Day 6

How the Boogaloo movement rose from an internet joke to an armed movement in the U.S.

A loose collective known as the Boogaloo movement is united in a belief that a second U.S. civil war is coming — but with no unifying political ideology, the movement defies easy definition, says journalist Robert Evans.

Facebook moves to limit spread of Boogaloo groups after terrorism-related charges laid in Nevada case

Members of the Boogaloo movement attend a demonstration against the lockdown over concern about COVID-19 at the State House in Concord, N.H., April 18, 2020. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

A loose collective known as the Boogaloo movement is united in a belief that a second U.S. civil war is coming — but with no unifying political ideology, the movement defies easy definition, says journalist Robert Evans.

Its adherents are just as likely to support anti-racism protesters speaking out against police brutality, he said, as they are to support people decrying COVID-19 lockdowns to help further their cause.

"They're all kind of unified by their fascination with this kind of meme of preparing for a civil war in the United States — and as much as that, this idea of a real hatred of the police, of law enforcement, federal and local, and a desire to kind of do battle with the state," Evans, an investigative journalist for the website Bellingcat, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Who are the Boogaloo Boys?

The Boogaloo movement, sometimes known as the Boogaloo Boys or "Boogaloo Bois," is thought to take its name from the 1984 movie Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo — a sequel to the film Breakin' — serving as a coded reference to a "sequel" to the U.S. civil war, he said.

Evans says the term first bubbled up in the mid-2000s within gun enthusiast communities on niche sites like 4chan, but has become more common in the last year and a half, largely because of recruitment efforts on mainstream social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"I don't think it was actually a movement when it was on 4chan. I think it was a series of jokes. But I think people carried those jokes out onto social media and it started forming Facebook groups," he said.

"Facebook … allows huge communities to form, and recommends them to people. So like, folks who are interested in weapons or body armour and stuff start getting pushed into these communities."

The Tech Transparency Project, an advocacy group that calls on accountability for large tech companies, found over 125 Facebook groups affiliated with the movement in April with tens of thousands of members, many of them only joining in the preceding month.

A member of the Boogaloo Boys walks next to protesters demonstrating outside Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Metro Division 2 just outside of downtown Charlotte, N.C., on May 29. (Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)

While some Boogaloo promoters insist they aren't genuinely advocating for violence, officials say they have foiled bombing and shooting plots by people who have connections to the movement or at least used its terminology.

Three Nevada men with ties to right-wing extremists, who reportedly self-identified as members of the Boogaloo movement, were arrested on terrorism-related charges last week, according to the Associated Press.

Authorities say their plans constituted a conspiracy to spark violence during recent protests against coronavirus-related lockdowns in Las Vegas.

In January, the FBI arrested and charged three members of an alleged neo-Nazi group with conspiracy to commit murder that a former Manitoba reservist has been accused of recruiting for.

The three were allegedly preparing for "the collapse of the United States and subsequent race war," which they described as a "boogaloo," according to the affidavit.

What are they doing at George Floyd protests?

According to Evans, members within the movement have opposing views on the ongoing anti-black racism protests across the United States.

Protests have flared in the weeks after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were on the scene were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four were fired last week.

A Detroit police officer reads a sign that says 'The Boogaloo stands with George Floyd,' held by an armed man during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Detroit, Michigan, on May 30, 2020. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Some Boogaloo Boys, explained Evans, have called for violence against protesters that they described as looters and members of the anti-fascist or Antifa movement. Others pledged themselves — and their firearms — to protect protesters from the police.

While the group has been connected to anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic, Evans says they are "much more motivated by police violence," and have become even more galvanized by the Floyd protests.

Some, he explained, draw inspiration from white supremacists like Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people.

But they also trace it back to the 1993 Waco, Texas siege — that inspired McVeigh himself — which led to a standoff between law enforcement and a religious cult led by David Koresh. Following the 51-day standoff, some 75 members were found dead in the group's compound.

Evans, who described himself as "a believer in the Second Amendment," expressed hope after reports that some Boogaloo Boys stood with anti-black racism protesters in Minneapolis.

"Some of them showed up unarmed to protest and got rubber bulleted and stuff. And I think that being the victims of police violence like this around a bunch of protesters might actually have an effect of pushing these guys in a more productive political direction rather than kind of a nihilistic one," he said.

What is Facebook's role in their rise to popularity?

The Boogaloo movement blossomed in size on Facebook, says Evans, because the social network's algorithms push users to increasingly radicalized communities in the interest of higher engagement — and increased ad revenue.

Facebook executives largely ignored the findings of an internal 2018 study that found its algorithm recommended users to increasingly polarizing and politically divisive communities, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On May 1, Facebook banned the term "Boogaloo" from posts when used in conjunction with posts depicting or calling for violence.

When asked what effect the move had, Evans replied: "None whatsoever."

He criticized Facebook for having a lenient policy on what constitutes calls for violence, and said groups have evolved their language to avoid the bans.

Facebook went further following the charges against the Nevada men, pledging on Thursday to no longer recommend groups associated with the term "Boogaloo" to members of similar associations.

"We continue to remove content using Boogaloo and related terms when accompanied by statements and images depicting armed violence. We are also preventing these pages and groups from being recommended on Facebook," a spokesperson for Facebook told Day 6.

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from the Associated Press and Reuters. Produced by Pedro Sanchez.

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  • This story has been updated to include additional details about the 1993 Waco, Texas siege.
    Jun 11, 2020 1:38 PM ET