The last week in the United States has been marred by riots, looting and police violence, all set off by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer.
Though Floyd’s death initially sparked unrest only in his native Minneapolis, the angry protests soon spread to cities throughout the country, where reports have come in claiming that other groups are using the legitimate anger over Floyd’s murder as a cover for unrelated, politically motivated actions.
One of the groups allegedly subverting the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests is the Boogaloo Boys (or Bois). Stories on the group in the mainstream media have labeled them as far-right extremists with a white supremacist ideology. But on social media, members of the group insist that they are merely a pro-gun libertarian group that opposes governmental overreach.
The origins of Boogaloo
The first extensive analysis of the Boogaloo movement was published in November 2019 by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish activist group that combats antisemitism and documents hate groups.
In the article, entitled “The Boogaloo: Extremists’ New Slang Term for A Coming Civil War,” the ADL explains how a dance term associated with the Black community became shorthand for a second civil war in America. Specifically, the term references a 1984 break dancing film, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Online, “electric boogaloo” has long served as a joking reference to sequels.
The use of “boogaloo” to mean civil war first took hold in gun rights groups. The ADL found that many gun rights activists believe an armed citizenry will one day need to rise up and resist the tyrannical actions of the government. In their view, war would be necessary if the government decided to seize privately owned firearms.
The ADL alleges that the terminology was also adopted by white supremacists, who often use gun rights activism as a cover for spreading an ideology of racial hatred. Among white supremacists, boogaloo has come to refer to “a race war or a white revolution.” Such groups hope to stir up racial animosity for the purpose of bringing about a war between the white and black races.
Boogaloo imagery at BLM protests
With protests of police violence breaking out across the US and the world, images of rioting, burnt buildings and violent confrontations spread online. Across dozens of cities, thousands of Americans were arrested for their role in the BLM-led protests while social media platforms filled with images of varying groups of police officers either uniting with the protestors or forcibly confronting them.
Amid this roiling turmoil, multiple examples of Boogaloo-related imagery could be seen, for those who knew what to look for.
As explained in a Twitter thread by Reece Jones, a professor at the University of Hawaii, the quick evolution of the terminology created multiple variants and cognate phrases, including “big igloo” and “big luau.” As a result, associates of the movement often wear luau-style “Hawaiian” shirts or clothing with pictures of igloos on them (or a mix of both).
One of the common images is “the Boogaloo flag,” which, in addition to being a parody of the US flag, appears to be an intentional distortion of the pro-police Blue Lives Matter flag.
Rumors online state that the people seen wearing the boogaloo iconography at the protests – almost exclusively white men – did oppose the police, but not as an act of support for BLM. Instead, they were allegedly there to stir up conflict in an attempt to overthrow the government and create their own police state.
The cause of Boogaloo Bois
Members of the movements insist that their only cause is opposing governmental infringement on individual rights.
The Facebook group, “Big Igloo Bois,” features multiple posts related to police violence against black citizens, including a pinned post that criticizes “no-knock” warrants. The police’s use of such a warrant led to the death of a black woman, Breonna Taylor, in her Kentucky home in March. Many of the memes shared in the group condemn the “tyranny” of the police and the federal government.
Likewise, on Twitter, members of the movement have stated that the group is not white supremacist and in fact supports Black Lives Matter. They insist that they are a libertarian movement that is pro-gun and anti-government, nothing more.
The Instagram user “boog_boi_fitness” posted multiple times last weekend in support of BLM. A post from Sunday featured a video of armed white men posing for pictures with a group of Black men and women. The caption reads, “Destroyed the media narrative tonight. #unity #2a #boogbois #boogaloo.”
In addition to protesting the recent police killing of Floyd, the Boogaloo movement has found common cause with the now deceased Duncan Lemp. The 21-year-old man, with vague ties to far-right groups, was killed in his home by the police during a raid. Lemp allegedly had an illegal stockpile of guns. The police say a conviction as a juvenile barred Lemp from owning guns.
A no-knock warrant was also involved in the raid that led to Lemp’s death. A lawyer for Lemp’s family insists the raid was illegal as there was no legal reason why Lemp shouldn’t have been allowed to own guns. As a result, like Floyd, Lemp, who was white, has become a symbol of a tyrannical police state for libertarians in general, and the Boogaloo Bois specifically .
White supremacists among the Boogaloo Bois
Despite insistence from Boogaloo Bois that they are not racist, recent reports from multiple media outlets, including NBC and NPR, have connected them with white supremacist movements in the US.
As reported by Brandy Zadrozny for NBC, the irreverence of the name and the uncertainty around the movement is intentional. “The ambiguity of the term ‘boogaloo’ works to cloak extremist organizing in the open.”
The term’s political origins have been traced back to 4chan, the same message board that birthed other extreme far-right movements like QAnon and that has historically been a nexus for racist memes.
An investigation of the movement by Bellingcat suggests that there may be a genuine divide between two sides of Boogaloo: white supremacists and anti-government activists. Within those two camps, there is frequent crossover and there is a concern that the libertarian face of the movement may provide cover for more nefarious motives.
While some Boogaloo groups operate in the open on social media, many others are either anonymous or are secret groups that limit who can see their posts.
Left Coast Right Watch, a news site that covers rightwing extremism, has warned that the Boogaloo support for Floyd and other black victims of police violence is a smokescreen. In a tweet on May 27, they claimed, “Boogaloo boys … want to co-opt Black Lives Matter to start a second civil war.”
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