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The Origins Of The Extremist 'Boogaloo' Movement47:03
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A member of the far-right militia, Boogaloo Bois, walks next to protestors demonstrating outside Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Metro Division 2 just outside of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 29, 2020. (Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)
A member of the far-right militia, Boogaloo Bois, walks next to protestors demonstrating outside Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Metro Division 2 just outside of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 29, 2020. (Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)

Libertarian extremists known as the boogaloo boys are now linked with at least two murders. We look at the origins of the movement.

Guests

Cassie Miller, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center. (@cassiepmiller)

Kathleen Belew, history professor at The University of Chicago. Author of "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America." (@kathleen_belew)

Justin Hansford, law professor and director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University Law School. (@Blackstarjus)

Interview Highlights

On what the boogaloo boys believe in

Cassie Miller: “Members of the boogaloo movement don't necessarily have a really cohesive ideology that brings them all together. They kind of run the gamut of the far right. So many of them are libertarians who are really steeped in gun culture. Others are white supremacists and are overtly racist. So there is a lot of ideological variation among the members of this movement. But the thing that unites them is their belief that the government has overstepped its bounds and that the only way to push back against this perceived tyranny is through a second civil war. And that is something that many in this movement are actively preparing for, by arming themselves. And it's something that they actually believe is inevitable. So, you know, the society that they want to achieve through this civil war varies. Some want an ultra libertarian society, and others want a white ethnostate. But at their core, this is a violence-oriented movement that is advocating for armed insurrection against the state."

"Some want an ultra libertarian society, and others want a white ethnostate. But at their core, this is a violence-oriented movement that is advocating for armed insurrection against the state."

Cassie Miller, Senior Research Analyst, Southern Poverty Law Center

On how widespread the boogaloo movement is

Cassie Miller: “With the boogaloo movement, it's more difficult because, you know, this is really any more surface subculture that exists mostly online. And there's no formalized membership. There's no sort of formalized group that people join. But in terms of this kind of right wing movement, it is a pretty large subculture. In April, the tech transparency project did sort of a census of boogaloo groups on Facebook, and they found that there were at least one hundred and twenty five of them, all devoted specifically to the boogaloo. And many of them had thousands of members. So altogether, just on this single platform, there were tens of thousands of people who were associated with this online boogaloo community. And that, you know, it doesn't even represent the people who are on Instagram and other platforms. We've also seen them showing up at protests around the country, dozens of these rallies. And we can pick. Come out, you know, through their insignia, through their clothing, through the flags that they're carrying, so we know that these ideas really do have a lot of purchase.”

On why boogaloo boys are showing up at Black Lives Matter protests

Cassie Miller: “I think that they really want to leverage these protests to their own ends and let's, you know, either by amplifying the chaos on the ground or seeking out some sort of violent confrontations with law enforcement. And I think the thing that makes this movement sort of difficult to pass out is that, you know, a lot of them do claim to have some solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters. But the only place that we really see them aligned with those protesters is in their anger towards the police. You know, members of the boogaloo movement necessarily acknowledge that black people and other people of color are disproportionately impacted by police violence. And these two groups, although they might be showing up at the same protest, have wildly different aims. So Black Lives Matter protesters want to fundamentally change the way we think about policing, defund the police and use those budgets towards resources like health care and mental health care and housing, things that can build robust communities and begin to undo centuries of racism in this country. So Boogaloo Boys, on the other hand, really just want to pursue this right wing fantasy that they have and use the protests to engage in violent confrontations with law enforcement. So for them, the protests are really just a political opportunity that they're trying to capitalize on.”

On why we should keep a wary eye on the boogaloo movement

Cassie Miller: This is a violence-oriented movement and it poses a physical threat to our communities, not only to members of law enforcement, but to people on the ground who are protesting police brutality because people are coming out to these protests and attempting to make them more violent. But I think the other reason to really focus on this and really parse through what's happening here is that they're really a reflection of this larger political moment that we're in right now, which is one of really intense political polarization and a declining faith in democracy and a lack of trust in our institutions. And, you know, police are obviously the most clear example of that and the current focus of so much anger both on the right and the left. But I think that there is really a huge lack of trust in the political process and in people with opposing views. And in this kind of environment, especially on the far right, people feel less inclined to work through mainstream political channels. And what we're seeing is that people are now rationalizing violence as a legitimate political tool.”

