Over the course of 2020, online conversations about ‘the boogaloo’, an ironic term for a second civil war, coalesced into the beginnings of an actual movement according to experts who monitor American extremists. Facebook even designated a network of boogaloo groups as a dangerous organisation similar to the Islamic State, and banned them from both the former and Instagram. That same year, at least 15 arrests and five deaths were publicly linked to boogaloo rhetoric, including the murders of two law enforcement officers in California.
The boogaloo movement, whose adherents are often referred to as ‘boogaloo boys’ or ‘boogaloo bois’, is a loosely organised far-right anti-government extremist movement in the US. It has also been described as a militia. Adherents say they are preparing for, or seeking to incite, a second American civil war or second American revolution which they call ‘the boogaloo’.
The movement mainly consists of—you guessed it—pro-gun, anti-government groups. The specific ideology of each group varies and their views on topics such as race differ widely. Some are white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups who believe that the impending unrest will be a race war.
There are also groups among the movement that appear to condemn racism and white supremacy, however, attempts by some individual elements of the movement to support anti-racist groups and movements such as Black Lives Matter have been met with wariness and scepticism as researchers are unsure if they are genuine or meant to obscure the movement’s actual objectives.
The movement primarily organises online, but adherents have also been spotted at in-person events supporting the anti-lockdown protests and at marches against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. Heavily armed, boogaloo members are often identified by their attire of Hawaiian shirts and military uniforms (which are allegedly based on an inside joke, but I’ll get to that later).
Individuals affiliated with the boogaloo movement have been charged with crimes, including the killings of a security contractor and a police officer, a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and incidents related to participation in the George Floyd protests. In mid-2020, several companies including Facebook acted to limit the movement’s activities and visibility on their social media and chat platforms.
Like many other problematic internet movements, boogaloo initially emerged on 4chan and subsequently spread to other platforms. Although usage of the term dates all the way back to 2012, the movement did not gain mainstream attention until late 2019. Adherents use the word ‘boogaloo’, including other variations so as to avoid social media crackdowns and to refer to potential violent uprisings against the federal government—which is seen by these adherents as a tyrannical left-wing threat.
According to Vox, the name derives from the movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo—a joking reference to the 1984 sequel movie about breakdancing—and is meant to imply a lesser ‘sequel’ to something that has already happened. For many followers, that something would be the civil war.
“For many, the word boogaloo is used jokingly or ironically, but for others, the boogaloo memes are shared alongside violent text and images, seemingly to inflame an eventual confrontation,” adds NBC News.
According to what radicalisation researcher and podcast host Robert Evans told Vox, when the term first appeared on 4chan, it was “essentially a joke that people wrapped a bunch of different stuff in.” That vaguely ironic jokiness has remained among people who identify as boogaloo boys. For example, some people who follow the movement use the terms ‘big igloo’ or ‘big luau’ to avoid saying boogaloo on social media platforms, which then resulted in a new symbolism for Hawaiian shirts. That’s the inside joke.
According to Evans, open-source materials suggest that, for now, the apocalyptic, anti-government politics of the boogaloo boys are not rigidly racist or neo-Nazi. Some members rail against police shootings of African Americans, and praise black nationalist self-defence groups. In other words, the movement’s main political ideology, and its guiding sentiment more widely appears to be anti-government with a general focus on gun confiscation as a major concern.
As of now, boogaloo followers don’t seem to constitute a distinct political bloc. That being said, it’s also worth noting that some parts of the movement have clearly supported racist, neo-Nazi ideologies too. The meme-ing and jokes that make up a large part of the boogaloo movement can, for some, give effective cover to a desire for violence.
While it would be stupid to underestimate the movement and its boogaloo boys, it also appears that, for now, the US has bigger fish to fry—from QAnon followers to YouTube extremists, it might take the country’s government a while before it reaches this community of ‘jokesters’.