Boogaloo, the pro-arms and anti-police movement, where libertarians and neo-Nazis make common memes

Hawaiian shirt, flag abhorering an igloo, and assault rifle slung: in American streets, the "wooden boogaloo" (or boogaloo boys) do not go unnoticed. Members of this movement have been seen in recent weeks in or around multiple protests against racism and police violence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The presence of these mainly white armed men worried the demonstrators as well as the police. For the past month, seven of them have been arrested for carrying illegal weapons or for preparing explosive attacks. On June 4, three men aged 23 to 40, associated with the Boogaloo movement, were arrested in Nevada; they are suspected of wanting to detonate two buildings in Las Vegas "To start riots".

The wooden boogaloo live in the pre-apocalyptic idea that a major upheaval is imminent

The riots and the "revolution" are at the heart of the philosophy of this strange movement which brings together, with more or less happiness, both Californian libertarians and neo-Nazis from the American northwest. The very name of Boogaloo, obscure reference to the racist hints of a 1984 film, Breakin’2: Electric Boogaloo, by Sam Firstenberg, is used as a synonym for armed revolt. The wood boogaloo live on the pre-apocalyptic idea that a major upheaval is imminent in the United States, and that they must be "ready" – essentially by being armed.

Part of the movement is also calling for the overthrow of the government, found guilty of infringing on Americans' basic freedoms – starting with the right to own guns. Its members also preach armed opposition to the police, and more particularly to the "wooden alphabet" – federal agencies, often designated by their acronym, and "wood" being a distortion of boys (guys).

A recent movement that appeared online

However, the Boogaloo is far from forming a structured and organized movement. It exists mainly online, where it started to gain popularity in late 2019. But it was mainly the following of current events in early 2020 that gave it momentum. Legislation to Strengthen Kentucky Firearm Sales Bill Provides Opportunity for First Glimpse in Late January When Pro-Armed Protesters Assault Rifles Forcibly Enter in the state capitol on January 31. Some of them wear the Hawaiian shirt or badges on their clothes referring to different boogaloo symbols, like the igloo.

Three pro-arms activists entered the Kentucky capitol on January 31.

Known figure in the movement, Duncan Lemp immediately becomes a martyr

On March 12, an elite police unit intervened at the home of Duncan Socrates Lemp, after receiving an anonymous call that weapons were illegally stored there. An active member of the online Boogaloo movement, Duncan Lemp is also associated with "III% ers", a far-right paramilitary group. He is killed in the raid: the police explain that he had tried to seize a weapon; his family says he was shot in his sleep while he was in bed with his girlfriend. A well-known figure in the movement, Duncan Lemp immediately became a martyr.

In the following weeks, the wooden boogaloo also benefited from a very strong national response, thanks to the implementation of containment in several cities and states. For the woods, as for part of American public opinion, containment is an abuse of state power; demonstrations are organized. They do not attract many people, but there are very many armed men there, some of them wearing the Hawaiian shirt which is used as a symbol of the movement because of an improbable pun on "boogaloo" and the Hawaiian party "luau".

A list of "martyrs" frequently used in wooden boogaloo groups, which mixes both the names of African Americans and members of far-right militias.

On April 19, wooden boogaloo are present in front of the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Some also wear the insignia of the III% ers: the leader of the far-right paramilitary group, Matt Marshall, called on his supporters to come in force and to dress in the Hawaiian shirt – himself wears one, accompanied by sunglasses and a tricorn in which assault rifle bullets are stored.

Men wearing Hawaiian boogaloo shirt chatting with police in Lansing, Michigan, during a containment demonstration on May 20.

Overthrow of the State and Racist Civil War

But it was above all the demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd that gave the woods increased visibility. Supporters and sympathizers have gone armed with protests across the country. In some cases, they claimed to be there to protect police protesters or thugs; in others, they took up positions outside businesses, officially to protect them from looters. In both cases, they were immediately suspected of only being present to provoke and exacerbate tensions.

His supporters claim that the only legitimate authority emanates from the Constitution

Rightly so: the Boogaloo movement, which is broader than that of the far-right militias but largely encompasses them, aims above all at the armed overthrow of the state as it exists today. Supporters argue that the only legitimate authority emanates from the Constitution, and that current federal and local governments exercise illegal power. The right-most fringe of the movement, which admires far-right terrorist Timothy McVeigh, hopes to contribute to the launch of a new civil war in the United States, on racist grounds – a variant of the "holy racial war" opposing Whites and blacks whom many neo-Nazi groups in the United States are calling for.

Anti-racist meme published in boogaloo groups on Facebook: the author of the message appears to be shooting down a newcomer who makes racist remarks in the group.

But the wooden boogaloo are not only a screen for these groups. The movement also has an important libertarian wing, violently opposed to gun control and the state, but far removed from the supremacist ideology. In some online discussion spaces devoted to the movement, racist comments are strictly moderate, or greeted with mockery or even frank hostility. "Some members of online boogaloo communities express solidarity with the black liberation movement", notes the Southren poverty law center, a benchmark organization on hate groups in the United States:

"Many memes celebrating John Brown, who had looted a federal arms supply in 1859 in an attempt to start a slave revolt, are present in some Facebook groups, for example. Many in the movement disown the white supremacists. In the majority of cases, members try to circumvent debates on race or political labels. "

We often find in the same boogaloo groups, memes calling to "kill the Nazis" as to shoot the "antifas".

Another part of the 4chan forum

This atypical positioning seems to emerge from the origins of the movement, and from its main online space: a sub-forum of 4chan, the gigantic anonymous online forum. Unlike the alt-right and other similar movements, the wooden boogaloo are not found on "/ pol", the site's political sub-forum, prized by the most extreme right. Their rallying point is "/ k", the forum dedicated to firearms. The latter strictly proscribed all political discussions; even messages relating to the subject of gun control are prohibited and immediately deleted.

Welcome message on "/ k", warning visitors that political messages will be deleted.

An online counterculture made of obscure references and more or less cryptic memes

This displayed neutrality – even if the sub-forum is clearly leaning to the right – seems to have facilitated the improbable alliance, under the same label "boogaloo", of neo-Nazi paramilitary groups and libertarians who reject white supremacism. The two "sides" of the movement share, beyond a passion for weapons of war and opposition to the police, an online counter-culture made of obscure references and more or less cryptic memes, based on word games. And which provide, in some cases, for far-right groups, a convenient label allowing them to portray themselves as ordinary citizens by masking or minimizing their affiliation with supremacist groups.

Born on "/ k", the group quickly left this rather confidential forum to export to mainstream social networks. And in particular on Facebook, where dozens of groups, often local, gather its supporters, and allow them to coordinate their trips to demonstrations. 1er May, Facebook changed its moderation rules to ban terms referring to the Boogaloo movement in contexts of violence. On Instagram, searches for "boogaloo" and related terms no longer return any results.

The movement’s Facebook groups, however, are still online – most do not violate Facebook’s rules, which do not ban gun groups. And other very important groups, which do not explicitly refer to the movement but espouse its codes and memes, exceed 100,000 subscribers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here