"[The boogaloo boys] are really a reflection of this larger political moment that we're in right now, which is one of really intense political polarization and a declining faith in democracy and a lack of trust in our institutions."

Cassie Miller, Senior Research Analyst, Southern Poverty Law Center

On how the boogaloo boys fit into a larger white power movement

Kathleen Bellew: “The boogaloo boys is one example of the activism undertaken by a movement that has really been working almost without opposition since the early 1980s. And the white power movement came together then as a coalition of Klan, neo-Nazi, tax protest and other radical white groups that sort of united people in all regions of the country, across social class, across gender, and undertook a major and widespread social network-based movement to overthrow the United States and create a white government, ethnostate or even a white world. That project of attempting to bring about revolution through sort of fomenting civil unrest is the same motivating ideology we see today through the boogaloo boys movement. And it also has some some really significant parallels to the militia movement surge of the early 1990s, in that it's a broader and more ideologically diverse movement that is not entirely peopled by white power activists, but it is the major source of activity for the public-facing white power groundswell that we're seeing in the present today.”

On the link between the boogaloo boys and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing

Kathleen Bellew: “Most people don't understand what [the Oklahoma City bombing] was. I mean, we're talking about the largest deliberate mass casualty in American history between Pearl Harbor and 9/11. And we don't go around with an understanding of that act as something much bigger than simply the work of one mad actor or a few bad apples, but actually as the deliberate action of a social movement that had been organizing for decades. I mean, similarly, we think about these problems of social movement, radicalization, about the platforms like Facebook and other online channels for reaching and recruiting vulnerable people into these radical acts of violence. That's a strategy that has been working in this movement, you know, across decades, if not across generations. So we have to think about this group as a widespread social force that has evaded public understanding of it. It has evaded effective policymaking and criminal prosecution very effectively for years and years now.”

"We have to think about this group as a widespread social force that has evaded public understanding of it."

Kathleen Bellew, history professor, the university of chicago

On how the white power movement has evaded authorities for so long

Kathleen Bellew: “One thing that happened is in the early 1980s, the white power movement started using a strategy called leaderless resistance, which again, a lot of us will be familiar with as sort of a cell-style terror model of action. And the idea was that one or a few activists could form a cell and then work without direct contact with other cells or with movement leadership to accomplish a sort of agreed upon set of violent objectives. These included a lot of the things that Cassie outlined earlier in the segment around attacks on law enforcement and other state enforcement officers, attacks on infrastructure, attacks on protests, attempts to kind of rile up other people and unseat systemic order and leaderless resistance had a number of consequences that made it difficult to prosecute white power, violence, that made it difficult for surveillance operatives to infiltrate and sort of use counterterrorism efforts against these groups. But I would argue to you that the much bigger consequence and the much more dramatic problem has been that it effectively erased white power as a movement, because instead what we get are a whole bunch of stories about, quote unquote, lone wolf actors or people who have been acting on their own as if they're not connected to a movement. So we get stories about the El Paso shooting as an active anti-Latino terror, or the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue as an act of anti-Semitic violence, or the Christchurch attack as an act of anti-Islamic violence. And they are all of those things. But all of those events are also part of a organized white power movement that is connected to more public-facing activity like the boogaloo boys, and that shares a set of ideological beliefs with this broader movement. And that is also conducting, you know, major paramilitary training operations through groups like the base and Adam often and has been trying to do things as big as seizing nuclear weapons. So this is a dramatic problem that is characterized by rising activity across a number of different spheres. And I think we're really in a moment of emergency around this.”

