The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement.

AuthorKriner, Matthew

The Boogaloo movement, which coalesced online in late 2019 and manifested offline in 2020, has quickly evolved into a significant domestic violent extremist threat. It has also proven to be deeply challenging for online monitoring and evaluation due to its adaptive use of memes and coded language that blurs the lines between irony and incitement. Offline, a disrupted violent plot in Nevada targeting a racial justice protest, acts of accelerationist-inspired violence in California, and attempts in Minnesota of material support to a foreign terrorist organization underscore the gravity of the diverse threat the Boogaloo movement poses--and the need to take it seriously. The Boogaloo movement has resonated within the United States' domestic extremist landscape through appeals to the nation's revolutionary origins. And an accelerationist faction within Boogaloo has sought to instigate decentralized insurrectionary violence. As a big-tent movement with the ability to quickly adapt its messaging, its presence, fractured or not, will likely continue in 2021 and beyond.

January 2021 marked one year of overt, offline Boogaloo movement activity in the United States by the movement's members, often referred to as the "Boogaloo Bois." (a) The movement has gained national notoriety in that time, due as much to its eclectic aesthetic of colorful Hawaiian-themed apparel as its connection to disrupted violent plots--namely, the attempted kidnapping of a sitting U.S. governor. (1) In 2020, members of the movement were accused of plotting to use Molotov cocktails during a Black Lives Matter protest, conspiring to materially support Hamas, and murdering law enforcement personnel. (2)

The rapid evolution of the Boogaloo from niche internet forum meme to mainstream mobilization narrative in hardened violent extremist milieus suggests it presents a unique security challenge for both social media companies and U.S. law enforcement agencies going forward. The Boogaloo movement's ambiguous, broad framing of American revolutionary ideals cloaks an inherent message of necessary violence against the U.S. government as a perceived authoritarian threat. This article will examine the history of how the Boogaloo movement arrived at its current state, detail the movement's embrace of insurrectionary violence offline, provide a brief forecast of the movement, and suggest responses to the threat.

The Appeal of the Boogaloo Movement

Boogaloo memes circulated online as early as 2012, before finding traction in 4chan's (b) weapons and politics boards around the topic of a second American civil war. (3) By the fall of 2019, the memes' use had spread with purpose across Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and Telegram messaging platforms, often seeded from established white supremacy, anti-government, and accelerationist spaces. (c) In 2020, offline Boogaloo mobilization, including acts of violence, markedly increased in response to a series of culturally divisive topicsgun control laws, social justice protests over law enforcement use of force, coronavirus public health lockdowns, and the 2020 presidential election. (4) Despite its modern eclectic styling, the Boogaloo's aesthetic and narratives have struck a resonant chord with sections of American society looking for an alternative to hyperpartisan politics against a backdrop of heightened uncertainty and existential fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic. (5) It also draws on established extremist milieus, creating defined strains within the Boogaloo movement: white supremacists, neo-Nazis, militia movement members, accelerationists, and ultra-libertarians, among others. (6)

In this article, the authors suggest that the Boogaloo is best conceptualized as a decentralized, anti-authority movement composed of a diverse range of actors mobilized in part by adherents' belief that they are following in the footsteps of the United States' founders and participating in a revolution against tyranny. (7) Mythdriven violent and insurrectionary Boogaloo factions aim to usher in or respond to societal collapse, specifically through threats and targeted violence against law enforcement personnel and government figures. (8) For many anti-government organizations, as well as the Boogaloo Bois, law enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) represent quintessential government abuse of natural rights. As states have expanded legal means to temporarily confiscate firearms of individuals who pose a threat to the public, that animus has shifted to state and local law enforcement agencies for their role in enforcing those laws.

