'Boogaloo' Explained: How an ’80s Movie Turned Into a Far-right Code for Civil War

They are heavily armed, wear Hawaiian shirts and want a race war: Meet the U.S. far-right extremists known as the boogaloo bois

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A member of the far-right Boogaloo Bois militia walking next to protesters demonstrating outside a police department just outside of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, May 29, 2020.
A member of the far-right Boogaloo Bois militia walking next to protesters demonstrating outside a police department just outside of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, May 29, 2020. Credit: AFP

As American politicians on the left and right accuse different groups for the violence engulfing U.S. protests over the killing of George Floyd, one far-right movement in particular continues to make headlines: the so-called Boogaloo Bois.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his attorney general, Bill Barr, have insisted that the far-left Antifa “movement” is stoking the violence, with Trump vowing Sunday to label the antifascists a terrorist organization (although it’s unclear who exactly, or by what legal mechanism).

Conversely, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted Saturday that his city – the epicenter of the current wave of protests, and where Floyd was killed last week – is “now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.”

Frey’s claim was repeated by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who said outside protesters, white supremacists and even drug cartels were inflaming the violence. NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins noted, however, that while there is little concrete evidence to back up either claim, “fringe groups, most notably anti-government ‘Boogaloo’ members with guns, were seen in numerous cities, stoking fear that more severe violence could be ahead.” 

Federal authorities said Thursday three Nevada men who they say self-identified as part of the “boogaloo” movement were charged on terrorism-related charges for plotting to spark violence during recent protests in Las Vegas.

News reports noted that the three white men all had U.S. military experience and that the criminal filing against them said they were arrested en route to a protest in downtown Las Vegas after “filling gas cans at a parking lot and making Molotov cocktails in glass bottles.”

A member of the far-right Boogaloo Bois militia walking next to protesters demonstrating outside a police department just outside of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, May 29, 2020. Credit: AFP

'Electric Boogaloo'

The Anti-Defamation League explained that the term boogaloo is “shorthand for a future civil war,” and while “some still use the phrase as a joke, an increasing number of people employ it with serious intent.” The term itself has “its roots in decades of jokes about an old movie: the 1984 break-dancing film ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,’” the ADL noted. 

The organization also noted that “a range of boogaloo-related phrases” emerged last year, including “Showing up for the boogaloo”; “When the boogaloo hits”; “Being boogaloo ready”; and “Bring on the boogaloo.”

Investigative journalism website Bellingcat traces boogaloo back as a buzz word for extremists to online messaging boards on 4chan, but the term became a rallying cry against law enforcement for gun rights activists and the militia movement. However, more recently it has been co-opted by white nationalists.

People, including those with the boogaloo movement, pray as they demonstrate against business closures due to concern about COVID-19, at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, May 2, 2020.Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP

“I’m looking for fellow Minneapolis residents to join me in forming a private, Constitutionally-authorized militia to protect people from the MPD [Minneapolis Police Department], which has killed too many people within the last two years,” is the kind of post associated with the group’s online presence. That comment appeared on a Facebook page called Big Igloo Bois, which has over 30,000 followers. Its name has spawned patches and flags with igloos on them.

Subscribers of the boogaloo movement are often particularly visible, since they not only carry high-powered rifles and wear tactical gear, but also don Hawaiian shirts, leis and boogaloo patches.

The Hawaiian shirts and leis are an apparent nod to another derivation of boogaloo: “big luau” – a reference to the Hawaiian feast at which Kalua pig is often served, and itself a reference to the killing of police officers.

The term boogaloo came to prominence among the far right over the past two years, with the extremist Proud Boys adopting the term early on. But it wasn’t until this January that it made national headlines when a gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, resulted in the state’s governor, Ralph Northam, declaring a state of emergency after he “received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies of threats of violence.”

Members of the boogaloo movement attending a demonstration against the lockdown at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, April 18, 2020.Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP

At the time, online extremists were promoting the event – organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League – as their “first chance” at sparking a “boogaloo.”

Ahead of the event, the FBI announced the arrest in Maryland of three white nationalists, who were allegedly plotting violence in Richmond. The three men were members of a neo-Nazi training network called the Base (the English translation of “Al-Qaida”).

Militia members ascribing to the boogaloo movement joined the protests against coronavirus lockdowns in various U.S. states and swelled its ranks online. In April, the Tech Transparency Project, an online research hub that tracks large technology companies, found 125 boogaloo-related groups on Facebook that gained tens of thousands of members in the preceding two months.

“Some boogaloo supporters see the public health lockdowns and other directives by states and cities across the country as a violation of their rights, and they’re aiming to harness public frustration at such measures to rally and attract new followers to their cause,” the report said.

As a result, Facebook updated its policies to prohibit use of “boogaloo” and related terms “when accompanied by statements and images depicting armed violence.”

Also in April, the Associated Press reported armed demonstrators handing out “Liberty or Boogaloo” flyers in Concord, New Hampshire, during a protest at the State House. The ADL, meanwhile, reported that a leader of the far-right Three Percenters militia movement organized a rally in Olympia, Washington, while encouraging rally participants to wear Hawaiian shirts.

The Southern Poverty Law Center documented the boogaloo movement’s glee at Trump urging supporters to “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” on Twitter in March. “Did Trump just call for boogaloo?” one member wrote in a Facebook group at the time. “Well, you heard the man! Let’s go bois,” another responded. 

The AP noted that while some boogaloo followers maintain they are not truly advocating for violence, law enforcement officials say they have foiled bombing and shooting plots by people who have connections to the movement, or at least used its terminology. The ADL added that while the “militia movement, radical gun rights activists typically promote the boogaloo as a war against the government or liberals,” white supremacists “conceive of the boogaloo as a race war or a white revolution.”

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