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Facebook removes hundreds of boogaloo accounts for ‘promoting violence’ in coordinated takedown

Facebook said it would also remove hundreds of accounts that supported or praised the violent network within the far-right movement.

Members of the boogaloo movement watch a demonstration near the BOK Center in Tulsa on June 20, 2020, ahead of President Trump’s rally there. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
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Facebook on Tuesday removed hundreds of accounts and groups associated with a violent network of the far-right “boogaloo” movement whose followers have been linked to violence that disrupted mostly peaceful protests around the United States.

Facebook said it was designating the faction of the boogaloo movement that advocates violence as a “dangerous organization” and had taken down 220 accounts, 28 pages, 106 groups and 95 accounts on Facebook-owned Instagram that were associated with it. The social media platform said it also had removed 400 more Facebook accounts and more than 100 additional groups that supported or praised the violent network.

Facebook’s move against the boogaloo movement came after federal prosecutors charged several adherents of the movement with crimes across the United States, including the murder of a security officer at a federal courthouse in Oakland, Calif., and a plot to use explosives at a demonstration in Las Vegas protesting the police killing of George Floyd.

As Trump warns of leftist violence, a dangerous threat emerges from the right-wing boogaloo movement

The loosely organized boogaloo movement — named after break dancing movie “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” from 1984 — has existed in some form for years but has come to the forefront of national awareness in the past month as unrest roiled the nation, first, during protests opposing stay-at-home orders across the country, and then as Black Lives Matter demonstrators protested the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

The boogaloos, or Boogaloo Bois as they are sometimes called, insist a second civil war is inevitable. The trademark Hawaiian shirts worn by some members came from an adaptation of the name “Big Luau” that is used by some supporters online.

Facebook said it has been investigating the movement for months and started connecting the online activity of the movement to real-world events at a gun rights rally in Virginia’s capital, Richmond, when members of the boogaloo movement showed up clad in the brightly patterned shirts.

“More recently, officials have identified violent adherents to the movement as those responsible for several attacks over the past few months,” the company wrote in a blog post. “These acts of real-world violence and our investigations into them are what led us to identify and designate this distinct network.”

Facebook’s team of 350 people that identifies and investigates hate groups and terrorist organizations on the site had already taken steps to remove more than 800 boogaloo-related posts for violating its policy against inciting violence. The company also had banned boogaloo posts with violent images and stopped promoting connected groups and pages.

Tuesday’s action — taking down and banning an entire network of violent boogaloo supporters — was a shift in the team’s strategy from just removing offending posts as they popped up. The ban was made easier by a policy tweak Facebook made last year that broadened its definition of dangerous groups to also include more-amorphous and loosely organized movements such as boogaloo.

Facebook said Tuesday’s action was prompted by federal criminal charges against boogaloo adherents and the realization that many violent boogaloo posts remained on the platform. The Washington Post chronicled the continued boogaloo presence on Facebook in a story last week.

And some boogaloo material will remain even now. Facebook noted its takedowns on Tuesday do not mean all boogaloo content is prohibited on its site — but any posts or symbols that are tied to or support the violent boogaloo network will be banned. Before they were banned, some Facebook groups connected to the movement had hundreds of thousands of followers. Facebook noted that not all of those people were violent participants or their supporters.

Social media, particularly Facebook, has been a powerful organizing tool for the boogaloo movement in the past year, said Devin Burghart, president at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a group that tracks far-right movements. He called Facebook’s action a “necessary but insufficient” response.

“Because they’ve been raised in the social media age, primarily, they are incredibly adept at skirting regulations that social media sites put in place,” he said of some boogaloo members. That’s how alternative names such as “Big Igloo” and “Big Luau” came to be — they are aliases members used online to avoid being caught by social media moderators.

Facebook’s ban is likely to slow boogaloo’s organizing, Burghart said, but members have already migrated to other social media networks where detecting them can be even harder. Those platforms include Gab, which is known for hosting far-right material, and Telegram and Discord, where organized groups mask themselves with private conversations.

A Facebook executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the company’s policy, acknowledged that the group often quickly changes its language and symbols, making tracking difficult. Facebook is preparing its team to be aware of quick shifts, the executive said.

“This is not a static problem that you fix the problem, then you’re done. It’s something that you have to do every single day,” said Jessica Stern, an expert on terrorism and a research professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.

Attorney General William P. Barr said in a memo last week that the government would create a task force to counter “anti-government extremists,” including those associated with the boogaloo movement, as well as those associated with the far-left antifa movement. President Trump and other government officials have pointed to antifa as a major instigator of violence at the mostly peaceful protests in the past month, but experts have said that antifa members were responsible for few incidents and that the government needs to devote more resources to investigate heavily armed right-wing extremist groups such as the boogaloos.

Facebook said it was not explicitly working with the task force but noted its general policy of working with law enforcement when requested or proactively when it detects violent posts that could cause real-world harm.

Federal prosecutors charged two boogaloo supporters, Steven Carrillo and Robert Justus, in the May 29 killing of a security guard at a federal courthouse in Oakland. Carrillo, who is accused of firing the fatal shots, allegedly drew the word “Boog” in blood on a stolen car. Federal prosecutors say Carrillo and Justus met through a boogaloo page on Facebook.

In Las Vegas, three men who prosecutors say are connected to the boogaloo movement are charged with conspiracy to damage and destroy by fire and explosive.

“They wanted to use the momentum of the George Floyd death in police custody in the City of Minneapolis to hopefully stir enough confusion and excitement, that others see the two explosions and police presence and begin to riot in the streets out of anger,” a federal criminal complaint read.

Men wearing Hawaiian shirts and carrying guns add a volatile new element to protests

Facebook said its takedown Tuesday was more coordinated than its usual enforcement measures and involved a large team within the company that focuses on identifying and banning terrorist and hate organizations. It was the second major action this month against right-wing extremists; earlier, the platform removed hundreds of accounts and pages associated with the extremist groups Proud Boys and American Guard. In March, Facebook removed dozens of accounts associated with the white supremacist group Northwest Front.

“As we do following other designations, we will now work to identify where to strengthen how we enforce our policy against this banned network and identify attempts by the violent U.S. anti-government network to return to our platform,” the company wrote in a post announcing its boogaloo takedown.

Trump has consistently, misleadingly blamed antifa as perpetrators of violence at the George Floyd protests. (Video: The Washington Post)