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Prosecutors claim that a ‘boogaloo’ killed two cops. What’s a boogaloo?

The loosely organized far-right movement is associated with a distinctive look and discordant politics

Open Carry Texas protesters, some sporting Jolly Roger patches and Hawaiian shirts, outside a bar in Odessa, Tex., on June 6. (Eli Hartman/AP)

On Tuesday, prosecutors linked Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo, who has been charged with murdering a Santa Cruz, Calif., sheriff and a federal protective officer, to the far-right boogaloo movement. Most Americans don’t have any familiarity with so-called boogaloos, who have gained notoriety for their role in the lockdown protests and protests following the killing of George Floyd. Here’s what you need to know.

Boogaloos love gun rights and the right to be left alone

The boogaloo movement is associated with a distinctive look and discordant politics. In April, boogaloos appeared at protests in Hawaiian shirts and light infantry attire accessorized with surfing and white-nationalist paraphernalia as well as semiautomatic rifles. Yet the boogaloos first appeared online.

Our research group studies extremism and polarization on the Internet, from the anti-vaccination movement to the Islamic State to white nationalists. We have been tracking the boogaloo movement for about a year. In that time, it has grown significantly. As the graph below shows, the number of individuals following boogaloo pages on Facebook has grown by over 50 percent in the past year, with the growth rate increasing in recent months.

Boogaloos value individualism and the freedom to be left alone. They and other right-wing extremists wield these values in defense of the Second Amendment and often in defense of racism. They tend to be suspicious of both collective and public means of control, surveillance and policing. For boogaloos, the right to possess, use, discuss and parade with firearms is fundamental. Being seen in public with firearms is both a political performance of their First and Second Amendment rights and an expression of their personal identities.

The boogaloos started as an online movement — and that’s important

The fact that the boogaloos first formed online may help explain why they look, act and sound so different from traditional militias and other extremists. They are less an organized movement than an expression of a particular meme culture, which builds on a weapons and ammunition bulletin board on the 4chan social platform and icons from shooter video games such as Fallout and Call of Duty. In real life, they wear clothes and gear that mash together first responder, light infantry, surfer, hunter and weekend camping trip attire, and they often customize their weapons to express technical competence and individuality.

They don’t have a clear partisan base and often ridicule both parties and their leaders, including President Trump. Our research suggests that they come from diverse backgrounds and express a mixture of conservative, libertarian and nihilistic ideologies. Boogaloos counter accusations that they are white nationalists by avowing the Second Amendment rights of all and emphasizing the few boogaloos from minority communities.

The word “boogaloo” is a coded reference to the movement’s belief in a coming U.S. civil war and the inevitable collapse of society. Members of the boogaloo movement call themselves boogies, boojahideen, boogs and a range of other facetious names depending on how they choose to represent their civil-war-prep aesthetic.

The boogaloo movement has had links with pro-gun “patriot” militias. As recently as January, boogaloos marched with groups including the Three Percenters, the Sons of Liberty and the Oath Keepers to oppose gun-control legislation in Virginia. However, boogaloos’ online rhetoric is much less weighty than that of traditional militias, which tend to organize around core political objectives. While boogaloos promote stockpiling guns, tactical gear and DIY weapons in preparation for society’s collapse, they typically talk about that collapse as a “Zombieland”-style apocalyptic cookout.

Even so, the boogaloos are active on various social media platforms and regularly engage online with other extremist groups. The diagram below maps the network formed by online links between boogaloo pages and more traditional right-wing militia pages on Facebook; pages near the center are more well connected to other pages than those in the periphery. The boogaloo pages, such as Appalachistan Boojahideen and Big Kahuna’s Big Luau, are densely connected toward the center, while a few traditional militias, such as chapters of the Three Percenters and the Sons of Liberty, are more peripheral, illustrating the separation between these movements’ online presence.

It’s also possible to see which outside sites boogaloo and militia pages often link to. They mostly refer to major news sites, including CBS, ABC and The Washington Post, but link to fringe and unreliable news sites such as Zero Hedge, Breitbart and RT on the periphery. Red nodes show the extent to which boogaloos on Facebook link to other social media and content-sharing platforms, such as MeWe and Discord, which often host “backup” pages in case Facebook shuts down pages on its platform.

The protests are splitting the boogaloos from militias and dividing boogaloos themselves

The recent protests have deepened fault lines between boogaloos and more-traditional militias. While militias mostly oppose Black Lives Matter and support the current administration, boogaloos are split. On May 30, a boogaloo page with over 200,000 likes shared photos of its members protesting police brutality alongside BLM activists in Virginia and Minneapolis, while other popular boogaloo pages shared photos of their members “protecting” protesters from the police by attending rallies. However, on May 31, a different boogaloo page posted that its members were standing by and ready to shoot any “rioters” who came to the suburbs. Other pages promoted the conspiracy theory that billionaire George Soros is paying protesters, while three boogaloos were arrested for attempting to bomb last week’s protest in Las Vegas.

The revelation that a man associated with the boogaloos has been charged with murdering a sheriff and a federal officer will certainly increase the interest of law enforcement officials in the movement. The boogaloos’ lack of leadership and organization makes it harder to predict whether the arrests will widen the existing divisions in the movement itself or lead to greater unity.

Rhys Leahy is a researcher at George Washington University.

Nicolás Velásquez Hernandez is a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University.

Yonatan Lupu is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.