electric Boogaloo” served as digital gathering spaces. In June 2020, Facebook conducted a coordinated takedown of Boogaloo content, removing over 600 accounts and 200 groups across Facebook and Instagram.
Over time, the movement’s vocabulary has become increasingly esoteric. The use of slogans such as “big igloo” and “big luau”—adaptations of the word “boogaloo”—have prompted members to incorporate igloos and Hawaiian shirts into flags and apparel. Adherents often refer to themselves as “Boogaloo Bois.” Boogaloo memes and slang are often deployed in similar formats and using similar language to more mainstream Internet discourse, creating a challenge in parsing the difference between complex inside jokes and memes that are used as tools of Boogaloo extremism.
Members of the Boogaloo movement who have been the targets of law enforcement investigations and police brutality have been incorporated into the movement’s history as “martyrs” who justify anti-government extremism. In March 2020, police in Potomac, Maryland, shot and killed Duncan Lemp—an active user of militia organizing websites such as MyMilitia—while serving a no-knock search warrant related to Lemp’s alleged illegal possession of firearms. In the wake of Lemp’s killing, individuals shared memes on Boogaloo social media groups, listing his name next to those of Black Americans killed by police, such as Breonna Taylor, implying they were all victimized by the same strain of police brutality. Such events have galvanized the Boogaloo movement, and some Boogaloo followers have capitalized on them to sharpen their anti-government rhetoric and call for anti-police violence.
The Boogaloo movement’s ideology is anchored in the belief that a second U.S. civil war is coming. As the Boogaloo movement is nascent and has an evolving ideology, adherents endorse a range of views—from a mere belief in an impending civil war to active endorsement of anti-government violence to provoke conflict. While some white supremacist accelerationists have embraced the Boogaloo movement, white supremacy is not a core part of Boogaloo ideology. Some Boogaloo adherents find common cause with Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters due to a shared antipathy toward police brutality and state violence, while other Boogaloo adherents directly reject racism outright.
Members of Boogaloo Facebook groups have regularly shared anti-racist and pro-BLM content. Additionally, Boogaloo social media pages called on adherents to confront the police and march with protesters during the May–June 2020 Minneapolis riots in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. One Boogaloo adherent, Garrett Foster, was shot and killed in July 2020 while peacefully participating in a BLM protest in Austin, Texas. There is some debate about the extent to which Boogaloo alignment with BLM activists is simply an opportunistic strategy to exploit protests as cover for violence. While this is true in some instances, other adherents—including administrators of prominent Boogaloo Facebook groups—have publicly opposed racist and homophobic behavior, suggesting some genuine ideological alignment with anti-racist groups among the Boogaloo movement.
The Boogaloo movement is difficult to classify on a traditional political spectrum, partly due to its decentralized nature and the breadth of incidents involving its adherents. For example, in December 2020, two affiliates of a Boogaloo network called the Boojahideen pled guilty to conspiring to support the foreign terrorist organization Hamas in exchange for money to finance Boogaloo activities. In February 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested two members of a different Boogaloo network, the United Pharaoh’s Guard, for criminal activities committed while providing security, namely walking alongside marchers and escorting demonstrators to their cars, during racial justice protests in the aftermath of the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky. While these activities share a common thread of anti-government sentiment—and contribute to accelerationist Boogaloo aims—they prevent the Boogaloo movement from being classified into a traditional political category, such as “far-left” or “far-right.”
Boogaloo adherents often attempt to situate their ideology at the intersection of American patriotism and anti-government sentiment. For example, some Boogaloo Internet forums allege that “Boogaloo” refers to a second American revolution rather than a civil war. Adherents also often pay homage to important moments in anti-government history such as the Ruby Ridge and Waco sieges. One Boogaloo affiliate, Steven Carrillo (discussed further below), wrote “I became unreasonable” in blood on a car while fleeing law enforcement. The phrase is a reference to notes left by Marvin Heemeyer, an anti-government icon who fatally shot himself in 2004 after bulldozing 13 buildings following a local zoning dispute in Colorado.
The Boogaloo movement is a decentralized network of individuals rather than a hierarchical organization with a clear leadership structure. While Facebook and other social media platforms allow Boogaloo adherents to communicate and organize themselves into local groups resembling cells or chapters, there is no overarching organization that coordinates Boogaloo activity nationally. Boogaloo adherents are anchored by such ideologies as accelerationism and anti-government action rather than membership in any organization.
