This article originally appeared on VICE US.
The anti-government “boogaloo” movement just got a huge kick in the teeth from Facebook, where it’s been trying to build support for its violent aspiration of a civil war.
On Tuesday, Facebook announced it has designated a core online network of boogaloo adherents as a “dangerous organization.” The social media giant also conducted a “strategic network disruption” of the boogaloo online infrastructure, removing 220 accounts, 28 pages, 106 groups, and 95 Instagram accounts that Facebook determined were part of this core boogaloo network.
The platform also removed 400 additional groups and over 100 other pages for hosting content affiliated with the core boogaloo network.
A spokesperson for Facebook said that the large-scale removal would hopefully make it harder for adherents of the movement, often known as Boogaloo Bois, to rebuild their community.
Facebook’s move against the boogaloos comes at a time of reckoning in Silicon Valley over tech companies’ facilitating role in the spread of hate speech and growth of extremist movements.
This week, Reddit also went after the group and removed 2,000 subreddits, including the influential pro-Trump subreddit /The_Donald, which had about 800,000 followers. YouTube banned several prominent white supremacist channels, and the white nationalist website VDARE lost its internet service provider.
The boogaloo movement has similarly come under increasing scrutiny. Last week, Discord shut down the biggest boogaloo server after it was exposed in a VICE News article, and deleted the accounts of all 2,500 users. Those users temporarily took refuge in an affiliated Facebook page and a subreddit, which Reddit promptly removed after VICE News reported on it.
'Home base' for the movement
But Facebook’s actions will be a blow — at least for now. “Facebook is home base for this movement,” said Katie Paul, director at the Tech Transparency Project, which has been tracking the boogaloo movement online. Paul has watched with alarm as the movement has exploded on Facebook since February.
A report by the Tech Transparency Project in April identified 125 Facebook groups dedicated to “Boogaloo” and found that more than 60% of those were created between February and April. The conversation in many private boogaloo groups closely resembled that of the 4chan imageboard /k, which is devoted to discussion about weaponry, military tanks and guns. Members traded tips on how to make explosives, combat medicine, tactical strategies, and flame-throwers, Paul said.
The “boogaloo” itself is code for a civil war, and this insurgent movement has pulled in anti-government extremists, hard-line Libertarians, online shitposters, and white nationalists. The movement has also attracted active-duty and former military personnel, some of whom have offered their weapons expertise to help advance the goals of the movement, VICE News has previously reported.
Some “Boogaloo Bois” have been showing up to anti-lockdown and anti-police brutality protests across the country, often heavily armed and clad in Hawaiian shirts. While many who’ve latched onto the movement are harmless teens making memes on TikTok, others have interpreted the boogaloo as a rallying call to violent action.
A spokesperson for Facebook said recent instances of real-world violence linked to the boogaloo movement was what inspired them to take such severe action.
On June 4, three “Boogaloo Bois” were charged for allegedly plotting to throw explosives into a crowd of protesters in Las Vegas with the goal of sparking a violent confrontation with police. The federal complaint named the private boogaloo Facebook groups where the three men met. In those groups, users shared recipes for Molotov cocktails and other expertise, said Paul. But Facebook didn’t remove those groups until Paul said she tweeted the names of them at someone who works for the social media company.
Weeks later, another Boogaloo Boi, an active-duty Air Force staff sergeant, was arrested for allegedly conducting a deadly ambush attack on a federal security officer outside a courthouse in Oakland. He’s also accused of killing a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators found his white van and said it contained explosives, weapons, and tactical gear, including a vest embellished with a boogaloo patch. He’d also written “BOOG” in blood on the hood of the van, according to court documents.
While representatives of Facebook say their actions were driven by concern about national security and not about saving face, experts are skeptical.
“The Boogaloo Bois’ swift and broad ascent to national security threat was already on the wings of Facebook,” said Brian Levin, who leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “If the Boogaloo Bois are in Facebook's crosshairs, it may be because the company itself faces the parallel threats of mounting ad boycotts and legislative scrutiny.“
On Monday, Democratic senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that accused him of failing to rein in white supremacists and hate groups from the platform. Facebook’s boogaloo crackdown also comes amid a growing boycott from advertisers over hate speech.
And last week, Attorney General Bill Barr identified the boogaloo movement as a particular area of concern for a new task force dedicated to addressing domestic terrorism.
A spokesperson for Facebook acknowledged that permanently banning the boogaloo community will be a challenge. While Facebook has been by far the largest online hub for boogaloo activity, adherents have also formed communities across an array of social media platforms, including Discord, TikTok, MeWe, and Reddit.
The boogaloos are nimble
And the community has proven to be pretty nimble and resilient when it comes to evading social media crackdowns.
For example, in early May, Facebook updated its “violence and Incitement policy” to ban boogaloo and similar terms when used alongside images of statements glorifying armed violence. Earlier in June, they took a step further, adjusting algorithms so that they wouldn’t recommend boogaloo pages or groups to users. But by then, administrators of prominent pages had already adopted homophones like ‘Blue Igloo” and “Big Luau” to circumvent some of the new rules. More recently, they’ve adopted new euphemisms, like ‘Alphabet Bois” (which they use to refer to federal agencies like CIA, FBI, ATF, and DHS), or “redacted.”
“They’ve strategized how to get around these changes that platform made in the past,” said Paul. “They’ve outplayed the platform in its alleged attempts to control this. They’ve created back-up groups, so if one gets removed they reactivate the next one. Some pages run a dozen groups.”
Facebook said that while they are going to try to stay on top of the ever-evolving language of the Boogaloo Bois, they’ll also continue to rely on reporting by researchers and journalists to help them decipher terminology and determine what’s dangerous rhetoric versus sarcastic shitposting.
Levin said the future of the boogaloo movement may play out the same way we’ve seen other extremist ideologies evolve after deplatforming. “These actions severely curtail the ability of fringe movements like Boogaloo Bois to expand, but also cause them to migrate as more fragmented cells, to smaller, more encrypted platforms where associational echo chambers are maintained,” said Levin. But, Levin added, the onus is still on Facebook to develop “sustained, flexible collaborations” to identify emergent ideologies or efforts to rebrand old ones on their platforms.
Cover: Members of the boogaloo movement attend a demonstration against the lockdown over concern about COVID-19 at the Statehouse, Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)