The boogaloo movement has risen to national prominence as a new and dangerous subset of the extreme right in the United States. Boogalooers focus on and fantasize about a supposedly imminent second civil war, referred to as the “boogaloo,” wherein the corruption they see in the political system will be overthrown. This is still an emergent movement, but its ideological core centers around guns and distrust of authority, whether that be the government, police, or political institutions. The movement originated on the internet forum 4chan, and adherents to the boogaloo movement continue to be active online in various forums and social media platforms.
Many media portrayals have focused on the seemingly quixotic traits of boogalooers, like their habit of wearing Hawaiian shirts, communicating via internet memes, or their name being derived from the 1984 break-dancing movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. But make no mistake, the boogaloo movement is inherently violent, well armed, and organized around preparations for a civil war purportedly coming to America’s streets. Individuals tied to the boogaloo movement have already plotted attacks and committed violence, and intelligence and law enforcement agencies have pointed to a growing threat emanating from the movement. As previous research from Everytown has demonstrated, an entire extreme-right ecosystem serves as a breeding ground for individuals affiliated with far-right movements such as the boogaloo, providing both inspiration and motivation—whether political, conspiratorial, or racist—for them to act.
The Boogaloo’s Fascination with Guns
The boogaloo movement is inextricably linked with gun culture, and many of the elements that animated the boom in anti-government extremism in the past three decades have also animated the boogaloo movement, including opposition to new gun laws. Boogalooers online routinely discuss gun extremism and post various memes glorifying gun violence.
According to researchers at George Washington University, “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.”1Rhys Leahy, Nicolás Velásquez Hernandez, and Yonatan Lupu, “Prosecutors Claim That a Boogaloo Killed Two Cops. What’s a Boogaloo?,” Washington Post, June 17, 2020, https://wapo.st/39i2GSP. As such, boogalooers have attended several social justice and political protests, often openly carrying assault-style long guns.
Adherents of the boogaloo movement have already planned or committed violent acts in the United States, including the following:
Kansas City, MissouriFBI agents attempted to arrest a 36-year-old man for plotting to bomb a Kansas City–area hospital dealing with COVID-19 patients. The arrest turned into a firefight, and the suspect shot and killed himself. The suspect had wanted to “kick start a revolution” and referred to his plans as “operation boogaloo.” According to the FBI, he had also “shared instructions on how to make an [improvised explosive device] with another . . . Domestic Terrorism (DT) subject.”2Mike Levine, “FBI Learned of Coronavirus-Inspired Bomb Plotter through Radicalized US Army Soldier,” March 26, 2020, ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/fbi-learned-coronavirus-inspired-bomb-plotter-radicalized-us/story?id=69818116; Michael Kunzelman, “Coronavirus Restrictions Fuel Anti-Government ‘Boogaloo’ Movement with Roots in Online Meme Culture Steeped in Irony and Dark Humor,” Chicago Tribune, May 13, 2020, https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-nw-anti-government-boogaloo-movement-20200513-ksbczwsahzhydb32wtttrm2a44-story.html.
Texarkana, TexasPolice in Texarkana, Texas, arrested a 36-year-old for threatening to ambush and kill police officers during a Facebook livestream while he drove around looking for targets, or “hunting the hunters.” The man’s Facebook page had several boogaloo references, and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and body armor when he was arrested. Police also found “two loaded pistols and a shotgun in his car.” He was later indicted for attempted murder and making a terroristic threat against a peace officer.3Associated Press, “Man with Links to ‘Boogaloo’ Movement Indicted in Texas,” June 12, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2020-06-12/man-with-links-to-boogaloo-movement-indicted-in-texas; Kunzelman, “Coronavirus Restrictions Fuel Anti-Government ‘Boogaloo’ Movement”; Leah Sottile, “The Chaos Agents,” New York Times, August 19, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/19/magazine/boogaloo.html.
Columbia, South CarolinaA protest in Columbia, South Carolina, turned violent due, in part, to two boogaloo members who showed up in Hawaiian shirts and disrupted the proceedings. The men were later arrested, with one charged with instigating a riot, breaking into a police vehicle, looting, and larceny. The same man was later also charged with sexual exploitation of a minor. Police later shared photos of the other defendant’s boogaloo flag and a hat that said, “Boojahideens For Liberty.”4Robert Gearty, “2 Affiliated with ‘Boogaloo’ Extremist Group Charged with Inciting a Riot,” Fox News, June 6, 2020, https://www.foxnews.com/us/2-affiliated-with-boogaloo-extremist-group-charged-with-inciting-a-riot-sc-sheriff; Crysty Vaughn and Tim Scott, “CPD, RCSD Make Five Arrests in Connection to Violent Incidents during Saturday’s Protests,” ABC Columbia, June 4, 2020, https://www.abccolumbia.com/2020/06/04/columbia-police-rcsd-say-theyve-arrested-four-in-connection-with-weekend-violence-amid-protests/; Emily Wakeman and Laurel Mallory, “Man Identifed as Boogaloo Member Arrested in Child Sex Crime,” WIS Channel 10 News, June 12, 2020, https://www.wistv.com/2020/06/12/man-identified-boogaloo-member-arrested-child-sex-crime-more-protest-agitators-wanted/; Laurel Mallory, “RCSD: Second Man Accused of Violence, Affiliated with Extreme Boogaloo Group, Arrested,” WIS Channel 10 News, June 5, 2020, https://www.wistv.com/2020/06/05/rcsd-second-man-accused-violence-affiliated-with-extreme-boogaloo-group-arrested/.
