The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement

January 2021 marked one year of overt, offline Boogaloo movement activity in the United States by the movement’s members, often referred to as the “Boogaloo Bois.” The movement has gained national notoriety in that time, due as much to its eclectic aesthetic of colorful Hawaiian-themed apparel as its connection to disrupted violent plots—namely, the attempted kidnapping of a sitting U.S. governor. In 2020, members of the movement were accused of plotting to use Molotov cocktails during a Black Lives Matter protest, conspiring to materially support Hamas, and murdering law enforcement personnel.

The rapid evolution of the Boogaloo from niche internet forum meme to mainstream mobilization narrative in hardened violent extremist milieus suggests it presents a unique security challenge for both social media companies and U.S. law enforcement agencies going forward. The Boogaloo movement’s ambiguous, broad framing of American revolutionary ideals cloaks an inherent message of necessary violence against the U.S. government as a perceived authoritarian threat. This article will examine the history of how the Boogaloo movement arrived at its current state, detail the movement’s embrace of insurrectionary violence offline, provide a brief forecast of the movement, and suggest responses to the threat.

Boogaloo memes circulated online as early as 2012, before finding traction in 4chan’s weapons and politics boards around the topic of a second American civil war. By the fall of 2019, the memes’ use had spread with purpose across Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and Telegram messaging platforms, often seeded from established white supremacy, anti-government, and accelerationist spaces. In 2020, offline Boogaloo mobilization, including acts of violence, markedly increased in response to a series of culturally divisive topics—gun control laws, social justice protests over law enforcement use of force, coronavirus public health lockdowns, and the 2020 presidential election. Despite its modern eclectic styling, the Boogaloo’s aesthetic and narratives have struck a resonant chord with sections of American society looking for an alternative to hyper-partisan politics against a backdrop of heightened uncertainty and existential fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also draws on established extremist milieus, creating defined strains within the Boogaloo movement: white supremacists, neo-Nazis, militia movement members, accelerationists, and ultra-libertarians, among others.

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