Moreover, the consistent narrative focus on contention with the current political system and perceived institutional failures allows unlikely partnerships, coalitions, and conflicting ideologies to coincide in one movement. The movement's eclectic branding has broad appeal and can be quickly adapted to accommodate nearly any condition of perceived injustice stemming from government action or policy. (9) This includes local Boogaloo efforts to align with Black Lives Matter demonstrators angered at law enforcement. However, despite some elements of the Boogaloo milieu loudly proclaiming support for Black Lives Matter surrounding police shootings and seeking partnerships with local Black Lives Matter chapters, the authors' analysis showed these coalitional engagements to be limited in both scope and presence geographically, and frequently rejected by local Black Lives Matter chapters. (d)

The Boogaloo movement's broad appeal stems from a set of abstract virtues, or ideographs, that are deeply familiar to many Americans: liberty, rejection of government abuses, and disgust at authoritarianism. (10) Boogaloo's corrupted conceptualization of these ideographs is largely manifested through a crowdsourced myth-building in the form of memes, and derive political and moral legitimacy by tapping into (and distorting and hijacking) the United States' founding narrative of a struggle against tyranny. (11) (e )Furthermore, the Boogaloo has rapidly incorporated current events into its mobilization efforts, drawing disparate interests into one broad river targeting a perceived tyrannical system. (f) And despite varied paths to the Boogaloo milieu and the ideological differences within it, Boogaloo adherents largely maintain alignment over political grievances such as over gun control measures--particularly through the use of so-called red flag laws (g)--as well as "no-knock" raids and law enforcement use of force against unarmed citizens. (12 )These shared grievances both feed off of and add to the existing Boogaloo mythos that firearms and violent revolution are the only remaining solution to combat perceived tyranny or accelerate societal collapse. (13) In addition, the mythos primes the targeted audience with the belief that insurrectionary violence or civil war are not only imminent, but inevitable and necessary. (14)

The Role of Social Media

In each stage of the Boogaloo's evolution, social media has served as a means of narrative dispersion, a collective myth-building space, and an organizing point for networks dedicated to violent offline activity. (15) As online Boogaloo activity became increasingly linked to acts of offline violence, social media platforms first took action in May 2020 to limit Boogaloo search results, halt algorithm recommendations of Boogaloo groups, and ban "the use of Boogaloo and related terms when they accompany pictures of weapons and calls to action." (16) Despite these efforts, Boogaloo activity proved to be particularly adaptable, and largely kept ahead of content moderation actions. (17) Under increased scrutiny, Boogaloo social media groups, pages, and accounts altered their names (such as "Big Igloo" from Boogaloo) and created back up presences and advertised alternative platform options (e.g., Telegram) in anticipation of bans. The authors' research found that Boogaloo members adjusted their own behaviors by cloaking calls to violence with inside jokes and memes and leaned on existing anti-government narratives to amplify their newly established vernacular. In doing so, the nascent Boogaloo movement displayed its adaptive nature.

Analysis by the authors has revealed that while some Boogaloo groups adapted and modulated positions on violence in anticipation of bans, others followed in the footsteps of their extremist contemporaries and migrated to Telegram, (18) where their activity increasingly overlapped with accelerationist, radical firearms communities (h) and survivalist-themed Telegram channels. (19) This further exacerbated the insurrectionary nature of Boogaloo narratives. On June 30, 2020, Facebook belatedly conducted a strategic network disruption against a specific network of Boogaloo accounts, pages, and groups under its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy. (20) In its announcement, Facebook noted that "this network uses the term boogaloo but is distinct from the broader and loosely-affiliated boogaloo movement because it actively seeks to commit violence." (21) In total, Facebook removed "220 Facebook accounts, 95 Instagram accounts, 28 Pages and 106 Groups" and "400 additional groups and over 100 other Pages for violating our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy as they hosted similar content as the violent network." At the same time, Facebook claimed to have removed 800 Boogaloo posts that violated its policy regarding Violence and Incitement. (22)

In June 2020, Discord also took considerable action, removing a Boogaloo server for "threatening and encouraging violence" and "deleted the accounts of all 2,258 members" of the server. (23 )A fallback subreddit (i) for the Discord server was subsequently removed by the messaging platform Reddit. (24) The authors found that fallbacks and carbon copies became a regular occurrence in the digital Boogaloo ecosystem, particularly as...

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