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Civil War 2.0

On The Boogaloo Bois, Reactionary Accelerationism and Coalition Building

Magnus Panvidya, a member of the Boogaloo Boys, on The Jimmy Dore Show.

On May 29, 2020, in the wake of the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstration marched about a half-mile from Oakland’s Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. Around ten o’clock at night outside the federal building, as the protest continued close by, bullets spewed from a moving vehicle striking security personnel and killing one.

About a week later, on June 6, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies were engaged in a firefight and attacked with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), claiming the life of one deputy. Shortly after, active duty U.S. Air Force sergeant and self-identified libertarian Steven Carrillo was arrested and charged for the pair of attacks. Five days later a second suspect, Robert Justus Jr., turned himself over to authorities. Both suspects have since pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to federal authorities, it appears the attacks were launched during the BLM protests to deflect suspicions or trigger a violent response against demonstrators. Investigators also found the word “Boog” scrawled in blood on the stolen vehicle used by Carillo, along with a Hawaiian-themed patch. Authorities later announced that Carillo and Justus were linked to a group known as the Boogaloo bois.

Relatively unknown at the time, the Boogaloo bois were just beginning to drum up media curiosity for their armed presence and eccentric appearance at BLM demonstrations. Boogaloo’s obscurity would later change as the bois’ showing at nationwide protests and media coverage continued.

While earning analysis over the past year, pinning down the Boog’s ideology has proven difficult for some journalists. At a glance, it appears that the Boogaloo bois aren’t concerned with ideological consistency. But sometimes missed in analysis are the roots of the broader concept that holds the movement together. Also largely left out is how the Boogs use public relations spin and populist rhetoric to camouflage their core belief.

Some on the American left have also misinterpreted the Boogaloo bois unifying principle and the foundation of their beliefs. While a small segment on the left urges to join with masked far-right accelerationism, the Boogs’ actions, rhetoric, and unifying values should remind those calling for an alliance to instead focus on organizing alienated workers and standing unconditionally with dehumanized communities.

Boogaloo’s Birth

The Boogaloo bois are described as an eclectic, loosely-organized, and decentralized far-right movement that traces its roots to an online subculture of shitposters, gun-enthusiasts, white supremacists, and “anti-statists.” Like other far-right factions — such as QAnon — the Boogaloo bois emerged from 4chan, specifically under the /k/ message board devoted to gun ownership where the term “Boogaloo” was first coined in 2012.

The group’s namesake stems from absurdist internet humor and ironically references the 1984 musical breakdancing film featuring rapper Ice T, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” In the context of the group’s language, the term “Boogaloo” — along with “Big Igloo” and “Big Luau” — is a coded reference to impending Helter Skelter, or frenzied racialized violence to accelerate a second American civil war. They call it “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

After stewing on the internet’s abyss and then moving to mainstream platforms like Facebook and Discord, the Boogs brought their online presence to “real life” by joining a pro-2nd Amendment rally at the Virginia State Capitol in January 2020. The bois earned coverage and social media attention for modeling Hawaiian shirts and tactical vests while carrying kitted-out AR-15s, AK-47s, and bullpup rifles.

Following the first public Boog offline action, a major catalyst for growth in activity can be traced to the March 12, 2020 police murder of 21-year-old Boogaloo boi Duncan Lemp — also associated with the far-right militia group the Three Percenters. After posting images on Instagram of armed individuals captioned with a Boogaloo reference, authorities issued a warrant citing Lemp for violating a prior court order that restricted his ownership of firearms before the age of 30.

Around four in the morning, Montgomery County Police’s SWAT unit executed a no-knock raid of Lemp’s Maryland home. Officials claimed the raid led to a confrontation between police and Lemp and that the house was booby-trapped. The Lemp family’s legal team presented a different case.

While Lemp remains a martyr to the Boogs, it’s revealing that the group pays little homage to the circumstances behind the no-knock raid and police murder of Breonna Taylor, which occurred the following day on March 13.

Hibiscus Flowers & Helter Skelter

Following Lemp’s murder, the group’s rhetoric continued into violent fantasy and materialized into further offline action.

