The Need for Nuance in Protective Intelligence Part 3: The Boogaloo Movement
By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart
This is the third installment of a series of articles intended to help protective intelligence and security practitioners gain a nuanced understanding of threat actors. I believe that a detailed understanding of a threat actor’s ideology, objectives, operational model and tactics is critical for security managers to develop strategies to both proactively uncover a potential attack and to develop countermeasures to thwart or mitigate an attack.
The first part of this series focused on the Islamic State, and the second part examined the Antifa movement. This third segment will examine the Boogaloo movement, another threat actor that has been recently featured but often wrongly characterized in press reporting and analytical pieces.
Radical Second Amendment Rights Movement
The Boogaloo movement, whose adherents are sometimes referred to as “Boogaloo Bois,” is a broad, grassroots movement and not a hierarchical group. The group first emerged from the 4chan weapons message board, known as /k/. 4Chan and a similar site, 8Chan (now known as 8kun) are anonymous imageboard websites that are widely known for hosting controversial and offensive material. Because of this, the only overarching ideology that unites the various elements of the movement is their extreme libertarian belief that the rights granted under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the right to keep and bear arms – is unlimited, and that any efforts to infringe upon these rights should be opposed by any means possible, including violence.
This is where the term “Boogaloo” comes in. Boogaloo is a term used in the title of a 1984 movie, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and boogaloo is a term that was widely adopted on Internet message boards such as 4Chan and 8Chan to represent a sequel. Eventually, the term Boogaloo evolved on places like 4Chan and 8Chan to specifically represent a second civil war in the U.S. Many of the radical Second Amendment proponents on the 4Chan /k/ message board adopted and used the term Boogaloo widely, and eventually some of them assumed the term as their identity. So “Boogaloo Bois” can in fact be interpreted to mean proponents of a second U.S. civil war.
As the term Boogaloo became more widely known, and social media companies began to censor Boogaloo linked accounts, the group adopted other related nicknames, such as “Big Igloo” and “Big Luau,” both as a joke and as an attempt to avoid censorship. The fact that Luaus involve a pig roast was not lost on the anti-police Boogaloo followers, and Boogaloo supporters are often seen wearing Hawaiian shirts under their tactical gear when they appear at protests. Boogaloo supporters are also frequently seen wearing /k/ patches or patches with the “Boogaloo flag,” an American flag that features an igloo in the corner and a band of flowers meant to represent a luau lei on one of the stripes. (See photo at the top of this piece.)
In addition to opposing legislation that regulates firearms ownership – such as the proposed assault weapons ban in Virginia that prompted the large demonstrations in Jan. 2020 – the Boogaloo movement also frequently focuses on cases where they believe people have been victimized by police for exercising their Second Amendment rights. One example is Duncan Lemp, a Boogaloo supporter who was shot and killed by police in a March 2020 raid on his Montgomery County home. Lemp had a juvenile arrest record and was not legally allowed to own firearms, and his acquisition of firearms led to a police investigation against him. Police claim that Lemp opened fire on them during the no-knock raid on his home, and that they recovered three rifles and two pistols from his room. They also report that one of the doors to Lemp’s room was boobytrapped. Despite these reports, Boogaloo groups on social media have proclaimed Lemp a martyr and claim that the police assassinated him in his bed as he slept.
Some Boogaloo followers have also made similar claims about minorities who were killed in similar situations, such as Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead during a no-knock raid on her Louisville, KY apartment in March 2020. Taylor’s boyfriend reportedly opened fire on police during the raid fearing that they were criminals conducting a home invasion robbery. The fact that Taylor is an African American illustrates another facet of the Boogaloo movement: while there are overtly racist elements who associate with it, the movement is very diverse. There are also Boogaloo supporters who are not racist, and even some who are minorities themselves. Thus, claims that the Boogaloo movement is overtly racist are patently false. The Boogaloo movement may be anti-government and anti-police, but not of them all are racists.