On Trump designating antifa a domestic terror group, but not the boogaloo

Cassie Miller: “We have seen Trump do this since the beginning of his presidency, which is essentially draw attention to antifa as this boogeyman. And you know, really what it is, is a community-based movement that aims to remedy racial and economic injustice and to fight fascism. But with the effort of the far right, they've basically made antifa out to be this much larger and more terrifying social force than it actually is. And that does a couple things. It distracts from the fact that the far right in this country really holds a monopoly on political violence. A report just came out from Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, that showed that during the first three years of the Trump presidency, the far right has killed 87 people and antifa has not killed anyone. So, you know, to say that they're a domestic terror organization does nothing but distract from right wing violence. And perhaps even more dangerously, it's an attempt to criminalize what is genuine political protest.”

On how white power groups infiltrate protest movements

Justin Hansford: “My biggest concern is the way that these organizations have tried to make themselves agents of infiltration and really usurpation of the movements. In Ferguson, we saw this with a group called the Oath Keepers, which was a similar group that came and was armed and claimed to be an organization that would protect everybody, including the protesters. But we know that they also had very much a white nationalist viewpoint. And the biggest concern here is that as governments and police organizations try to crack down on protests, the presence of these groups serve to undermine the protests ... they are allowing this meme of the outside agitator to justify the use of tear gas or tanks or or militarized responses to First Amendment protesters who are out there trying to engage in their First Amendment rights. And so it gives cover for efforts to really crack down on protests.”

"They are allowing this meme of the outside agitator to justify the use of tear gas or tanks or or militarized responses to First Amendment protesters. .. And so it gives cover for efforts to really crack down."

Justin Hansford, Director, Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University Law School

On the troubling relationship between white power groups and law enforcement

Justin Hansford: “In Ferguson, when the Oath Keepers came to protests, they were friends with the police. I was there on the streets of Ferguson and I saw them have friendly conversations as the Oath Keepers sort of marched in a formation around the Ferguson protesters. That's another troubling element of this, because I think the FBI in 2006 raised the flag of white nationalist infiltration into law enforcement. And it's something that's been an ongoing problem. So the ideal role of the presence of law enforcement officers at protests should be to protect the protesters. And we've been saying that, you know, it's sort of seen as a confrontational situation because what the protesters are protesting is police brutality. But we need protection from these groups and that should be the focus. And I worry about the focus of law enforcement being elsewhere and really focusing antagonism on protesters instead of these types of groups.”

From The Reading List

Southern Poverty Law Center: "The 'Boogaloo' Started as a Racist Meme"  — "Among the loose online network of adherents, the boogaloo is often presented as a race-blind call for armed insurrection against government tyranny."

The Intercept: "How the Far-Right Boogaloo Movement Is Trying to Hijack Anti-Racist Protests for a Race War" — "Donald Trump is  right. The anti-racism protests that have convulsed cities across the United States are also being used as cover, to quote the president, for 'acts of domestic terror.'"

Vox: "The trope of 'outside agitators' at protests, explained" — "To hear some people — including public officials — tell it, 'outside agitators' have been playing an active role in protests over police brutality."

New York Times: "What Do You Do When Extremism Comes for the Hawaiian Shirt?" — "It’s one of the most discussed street styles of the spring: tactical body armor, customized assault rifles, maybe a sidearm and helmet, paired with the languid floral patterns of a Hawaiian shirt."

The Atlantic: "The Boogaloo Tipping Point" --"On May 29, two federal security officers guarding a courthouse in Oakland, California, were ambushed by machine-gun fire as elsewhere in the city demonstrators marched peacefully to protest the killing of George Floyd."

The Guardian: "White supremacists or anti-police libertarians? What we know about the 'boogaloo'" — "Men showing up to protests wearing Hawaiian shirts and carrying military-style rifles. Facebook groups full of intense discussions about imminent civil war."

BBC News: "Facebook bans 'violent' Boogaloo-linked network" — "Facebook says it has removed and banned hundreds of accounts to disrupt a 'violent, anti-government' US network."

This article was originally published on July 10, 2020.

This program aired on July 10, 2020.

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