Paranoia is the bread-and-butter for Amazon’s Ring camera system. Ads for the product make no secret of who they’re marketing to: nervous new parents who want to spy on babysitters, amateur sleuths investigating (Amazon) package theft, or wealthy people hoping to keep tabs on multiple vacant homes.
But the billion-dollar company probably didn’t factor Hawaiian shirt-clad anti-government insurgents into their marketing strategy.
According to an internal security memo by the FBI from earlier this year, a group of so-called “Boogaloo Bois” from northern Nevada installed Amazon’s Ring security systems. The goal? “To enhance operational security capabilities in preparation for potential raids by the FBI,” according to the memo.
The memo was obtained by the watchdog group Property of the People via a freedom-of-information request as part of its “January 6 Project,” which, according to the group’s founder Ryan Shapiro, is “liberating documents about intelligence and law enforcement operations in the run-up to, and wake of the attempted coup.”
The memo shows that the federal government continues to keep tabs on the Boogaloo movement, even though its street presence has dwindled since the group’s heavily armed adherents in colorful shirts first started showing up to public events over a year ago.
The Boogaloo movement, rooted in 4chan’s /k/ weapons board, grew on Facebook in late 2019 where it was able to draw in a loose network of anti-government extremists, hardcore libertarians, anarchists, and some white supremacists. The Boogaloo, meme-speak for a “second civil war” or uprising against the government, became the movement’s guiding principle. VICE News first spotted Boogaloo Bois out in the wild at a massive pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, in January 2020. By then, the movement had already developed a code language, which it was relying on to evade social media crackdowns. For example, instead of referring to the Boogaloo, they would refer to a homonym of the word, the “Big Luau”—hence what later became their trademark outfit of Hawaiian shirts. Last spring, they began showing up with AR-15s to anti-lockdown and racial justice protests, adding an uneasy dimension to an already fraught situation.
Over the course of about six months, adherents of the Boogaloo movement were accused of murdering a federal officer in an ambush attack, firing an AK-47 into a police precinct, attempting to sell weapons to Hamas, planning to detonate explosive devices during a Black Lives Matter protest, and plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor.
The movement’s ability to draw in new adherents was stymied when Facebook cracked down on the network. Boogaloo communities migrated to alternative platforms, including MeWe, where they grew increasingly insular, plagued by infighting, and, amid a wave of arrests, paranoid about federal informants and infiltration.
Which brings us back to the Amazon Ring security system.
According to the FBI, the group of Boogaloo Bois in northern Nevada were inspired to install a home surveillance system in the aftermath of a shootout in Florida that left two federal agents dead back in February.
Five FBI agents were attempting to execute a search warrant at a residence in Fort Lauderdale as part of an investigation into child exploitation. The target of their investigation saw the agents approaching through a doorbell camera (it’s unclear if it was specifically the Amazon ring system), picked up a gun, and ambushed them by opening fire.
It’s not surprising that the incident would grab the Boogaloo Bois’ attention. In addition to their ultimate goal of a violent civil war, the Boogaloos are known for their memes and rhetoric advocating violence against federal agents; they’ve often romanticized past deadly standoffs between gunmen and the government, such as Waco and Ruby Ridge.
On one hand, it makes sense why doorbell security systems would appeal to inherently anti-government groups or movements, like the Boogaloo, who love to amass obscure devices in pursuit of “prepping” for a government raid, a natural disaster, or the apocalypse. Devices like the Amazon Ring system often come with an array of features, including infrared night vision, facial recognition, remote viewing options, wide angle lens—all of which appeal to the paranoid brain of the Boogaloo Boi.
But there’s also some inherent irony in the idea that this group of anti-government insurgents are installing these systems to protect them from law enforcement. For starters, the Ring system has been repeatedly criticized for its cyber security flaws: in late 2019, there was a wave of media reports about strangers hacking into ring systems and terrorizing homeowners. Recently, Ring has come under fire for its partnerships with police departments, which has led to concerns about warrantless surveillance by authorities. Even an Amazon software engineer wrote a letter saying that Ring was “simply not compatible with free society.” Legal experts say that it has created a massive civilian surveillance network, where your neighbors become informants.
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