A Long History of Anti-Government Extremism
Given that the United States itself was birthed out of a movement to oppose British tyranny and taxation, it should come as no surprise that there has been a long history of movements opposed to perceived government oppression in this country. From the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, to the anti-tax movement that gave birth to the Posse Comitatus and sovereign citizen movement in the 1970s, to the rise of the militia movement in the 1990s, there has almost always been some sort of movement in the U.S. claiming to be in opposition to the government’s violation of some right.
Given the Boogaloo movement’s fixation on firearms, their extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment, and their expressed desire to spark a second American civil war, it is not much of a stretch to view them as heirs of the Posse Comitatus and the militia movement. Some commentators have expressed their belief that the Boogaloo movement is more accelerationist than these other movements, but I disagree. Accelerationism, or the idea that one can use violence to spark a larger war, also has a long history in the American far-right milieu. White supremacists such as Joseph Paul Franklin, the Order, and the Covent Sword all sought to usher in an apocalyptic race war through their violent deeds. Other far right extremists, such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, not only hoped to spark a revolution, but also viewed his bombing in part as retribution for government actions against Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, and against the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX in 1993. Both the Ruby Ridge and Waco sieges were the result of criminal cases related to illegal firearms possession, and McVeigh reportedly spent a great deal of time on the gun show circuit.
McVeigh was arrested as he fled the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing, and at the time of his arrest was wearing a t-shirt bearing a picture of Abraham Lincoln emblazoned with the motto sic semper tyrannis (thus always to tyrants) on the front, and a picture of a tree bearing blood droplets as fruit with a Thomas Jefferson quote imposed over it on the back. The Jefferson quote read “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” These sentiments are not far from those espoused by Boogaloo supporters today.
A Present Threat Going Forward
On the night of May 29, during the height of a violent protest over the killing of George Floyd in Oakland, CA, a white panel van pulled away from the curb and approached the Ronald V. Dellums federal building in Oakland. As the vehicle drew near, the passenger compartment door was flung open and a man armed with a carbine opened fire at two security guards standing post in front of the building. The guards were both struck by the hail of gunfire – one was killed and the other seriously wounded. The shooter and the driver of van would be tracked down days later, but not before another sheriff’s deputy was killed during the manhunt. The men, who were both active duty air force security personnel, were not anti-racist protesters, or black supremacists – they were Boogaloo adherents. When the van used in the attack was located, a tactical vest with a Boogaloo flag patch on it was found inside. The alleged shooter in this incident is a Hispanic, which again illustrates the breadth of the Boogaloo movement.
On May 30, the FBI arrested three Boogaloo followers, who they claim were preparing to throw Molotov cocktails at police during a Black Lives Matters protest. Two of the men arrested for the plot were U.S. military veterans and the third was currently enlisted in the Army reserve. One of the two veterans had also reportedly been involved with the militia movement, illustrating the linkages between the two movements.
Men with military training have long been associated with right-wing extremist groups. Tim McVeigh, Randy Weaver and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph were all veterans. But veterans with formal military training are not the only ones within the Boogaloo movement that pose a danger. Given the movement’s origins in gun culture, it can be assumed that many, if not most Boogaloo adherents have access to firearms and other weapons and are familiar with using them.
To date, Boogaloo-linked plots have targeted law enforcement, but with the movement being so diverse, it would come as no surprise to see individuals linked to the movement to launch attacks against other types of targets. First, it is likely that the some in the movement could decide to focus on politicians who advocate for gun control, gun control organizations and even donors who contribute money to gun control efforts or lawyers involved in gun control lawsuits. Secondly, the more racist elements of the Boogaloo movement could also decide to target minorities as a means to spark a racially motivated civil war.
While members of the Boogaloo movement will pose a persistent threat, it is by no means an unprecedented one. Indeed, as seen by the May 30, sting operation in Las Vegas, the FBI is aware of the threat they pose and is actively working cases against them. With no linguistic or cultural hurdles to overcome, law enforcement agencies will have an easier time placing informants and undercover agents into the Boogaloo movement cells than jihadist cells.
While the Boogaloo movement is broad and somewhat amorphous, it is important to remember that Boogaloo Bois wishing to conduct attacks are still bound by the constraints and demands of the attack cycle and that as they proceed through their attack cycle they will be vulnerable to detection by those looking for them.