Guns, memes and dreams of civil war: The background of the Boogaloo

“Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”

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On May 28th of last year, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests touched off by the police killing of George Floyd in the city, Minneapolis’ 3rd Police Precinct was burned to the ground. Many commentators, including the former U.S. president and the governor of Minnesota, blamed ‘far left’ protesters or ‘antifa’ for the blaze.

As we learned much later, the arson is alleged to have been the work of at least 4 people, one of whom, Ivan Harrison Hunter, is a self-proclaimed member of a loosely affiliated far right group, the Boogaloo Bois. The 26 year old is accused of driving 1200 miles from his home in south Texas to Minnesota with the seeming aim of creating chaos.

According to a press release from the U.S. Justice Department, Hunter, 26, was arrested on October 21st in San Antonio and charged with, among other things, travelling across state lines to participate in a riot. Cited as evidence in the release was a video of a person alleged to be Hunter firing thirteen rounds into the 3rd precinct while what were described as looters were still inside the burning building. Shell casings found at the scene from a rifle like the one he owns were also said by authorities to corroborate the charges.

This wasn’t the only arrest of a person claiming to represent the Boogaloos during the summer protests, let alone the most disturbing one. The group, or at least some of those who claim to be part of it, has evolved from its origins as a meme, ‘Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo’ (itself a play on the title of the sequel to the 1984 movie “Breakin”) on 4Chan’s /k/ board, an already strange and often racist place devoted to discussions of firearms, military history and other weapons like combat knives.

Although numerous people who post to online Boogaloo groups and boards, which also change the name to similar sounding ones like ‘Big Luau’ and ‘Big Igloo’ to aid in the creation of new memes and stay ahead of purges by internet service providers and social media giants like Facebook, have ties to white supremacy, and at least some in the movement are open Neo-Nazis, those that seek to represent them in the real world, like Magnus Panvidya, are now presenting themselves as anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ libertarians.

In a nutshell, Michigan based Panvidya, who describes himself as an anarcho-capitalist, claims the Boogaloo’s main similarity to the far right militias that came before them and who they have associated with is their hatred of government, most visible in day to day life in the form of law enforcement. There seems to be an effort underway by those who want to speak for the still mostly online movement to walk back the open calls for war that are part of its origin story and likely motivated people accused of crimes like Harrison Hunter.

Hunter texted another self-proclaimed Boogaloo, Steven Carillo, after leaving the burning 3rd Precinct in late May, advising him to target buildings used by police.

Carillo, 32, who had made his way from Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, California and was already engaged in his own violent rampage in Oakland that Thursday reportedly replied, “I did better lol.”

The air force Sergeant was later charged with murdering two people, one a security guard at The Oakland Federal Building and the other a policeman he is said to have ambushed in his car, with Carrillo allegedly shooting at sheriff’s deputies and throwing explosives during the attack. Another man, Robert Alvin Justus Jr, known to share Boogaloo memes online, also faces federal charges; he is accused of driving the vehicle during the Federal Building attack, which also injured another guard.

Both incidents were also unfairly associated by many in media with BLM protests that were presumably used by these men as cover for their alleged crimes.

One of the most alarming things about the case is the fact that Carrilo was a military policeman employed by the air force and was a team leader of the Phoenix Ravens, an elite unit “charged with providing security to airlift and tanker aircraft traveling through highly dangerous areas.”

The age of people like Hunter and Carrillo and the online in-joke meme culture of the Boogaloo movement, in general, makes it more perplexing and in many ways more threatening than the provocations of more middle aged groups influenced by gang culture like the Proud Boys.

Although many of those who claim to speak for the Boogaloo movement say that they support BLM, it does seem that those who acted at the time saw the summer protests as an opportunity to work toward their wider ‘accelerationalist’ goal of creating widespread civil unrest, as Carillo reportedly wrote before his violent spree, “Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”

The idea of accelerationism is also usually associated with white supremacists, including the attacker who killed 11 at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October of 2018 and is said to be central to the manifesto of the Australian man who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in March the following year.

There was also a t-shirt for sale online with a photograph of the man who killed 1 person and injured 3 others in the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California with the word ‘Boogaloo’ underneath it.

One major aspect of the Boogaloo movement that has manifested in real life but has been overshadowed by the actions of Hunter and Carillo, is the involvement of members in earlier (and still ongoing) protests around public health mandates throughout the United States. Unless you knew how to spot them, which isn’t hard considering that they also wear uniforms usually consisting of body armor, helmets or balaclavas (the latter to represent ‘Big Igloo’) and Hawaiian shirts, which I don’t think I did at the time, you might have marveled at the strange level of cosplaying at work on the far right.

Not only were Boogaloo Bois among those who showed up for some of the earliest protests of this kind, including a widely covered one at the Michigan Capitol on April 30th of last year. A number of Boogaloos present at the protest, which ended with heavily armed protesters entering the building in a scene that mirrors the later attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6th, were later arrested and accused of being part of a plot to kidnap the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

Despite everything we now know about this group, all of it on the public record, one Youtube commentator with over 800,000 subscribers gave a boost to the group by first uncritically reporting on a recent speech made by Magnus Panvidya at the Michigan State Capitol calling on BLM and antifa to join with the Boogaloos and rightwing militias to fight government overreach, including pandemic related lockdowns and then having him on his stream for a long interview.

This isn’t just about a few commentators growing their audiences by appealing to elements of the right, it’s about larger efforts to reframe the far right through populism as ideologically on the side of working people. It also allows the Boogaloo movement to draw new recruits from the left where they are desperately needed in this time of crisis.

Rather than relying on talk of a second American revolution or a civil war to deal with the very real struggles facing working people, the American left should look to workers like those at the Hunt’s Point Produce Market who won the largest concessions from ownership in decades through a week long labor action and those inspiring progressive politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who raised their voices in support of them.

This kind of action is how a united left brings change.

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