Local militias have, however, expressed affinity for the ideas of the Boogaloo movement, signifying organization at the local level. For example, the Wolverine Watchmen—the Michigan-based militia connected to the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020—had Boogaloo-affiliated membership and organized multiple “field training exercises” to build tactical skills and test the efficacy of improvised explosive devices. The presence of Boogaloo adherents on social media and Internet recruiting forums such as MyMilitia also raises the possibility that they may seek membership in existing militia groups, diversifying and strengthening the militia movement while facilitating the spread of Boogaloo ideology.
Tactics and Targets
The CSIS Transnational Threats Project’s data set of domestic terrorism incidents, which catalogs terrorist attacks and plots in the United States between January 1994 and January 2021, contains six Boogaloo-related entries, all since 2020. These limited data make it difficult to discern trends or conduct longitudinal analysis. Still, by examining recent Boogaloo-affiliated attacks, common themes emerge. Importantly, the CSIS data set only captures incidents defined as terrorism: those involving the deliberate use—or threat—of violence by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals and create a broad psychological impact. Boogaloo-related incidents that lack these characteristics, such as non-violent participation in demonstrations, are not included. As a result, the full extent of Boogaloo activity exceeds the smaller number of Boogaloo terrorist incidents reflected in the CSIS data set.
Boogaloo adherents, often carrying firearms, attended numerous protests and rallies during 2020 in order to sow social division and usher in a second civil war. For example, they participated in the rioting in the aftermath of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. One adherent, Ivan Hunter, traveled from Texas to participate in the riots, fired a semiautomatic weapon at a Minneapolis Police Department building, and was recorded shouting, “Justice for Floyd!” That same month, Boogaloo adherent Steven Carrillo, then an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, shot multiple federal security officers, killing one, in Oakland, California. According to federal prosecutors, Carrillo sought to use racial justice protests in Oakland as cover for the shootings, exploiting the tensions of the protests and presence of law enforcement to sow chaos. In June 2020, the FBI arrested three Boogaloo adherents with current or former military affiliations for conspiring to firebomb a power substation during racial justice protests in Nevada. These actions diverge sharply from those of other Boogaloo adherents, who have opted to demonstrate peacefully rather than co-opt demonstrations for violence—exemplifying the diverse strains of Boogaloo ideology and action.
Boogaloo adherents and affiliated groups have also attempted direct action against high-profile government figures—individuals often singled out by the Boogaloo movement as particularly anti-freedom. In October 2020, law enforcement officials unsealed indictments against 13 individuals implicated in a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and start a civil war. According to affidavits, the individuals belonged to a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen that had conducted training activities in preparation for the coming “boogaloo.” One of the Wolverine Watchmen’s founders, Joseph Morrison, used the online pseudonym “Boogaloo Bunyan.”
Boogaloo adherents have demonstrated an ability and willingness to capitalize on socially divisive situations such as protests and rallies to advance their anti-government aims. The reasons for choosing these targets are likely multifaceted. First, these situations present acute social fissures—often already centered on the role of police or government in society—that Boogaloo followers can exploit in order to undermine social order and usher in the “boogaloo.” Second, the presence of law enforcement officers affords Boogaloo adherents a plethora of potential targets. The threat of Boogaloo violence is likely to increase during periods of high protest activity as adherents attempt to hijack political demonstrations and racial justice rallies to create chaos and target government actors.
The relatively loose ideology of the Boogaloo movement expands its ability to work with other extremist groups. While Boogaloo affiliates draw on ideologies like white supremacy and a range of conspiracy theories, these are not shared by the movement at large, and the civil war anticipated by some Boogaloo adherents is not necessarily divided along racial lines. This makes the movement’s ideology appealing to a wider range of anti-government extremists who would likely not associate with traditional white supremacist accelerationist groups that seek to provoke a race war. The potential of the Boogaloo movement to mix with and draw on other extremist movements and militias that share their anti-government opinions could create a “force multiplier effect,” magnifying the threat it poses.
Despite efforts to clamp down on the Boogaloo movement’s social media presence, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a March 2021 report that violent extremist groups, including the Boogaloo movement, are using “layered communications” to correspond digitally. This strategy involves using platforms such as Facebook to begin conversations and make recruiting pitches before shifting to more extremist-friendly networks such as Parler and MeWe, then migrating to secure messaging applications such as Telegram and Signal to evade detection by law enforcement. Given the constantly evolving Boogaloo lexicon, the movement will likely continue to enjoy some measure of success using a layered communications strategy to recruit new adherents and expand its reach. This digital staying power heightens the risk posed by the Boogaloo movement and increases adherents’ ability to plan attacks despite law enforcement efforts.
Jared Thompson is a research associate with the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.