In early April, Texas Boog Aaron Swenson allegedly threatened to hunt down and kill cops on a Facebook live stream. After several emergency calls, Texarkana police tracked down Swenson, leading to his surrender after a high-speed chase. Swenson previously shared violent memes and messages in private Boogaloo groups after becoming distraught over the death of Lemp.

In late May — around the same time as the Carillo and Justus attacks — Ivan Hunter, a self-proclaimed “leader of the south Texas Boogaloo bois,” was arrested for allegedly dispensing thirteen rounds from an assault rifle at Minneapolis’s third police precinct after demonstrators sieged and razed the building.

Following his arrest, investigators discovered private messages between Hunter and Carillo strategizing and boasting about their actions. Hunter messaged Carillo to “go for police buildings.” Carillo replied, “I did better,” referencing his alleged attack in California.

According to the Associated Press, on May 30, three Boogaloos were arrested and charged for conspiracy to incite violence and commit acts of terrorism at a BLM demonstration in Las Vegas. Prior to their arrest, the trio had reportedly plotted to sabotage an electrical substation, yet told a confidential informant that the focus had switched to BLM protests.

The three were detained and found in possession of Molotov cocktails and an unregistered firearm. Investigators suspect that the group was either attempting to attack BLM demonstrators or law enforcement to trigger a violent response against demonstrators.

Like Carillo — and membership among some other far-right factions — all three were current or former members of the U.S. military. Military service is often a prerequisite shared in Boogaloo circles, more so than other far-right factions, as pointed out in the Daily Beast by Dr. Megan Squire who researches online extremism at Elon University.

The violent plots continued into early October 2020, when several Boogaloo members were implicated in the conspiracy to kidnap and murder Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The plotters’ motive stemmed from perceived government tyranny regarding COVID-19 lockdowns and public health protocols.

According to an NBC social media audit of the plotters’ accounts, Brandon Caserta had posted references to Boogaloo and himself modeling a Hawaiian shirt. Similarly, three of the alleged plotters were “regulars” at Boogaloo and anti-lockdown rallies, according to the Washington Post.

Boogaloos are also linked to the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in which some participants were recorded hoping to commit executions of opposition lawmakers. The attempted coup was attended by factions across the far-right, yet Virginian Boog Mike Dunn claimed that he led several groups that participated in the siege.

Though some bois act on a desire to accelerate unrest into a civil war, others share violent fantasies and coordinate public relations campaigns in private messages. In October of last year, Unicorn Riot, an independent left-wing reporting collective, leaked a duo of Boogaloo Discord servers that contained thousands of private messages. The servers, Patriot Wave and Boojahideens of Liberty, illuminate where the Boogs’ common political roots, fantasies, and rhetoric meet their actions.

In the Patriot Wave Discord server, under the group’s channel “boogaloo-talk,” one user shares blueprints of how to make a “fence charge,” or an IED. Another user shares an infographic on designing a fortified machine gun position. Further along in the channel discussion — after users bicker over the optics of killing civilians and law enforcement — one user argues, “people HAVE to die.”

Though some Boogs disavow killing civilians, the vast majority of posters endorse the targeting of cops and federal agents, or “alphabet bois,” to trigger responses that they hope will accelerate toward “the Big Luau.”

The Boojahideens of Liberty server reiterates similar sentiments, along with overtly racist humor. One user posts a meme glorifying George Zimmerman and another user posts a meme commemorating David Koresh’s Waco, Texas armed standoff with federal authorities, a common obsession among sections of the far-right. Another lays out how a combination of “ammonia and bleach,” a mustard gas-like chemical weapon, can be used to incapacitate law enforcement. Users similarly posted infographics of how to make IEDs and other explosives.

Last January, Left Coast Right Watch, an outlet that covers politics and extremism, leaked Discord messages from another private Boogaloo server. The Citizen’s Liberty Organization public relations channel gives more insight into the Boog’s perception savvy approach.

For example, one user lays out a broad communications strategy, including a recruitment pamphlet to pass out at protests. The user writes, “I would probably stay away from the B [Boogaloo] word though. It would need something clearly peaceful but firm, that detaches the movement from things that the media that [sic] tries to pin it with.”

The user continues, “Anything referencing the B word, death, violence, and so on is to be avoided. You don’t win people over by telling them you’re gonna kill a bunch of people.” Another user chimes in on the discussion, “We need to steer from violence as much as possible. At least in text and to the public.”

In public statements, the group’s unofficial leaders apply this detached approach to veil fantasies of civil war and accelerating chaotic conditions. Boog Tim Teagan told the Lansing State Journal, the Boogaloo bois want to restore freedom and unite people together. “We can only have a good future through strength and unity,” Teagan said at a Michigan anti-lockdown rally.

In a Vice profile, Mike Dunn — a former U.S. Marine and corrections officer, who claimed to lead several groups in the U.S. Capitol insurrection — states, “We [Boogaloo] stand for individual freedom for all and we’re willing to defend anyone’s rights to those freedoms.” Dunn continued to decry police officers in the piece, but a New York Times review of BLM protest footage shows him shaking hands and chumming around with law enforcement.

In reference to Boogaloo’s military connection and their readiness to confront the police, Dunn stated, “We have the upper hand.” “A lot of the guys have knowledge that your normal civilians do not have. Police officers are not used to combating that kind of knowledge,” Dunn said.

In another interview aired on ABC, when pressed on the issue of Boogaloo violence — specifically the Carillo attacks — a boi who calls himself “Shifty” disavows them as “lone wolves.” He continues, “We do not condone violence or his actions. They were disgusting. He was not doing them in the defense of anyone’s individual liberty.”

The façade alluding to unity and protecting liberty is usually dropped when referencing another martyr of the Boogaloo’s crusade, Kyle Rittenhouse. During the Kenosha, Wisconsin uprisings, Rittenhouse — alleged to have shot and killed two BLM demonstrators — was photographed before the murders with armed Boog boi Ryan Balch. At least a dozen other Boogaloo bois were also documented standing with other far-right groups during the Kenosha demonstrations taunting BLM demonstrators and allegedly protecting property.

Rittenhouse isn’t a known member of the Boogs and his only tie to the group is through Balch, however, the bois often privately and publicly express support for him. A Boog who goes by “Magnus Panvidya” — a self-described “right-wing anarchist” who recently appeared on The Jimmy Dore Show to promote “solidarity” between the left and the far-right — tweeted support for Rittenhouse prior to the interview.

Panvidya also reiterated unifying populist rhetoric at a press conference, stating, “BLM, Antifa, Boogaloo, and rightwing militias are the antibodies, not the disease that is destroying our country. The disease is a country run by two corrupt political parties that do not care about you. So deeply incestuous with corporations that they are indistinguishable from each other.”

Again, the Boogaloo bois and right-wing militias were claimed to be protecting corporate property and businesses throughout BLM demonstrations.

In private discourse and in public statements, many do genuinely come off as simply gun-loving, government-hating, and small business-centered libertarians. Some disavow those who unironically post arguments in favor of “national socialism” and white supremacist ideals. This internal ideological difference is what makes Boogaloo’s political commitments tricky to pin down for some.

With that said, labeling the Boogaloo bois’ internal divisions as linked to specific right-wing tendencies is arbitrary. To understand the bois’ galvanizing world view, it’s paramount to recognize the reactionary accelerationist politics inherent in the commonly-held goal of advancing chaotic tension to spark an impending civil war.

Aloha Accelerationism

In the Atlantic, Michael J. Mooney correctly identifies Boogaloo’s origins and presents the bois as expressing incoherency due to apparent internal divisions. There is proof of that at face value, but Mooney glosses over the ideological roots in the Boogs’ shared fantasy of accelerating civil war. Looking at the evolution and the tactics of far-right accelerationism gives perspective on the Boogaloo bois’ common cause.

In a 2019 Vox piece, correspondent Zach Beauchamp offers a brief overview of accelerationism and draws connections to the current iteration of the far-right. Beauchamp writes, “Accelerationists reject any effort to seize political power through the ballot box, dismissing the alt-right’s attempts to engage in mass politics as pointless. If one votes, one should vote for the most extreme candidate, left or right, to intensify points of political and social conflict within Western societies.”

Beauchamp continues, “Their preferred tactic for heightening these contradictions, however, is not voting, but violence — attacking racial minorities and Jews as a way of bringing us closer to a race war, and using firearms to spark divisive fights over gun control. The ultimate goal is to collapse the government itself; they hope for a white-dominated future after that.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center neatly sums up the underpinnings of the far-right version of accelerationist politics, “Other ideological variants of accelerationism seek to push beyond capitalism by bringing it to its most oppressive and divisive form, prompting a movement to build a just economic system in response. In the case of white supremacists, the accelerationist set sees modern society as irredeemable and believes it should be pushed to collapse so a fascist society built on ethnonationalism can take its place. What defines white supremacist accelerationists is their belief that violence is the only way to pursue their political goals. To put it most simply, accelerationists embrace terrorism.”

The genesis of reactionary accelerationist politics dates to the era of Nazi Brownshirts and Mussolini. Four weeks after Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of the Weimar Republic in 1933, fascist thugs torched the Reichstag. The arson was blamed on political opposition and the chaos was used to consolidate power by manipulating public opinion through fear. As Nazi barbarism advanced, the Brownshirts committed violent attacks and terrorism against those deemed undesirable, accelerating frenzied conditions that enabled the Nazis’ support to fester.

Mussolini similarly inspired mayhem and called on his mob of Blackshirts to seize the levers of state power, culminating in a successful fascist insurrection in 1922. Infamously known as the March on Rome, the successful fascist revolution inspired the Nazis’ failed Beer Hall Putsch the following year.

By employing accelerationist tactics of generating chaotic conditions through violence and pushing liberal democracies to the brink of collapse, the founders of fascism would cement their power and create a legacy for future far-right movements. But the reactionary accelerationist playbook would cloak itself and evolve as the international far-right held little formal recognition of state power following its “defeat” in 1945.

In Italy’s Years of Lead, an era of political and state-sponsored terrorism that took place from the late 1960s to the 1980s, far-right accelerationism progressed. Coming out of the Years of Lead was the Strategy of Tension, which employed arsons, bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations as of way of heightening societal collapse, manipulating public opinion through terrorism, and scapegoating political opposition.

The Italian far-right, along with state actors, often feigned as left-wing groups and carried out violence against law enforcement and kidnapped public officials, which led to repression against the far-right’s political opposition. Though failing to collapse society, the far-right’s use of the Strategy of Tension led to the arrests and murders of thousands that opposed them.

In the modern context, a 1978 American novel gave rise to far-right accelerationism and invigorated white supremacist groups. The Turner Diaries — a reactionary fantasy novel depicting a white supremacist revolution at the U.S. Capitol in which Jews, people of color, and political opposition (civilian and elected) are exterminated — has been widely cited as inspiring numerous far-right groups and terrorists. The ideas housed in the reactionary fantasy would evolve into far-right manifestos and popular writings, which gained further traction in the Reagan-era.

In the 1980s, American Nazi Party member James Mason advanced the case for guerrilla warfare, assassinations, and mass killings to accelerate disintegration. The writings were popularized and republished on the now-defunct Iron March forum, along with neo-nazi outlets Stormfront and the Daily Stormer. Neo-nazi groups, like Atomwaffen, have cited Mason’s writings as a political program.

The most horrific standing example materialized after the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand mosque massacre. Before murdering fifty-one people and wounding another forty-nine, white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant — influenced by Mason’s writings — wrote a section in his manifesto, titled, “Destabilization and Accelerationism: Tactics For Victory.” Tarrant makes the case for initially cloaking white identity terrorism and then acting to usher in Helter Skelter.

Tarrant revealingly writes, “Whilst we may use edgy humour and memes in the vanguard stage, and to attract a young audience, eventually we will need to show the reality of our thoughts and our more serious intents and wishes for the future. For now we appeal to the anger and black comedic nature of the present, but eventually we will need to show the warmth and genuine love we have for our [white] people.”

Like the Boogs, Tarrant was attempting to inspire his version of a “Boogaloo.” Unlike Tarrant’s vicious acts and the tactics espoused in Mason’s heinous writings, the Boogs are not known to have targeted civilians directly, although it is certainly debated in online spaces. With that said, the Boogs’ method of attacking law enforcement to inspire a violent response and repression against their political opponents resembles the Strategy of Tension and the tactics of the Italian far-right in the Years of Lead.

As Tarrant lays out — since building a following based on dark, online, and reactionary humor — the Boogs are advancing past the “vanguard stage” into action. By attacking law enforcement and attempting to escalate confrontations between BLM demonstrators and their state and far-right opponents, the Boogaloo bois’ reactionary accelerationism is a new, veiled spin on ginning up violence and repression against their enemies.

Solidarity Too, Rejecting An Electric Boogaloo

The Boogs understand a civil war that will bring about mass violence and suffering — especially against marginalized Black and Brown people — is a hard sell. To cloak the unifying reactionary accelerationist cause, the bois excitedly skew how they’re perceived, with an inviting Hawaiian shirt and libertarian rhetoric. Though unified in softening the core belief of advancing violent conditions necessary for Helter Skelter, the Boogs are also joined in opposing the values of collective ownership, working-class fraternity, and egalitarian racial solidarity.

As far-right accelerationism and neo-fascism continue to rise, and neoliberal, austerity economics continue to plague everyday people, some purportedly on the left push for alliances with neoliberalism’s critics on the right.

Commentator Tim Black offers perspective on the organizing question and rejects this alliance. Black asserts that allying with the Boogs will create a partnership with white supremacy and that the left shouldn’t organize with groups rooted in reactionary violence and coded politics.

In Black’s argument, he condemns the bois’ masked politics, stating, “The Boogaloo bois are like a soft Klan.” He continues to scorn some white leftists for seeking an alliance, “Time after time, American progressives, white American progressives…so easily throw us [Black people] to the wolves in order to accommodate their racist or bigoted brothers…This is another example.” Though speaking broadly, Black is referencing a segment of the white American left that is often too comfortable with white supremacy.

“Why would progressives want to sacrifice an alliance with Black people for these guys?” Black inquires and explains further, “Don’t you support Black folks in America fight for civil rights, an end to discrimination, and the fight against anti-blackness? That’s the problem with progressives. We need to come together, but not with racists or anti-semites.”

Wrapping up his argument, Black continues, “For us to unite with them, they would have to absolve all those affiliations.” Black’s argument advances that if individual Boogs were concerned with the struggle of Black people they should “leave the organization” and denounce it due to its place within the white supremacist milieu. He concludes that this should be a “demand” placed on Boogaloo bois if the left mistakenly pursues that alliance.

Black’s commentary is an important point for the white American left to remember in building a working-class movement.

People of color are disproportionately working class and are an essential voice within the American left’s vision for a workers’ movement. While seeking to unite and build solidarity based on class politics, the struggle of workers of color against enduring white supremacy is too vivid to ignore. Building a working-class coalition requires us to fight white supremacy, an intrinsic part of the capitalist system and the U.S.’s economic evolution.

The class-conscious left cannot build power or maintain credibility by remaining willingly absent in confronting white supremacy and simultaneously uniting with violent white reactionaries. Choosing to align with white reactionaries over workers of color signals a worrisome comfortability with white supremacy, a fundamental misunderstanding of class politics, and ignorance behind the core structural beliefs of far-right tendencies.

The Boogs’ penchant for feigning solidarity with Black people is demonstrated by their willingness to embrace a racially-sparked second civil war as well as tactics that escalate conflict between BLM and the police. While signaling populist ideals, it’s also evident Boogs aren’t concerned with the left’s egalitarian goals.

Rather, the Boogaloo bois’ broad ideological commitments stem from a disempowered white identity and small property-owner mindset, which leads to violent reaction in times of political instability and economic crisis. While unifying behind and cloaking violent accelerationist reaction, the Boogs’ internal divisions also share the values of rigid social hierarchy, private property, and white identitarian signifiers. The bois ultimately seek to employ an opportunistic, cynical strategy of luring in the impressionable and exploiting them to build power.

The Boogs are not a viable alliance for the left. To build a working-class movement, white supremacy must be relentlessly confronted and the politics of reactionary accelerationism must be rejected. Alienating the Boogaloo bois by standing with and organizing oppressed people is a far better avenue for building a coalition that advances the left’s common cause.

Jack Delaney is a former policy analyst. He worked on issues relating to health care, disability, and labor policy, and is a member of the National Writers Union. 

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