What is the ‘Boogaloo’ movement?

A new far-right movement may be stoking tensions in US protests. Who are its adherents, and what do they want?

Protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Detroit
Armed men, one carrying a 'The Boogaloo stands with George Floyd' sign, are seen in Detroit, Michigan as protesters there rally against the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the United States [Rebecca Cook/Reuters]

A new movement of armed, far-right adherents is gaining attention in the United States, not just for its seemingly strange name, but for its alleged links to the violence that has taken place across the country following largely peaceful protests over police brutality.

Adherents of the loosely organised “Boogaloo” movement appear to believe in armed, anti-government actions that could lead to a second US civil war.

While it is impossible, authorities say, to point to a singular group for the unrest that has come as part of protests against the police killing of George Floyd, officials claim that much of the violence can be pinned on “outside agitators” who are seeking to distract from the main message of the demonstrations. 

One movement authorities have blamed is the Boogaloo movement. On June 4, three men who allegedly belong to the Boogaloo movement were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, on charges related to “terrorism” and involving plots to accelerate violence at protests.

What’s in the name?

The “Boogaloo” movement, a newcomer grouping, is hard to label but exists largely on the far-right of the political spectrum, and has aims to accelerate the US towards a second civil war.

Its members, known as “Boogaloo Boys” or “Boogaloo Bois”, are typically seen with assault rifles and tactical gear. Some adherents of the movement have also been spotted in Hawaiian shirts in recent days, according to reports, though not all wear them. 

There are examples of adherents claiming they want to support protesters in the face of heavily armoured police, while others appear to have connections to “extremist ideology”, according to reports. 

The loose movement borrows its name from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, a poorly-received 1980s sequel film that is regarded as nearly identical to the first. 

The term “Electric Boogaloo” has come to be used to describe things of low quality, especially on message boards and social media. “Electric Boogaloo” is not commonly used in a political or violent fashion by most. 

Watch: All four men charged in George Floyd case

But some far-right elements use it as a code word for a second civil war, presumably as a sequel to the first. The use of the term seems to have gained prominence among some with far-right views around October 2019.

“A range of boogaloo-related phrases also emerged this year, as the term became more popular, including: ‘showing up for the boogaloo,’ ‘when the boogaloo hits,’ ‘being boogaloo ready’ and ‘bring on the boogaloo’, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish NGO based in the US that tracks the far-right, wrote in a report on the movement. 

“Big Luau” is another term reportedly used by some in the movement, which has mixed with another symbol that has emerged: an igloo. 

As watchdog groups and experts point out, however, not all Boogaloo adherents use these symbols.

Lockdown protests

The phrase “Electric Boogaloo” has also become a common platform among some individuals involved in armed protests against stay-at-home orders.

Like other movements that once largely inhabited corners of the internet, it has seized on the social unrest and economic calamity caused by the coronavirus pandemic to publicise its violent messages.

The pandemic became a catalyst for the “boogaloo” movement because the stay-at-home orders “put a stressor on a lot of very unhappy people,” JJ MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, told the Associated Press news agency.

MacNab said the movement’s rhetoric goes beyond discussions about fighting virus restrictions – which many protesters brand as “tyranny” – to talking about killing FBI agents or police officers “to get the war going”. 

An April 22 report by the Tech Transparency Project, which tracks technology companies, found 125 Facebook “boogaloo”-related groups that had attracted tens of thousands of members in the previous 30 days. The project pointed to the coronavirus crisis as a driving factor. 

Members of the “Boogaloo” movement, attend a demonstration against the coronavirus lockdown in Concord, New Hampshire [Michael Dwyer/AP Photo] 

“Some boogaloo supporters see the public health lockdowns and other directives by states and cities across the country as a violation of their rights, and they’re aiming to harness public frustration at such measures to rally and attract new followers to their cause,” the project’s report said. 

In April, armed demonstrators passed out “Liberty or Boogaloo” fliers at a statehouse protest in Concord, New Hampshire.

A May 9 demonstration in Raleigh, North Carolina, promoted by a Facebook group called “Blue Igloo” –  a derivation of the term – led to a police investigation of a confrontation between an armed protester and a couple pushing a stroller.

Further, it is unknown whether the Boogaloo movement has a unifying ideology. Purported members have been seen at protests bearing signs saying “The Boogaloo stands with George Floyd”. While many far-right groups have a supremacist element, it isn’t always the case.

“Care must be taken when evaluating boogaloo-as-civil-war references, as some people – even those in extremist movements – still use the phrase jokingly, or to mock some of the more fanatical or gung-ho adherents of their own movement”, the ADL wrote. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies