Support for anti-government, pro-gun Boogaloo movement growing in Canada

An anti-government, pro-gun movement linked to recent violence in the U.S. is gaining supporters in Canada — prompting warnings from experts over their often hateful, violent remarks against protesters, police and Ottawa's new firearms restrictions.

Online followers talk about killing protesters, RCMP officers

Boogaloo supporters attend an anti-lockdown protest in Concord, N.H., on April 18. Support for the pro-gun, anti-government movement has begun to spill over from the U.S. into Canada. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

An anti-government, pro-gun movement linked to recent violence in the U.S. is gaining supporters in Canada — prompting warnings from experts over their often hateful, violent remarks against protesters, police and Ottawa's new firearms restrictions.

In the U.S, Boogaloos have recently been in the spotlight, after some showed up heavily armed at anti-lockdown and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. 

There are no reports of Boogaloos at Canadian protests. But online, the nascent movement has inspired at least two Facebook pages where followers have recently talked about killing protesters and RCMP officers alike. 

The Facebook pages identified by CBC News were created in the past six months and in that time grew to around 800 followers each. 

That kind of support is cause for concern, say experts like Alexander Reid Ross, a postdoctoral fellow with the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right in Portland, Ore.

"People need very little to do a whole lot of damage," Ross said.

A screenshot of a Canadian Boogaloo page on Facebook, which has since been taken down. (Facebook)

Ross said he started to see more activity by Canadians on sites frequented by Boogaloo supporters in the wake of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, and the resulting tighter restrictions on firearms.

While it is impossible to know where all of them come from, many of the people interacting with the Facebook pages list locations in Canada in their profiles. Others list locations in the U.S. or other countries.

The administrator of one page, who refused to be identified, told CBC News that nearly half of its followers were located in Canada. The page, which CBC News has decided not to name, has 854 followers and is managed by accounts in Canada, according to Facebook's transparency data.

Another page, the K/razy Kanucks Big Kanadian Igloo, had attracted nearly 800 followers before Facebook removed it last week, following an inquiry from CBC News, saying it contravened its community standards against violence and incitement.

The unnamed page, however, is still up and includes posts that threaten police and talk about harming protesters.

On June 13, one of page's moderators posted that "pink misting" protesters would "really slap," above a meme critical of protestors in Seattle's Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. Pink misting is slang for killing someone with an explosive or a sniper's bullet.

Another post links to a story about a 26-year-old woman killed in a police shooting in Edmundston, N.B., and the line, "This is why we need guns" — a reference to Canadians defending themselves against police.

While many of the posts on the pages viewed by CBC News were reshared from American groups, others discuss events in Canada.

Several were critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, objecting to the government's tougher gun rules or mocking his criticism of unconscious bias and anti-Black racism.

Others are critical of police or the government in general, including one post that jokingly referred to using "claymore Roombas" to blow up an RCMP armoured vehicle.

One post opposed the federal government's plan to accept more immigrants after the pandemic is over. Another criticized Chinese investors buying Canadian farmland.

Banned by Facebook

While some American Boogaloo supporters openly advocate for a second civil war in the U.S., the administrator who spoke to CBC said he thinks political change should follow the proper democratic process. He said his page is meant to be about memes and humour.

But Facebook says it is taking anything referring to the Boogaloo movement seriously.

"We continue to remove content using Boogaloo and related terms when accompanied by statements and images depicting armed violence," Facebook Canada spokeswoman Meg Sinclair said in a statement.

"We are also preventing these Pages and groups from being recommended on Facebook."

On Tuesday Facebook said it was banning all Boogaloo content. 

Facebook recently lost $56 billion in market value as advertisers like Mountain Equipment Co-op, Coca-Cola and Lululemon leave over concerns it isn't doing enough to police hate speech and disinformation.

On Reddit and Instragram, Canadian references to the Boogaloo movement are generally found on subreddits or accounts frequented by firearms enthusiasts. Some show photos of users posing with their firearms, and mentioning boogaloo.

Boogaloo supporters span a wide range of political ideologies according to Barbara Perry, a criminologist specializing in hate crime at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. (CBC)

Reddit spokesperson Sierra Gamelgaard said the platform has been banning Boogaloo-associated communities since spring.

"Our site-wide policies explicitly prohibit users and communities from posting content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence against groups of people or individuals," Gamelgaard said.

The RCMP won't say whether it is monitoring or investigating Boogaloo supporters in Canada.

"The RCMP does not investigate movements or ideologies, but will investigate the criminal activity of any individuals who threaten the safety and security of Canadians," said RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Caroline Duval in an email to CBC.

'Waiting for the boogaloo'

While memes and phrases referring to a "boogaloo," or second U.S. civil war, have been online for many years, the movement has gained prominence in the past few months.

In April, the Tech Transparency Project, a Washington-based group that studies the influence of technology on society, identified more than 125 Facebook groups tied to the movement, and found that more than 60 per cent of them had been created in the previous three months.

The group provided CBC News with examples of Canadian Boogaloo content it had identified, including a Facebook post in April from a Calgary gun store, The Shooting Edge, advertising a shotgun as "your favourite 12ga [gauge] BOOGALOO gun."

The store made the same post to Instagram in April, along with another about AK-47-themed T-shirts to wear while "waiting for the boogaloo."

Store owner J.R. Cox says the posts are satirical.

"The thing that we tend to do with our posts is we try not to take ourselves too seriously. We are not preparing for the end of the world and we're not preparing to get people ready to go to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban," he said.

The Shooting Edge, along with another Calgary gun shop, has taken the federal government to court over its move to ban assault-style rifles.

How the memes evolved

There's a mix of ideologies among people drawn to Boogaloo content, including some anarchists and left-wingers, but most are far-right or libertarian, according to Barbara Perry, director of Ontario Tech University's Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism

"The thing that binds them, regardless of what their orientation may be, is an anti-statist position. So we see in particular a real concern, a real reaction to gun legislation that restricts firearms," Perry said.

Perry said some supporters of existing far-right groups in Canada could be attracted to the Boogaloo movement.

"Some of them might be drifting towards the Boogaloo as they see an alignment there with their narratives."

Boogaloo supporters often use phrases that sound similar — like "big igloos" or "big luaus" — to evade social media monitoring. Some supporters have appeared at U.S. protests heavily armed and wearing Hawaiian shirts, a reference to "big luaus."

The colourful shirts are in line with the satirical or seemingly innocuous elements sometimes used by extremist groups, according to Kathleen Belew, an associate history professor at the University of Chicago and the author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

"It follows a much longer thread of organizing, also used by groups like the white power movement, the militia movement, which have used kind of public facing, sometimes funny and acceptable forms to mask what is an inherently violent ideology," said Belew.

Recent violence in the U.S. included the killing of two law enforcement officers in California, allegedly by a man who scrawled phrases related to the Boogaloo movement on a car, according to NBC

In May, three veterans were arrested in Las Vegas on terrorism and explosives charges. The FBI alleges they intended to disrupt protests over the death of George Floyd, and were all members of a Nevada Boogaloo Facebook group.

While Canadian supporters haven't gone that far, Perry says the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, job losses, businesses failing and racial tensions risk increasing Boogaloo support in Canada.

"You put all those layers together, it's sort of ripe for an acceleration of the movement, an exacerbation of the movement," she said.

"The fear is that they now take a page from the book of their American counterparts."