Far-right extremists are showing up, with guns, to the protests against police brutality that have exploded across the country.
Others are egging on the violence from behind their computers, urging followers to carry out acts of violence against black protesters with the goal of sparking a “race war.”
Their presence makes an uneasy addition to the escalating unrest, which was triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who was choked to death by a white Minneapolis police officer earlier this week.
But there’s a range of motivations that’s driving far-right interest toward the protests, which are being led by community members and Black Lives Matter, and bolstered by antifascists.
For example, the so-called Boogaloo Bois — a group of armed anti-government extremists made visible by their Hawaiian shirts — have reportedly shown up to some of the protests.
The “boogaloo” is code for impending civil war or violent confrontation with law enforcement, and that’s what they’re hoping to get out of the protests. Their main reason for being there is their antipathy toward law enforcement, and so they’re trying to position themselves as allies of Black Lives Matter protesters. They’ve made police brutality one of their central issues, which was explored at length in a Bellingcat article this week.
Their approach to police brutality links the victims of the deadly standoff with federal agents at Ruby Ridge in 1992, to the victims of modern police brutality, including Floyd. But unlike the vast majority of protesters, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that police brutality is an issue that disproportionately impacts people of color.
There have been scattered reports of Boogaloo Bois’ presence at the protests, which were compiled by a Bellingcat investigative journalist in a thread. He includes an audio clip (stripped of video per activists’ requests) of protesters saying they’d wrestled a handgun from a “white nationalist” agitator — whom he describes as a Boogaloo Boi who became overly rowdy.
Another photo, shared across private Boogaloo Facebook pages, showed one of their own unfurling their trademark flag during the Minneapolis protests.
And one protester posted a picture of himself wearing a gas mask to Instagram, under the hashtag #Boogaloo.
While some Boogaloo Bois say they’re just libertarians, others will, on occasion, veer into racism — and make no secret of their desire for violence. In addition to their physical presence at the protests, the #boogaloo hashtag on social media has been flooded with memes in the last couple days egging on violence, and talking about how they hope this is the beginning of a civil war.
While more established militia types sometimes share those perspectives, they often view themselves as intermediaries between law enforcement and civilians. For example, two armed white men were interviewed by the Minnesota Reformer, a local independent news organization, outside a tobacco store in Minneapolis this week. They said they were protecting businesses from looters, but were also there to defend civilians should they need to.
“Cops are less likely to tread on people’s rights when there’s other armed people around them,” one of the men told the interviewer.
Local activists identified another group in Minneapolis as members of the III% militia, one of the largest militia networks in the U.S.
But perhaps the most troubling of all are the hardcore “accelerationists” who are encouraging their neo-Nazi followers to go to the protests and carry out acts of violence against black people — all with the goal of “exacerbating the ethnic tensions” and sparking a “race war.”
Accelerationists promote violence to speed up the collapse of society. An eco-fascist Telegram channel wrote to its nearly 2,500 subscribers on Thursday that “a riot would be the perfect place to commit a murder.” Accelerationists often seek to exploit moments of political or civil unrest, and the widespread protests that have unfolded across the country fit the bill. Similarly, 4chan is full of racists cheering the violence and saying that they hope it’s the beginning of a “race war.”
Cover: Protesters are trapped between police and other protesters who gathered in a call for justice for George Floyd following his death, outside the 3rd Police Precinct on May 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)