Denver, ColoradoAt a protest in Denver, the police seized a large cache of weapons from an “anti-government gun enthusiast” who described himself as a “Boogaloo Boi.”5Erik Maulbetsch, “Denver Police Seized Assault Rifles from Anti-Govt Activists at Friday Night Protest,” Colorado Pols, May 31, 2020, https://bit.ly/3hfP5OP. See also https://coloradotimesrecorder.com/2020/05/denver-police-seized-assault-rifles-from-anti-government-gun-activists-at-friday-night-protest/24690/.
Las Vegas, NevadaThree members of a Nevada boogaloo group called the Battle Born Igloo were arrested for conspiring to commit an act of terrorism on a group of Black Lives Matter protesters in downtown Las Vegas. The men were planning to take Molotov cocktails, fireworks, guns, and ammunition to the protest and wreak havoc, but FBI agents intervened.6Ed Komenda,”Men Tied to ‘Boogaloo’ Movement Conspired to Spark Protest Violence in Las Vegas, Feds Say,” USA Today, June 4, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/04/boogaloo-movement-terrorism-related-charges-3-men-feds-say/3147563001/.
Santa Cruz, CaliforniaIn Santa Cruz, California, prosecutors linked a man charged with the murder of two law enforcement officers to the boogaloo movement. The man allegedly viewed Black Lives Matter protests as an opportunity to accelerate armed conflict, posting online, “Go to the riots and support our own cause,” and “Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box.” Police found improvised explosives at the man’s home and allege that he opened fire into a federal courthouse, killing a protective officer. The shooter opened fire again when confronted at his home, killing a local sheriff’s deputy before being arrested.7Sottile, “Chaos Agents.”
November 2020–January 2021
ArizonaArmed boogaloo contingents repeatedly appeared at Stop the Steal events organized around conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. In the days after the election, armed boogalooers were among those attempting to stop the counting of ballots in Arizona.8Loisbeckett, Twitter, November 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/loisbeckett/status/1324555923059335168; Amyspitalnick, Twitter, November 6, 2020, https://twitter.com/amyspitalnick/status/1324832141826498569. Armed boogaloo adherents reportedly participated in a mid-November Stop the Steal event in Washington, DC, that served as a violent precursor to the insurrection.9Fordfischer, Twitter, November 13, 2020, https://twitter.com/FordFischer/status/1327259737495396354; misstessowen, Twitter, November 14, 2020, https://twitter.com/misstessowen/status/1327652740655419392; Marissa J. Lang, Michael E. Miller, Peter Jamison, Justin Wm. Moyer, Clarence Williams, Peter Hermann, Fredrick Kunkle, and John Woodrow Cox. “After Thousands of Trump Supporters Rally in D.C., Violence Erupts When Night F,” Washington Post, November 15, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/11/14/million-maga-march-dc-protests/. After the insurrection, boogalooers planned armed protests at various state capitols.10“Who Are Boogaloos, Who Were Visible at the Capitol and Later Rallies?,” Southern Poverty Law Center, January 27, 2021, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/01/27/who-are-boogaloos-who-were-visible-capitol-and-later-rallies.
Louisville, KentuckyIn Louisville, Kentucky, the Justice Department charged two militia members associated with the Boogaloo Bois with federal crimes, including attempting to incite a riot. The criminal complaint alleges that on January 6, 2021 (the same day as the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol), the group drove through downtown Louisville and then blocked intersections and pointed rifles at the drivers of other vehicles. In one instance, the complaint alleges one of the defendants shot at a vehicle that had ignored the group’s barricade.11“Feds Arrest Two Militia Members Associated with the Boogaloo Bois,” US Department of Justice, February 11, 2021, https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdky/pr/feds-arrest-two-militia-members-associated-boogaloo-bois.
St. Cloud, MinnesotaA boogalooer who had allegedly conducted surveillance of law enforcement and scouted the state capitol during a “Stop the Steal” event in Minnesota was arrested on charges of illegal possession of a machine gun after he used a 3D-printed part to illegally convert a semiautomatic rifle into a fully automatic.12“Self-Described Member of Boogaloo Bois Arrested, Charged with Illegal Possession of a Machine Gun,” US Department of Justice, April 7, 2021, https://www.justice.gov/usao-mn/pr/self-described-member-boogaloo-bois-arrested-charged-illegal-possession-machine-gun.
Policy Solutions to Armed Extremism
Armed extremists seeking to undermine our democratic institutions are a chronic and ongoing problem. In 2020, anti-government extremists, including the ascendant boogaloo movement, used guns—particularly assault weapons—as tools of intimidation and violence in increasingly open ways, including taking advantage of weak state gun laws to brandish weapons at anti-government protests and to intimidate peaceful protests for racial justice, and in planning actions to kill.
Because so much of the boogaloo ideology involves the open display of firearms, especially during protests or at other public places, this violent movement demonstrates the folly of open carry laws. Open carry is a threat to public safety.
Lawmakers and officials at every level of government can take the following three steps to disrupt how extremists use firearms to undercut democracy and promote insurrection.
- The law should prohibit the carrying of firearms in and around sensitive government facilities.
- Guns should be prohibited at demonstrations on public property.
- Armed extremists must be held accountable under existing laws for their criminal conduct.
While no single act will eliminate extremism, these steps—in addition to common-sense gun safety measures—will help decrease the chance of armed extremism violence in the United States.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.