“I’m asking you to stand with me against the tyrannical government and the tyrannical governor,” Mike Dunn, a Virginia teenager, said in a video featuring himself, a rifle, and an American flag that month. He soon launched an event page titled “Physically DEMAND Ralph Northams Resignation.”
Those demands, thus far, have been something of a dud.
But a second, far more concerted alleged scheme by other associates of the Boogaloo movement was serious enough to draw attention from the FBI. On June 6, a group of 15 far-right militia members—some of them charged last week in an alleged terror plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer—gathered in Dublin, Ohio, to discuss kidnapping Northam as well, a federal agent testified Tuesday. None of the named plotters came from Virginia.
Their apparent focus on the state, however, highlights the formative role Virginia and its governor have played in the emerging “Boogaloo” movement.
A loose coalition of far-right and hardline libertarian types, Boogaloos are an approximately year-old iteration of the right-wing militarism that previously found its center in the alt-right. Steeped in a culture of 4chan memes, the movement includes some white supremacists as well as some who profess otherwise. Unifying this coalition is support for gun rights and a right-wing overthrow of the government, potentially leading to civil war: an event the movement calls the Boogaloo.
A pro-gun rally in Virginia this January was one of the movement’s most formative episodes. There, some 22,000 gun advocates rallied in opposition to proposed laws that would implement new background checks, allow towns to ban guns in public parks and buildings if they wished, and block people from buying multiple guns in a month. Attendees, some with newly-formed Boogaloo groups, expressed outrage at Northam, in some cases likening him to Hitler.
Virginia has recently served as a rallying point for the far-right. Several white supremacist groups held rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, infamously leading up to an August 12 rally during which a neo-Nazi murdered an anti-racist demonstrator with a car.
Although many Boogaloo followers claim to disavow racism, overt racists have tried piggybacking off their events. Members of the white supremacist group The Base were arrested for allegedly planning violence at the January rally. When Dunn held a July 4 rally in Virginia, a Boogaloo speaker asked (apparently expecting the answer to be no) whether any racists were in the crowd, and three men responded with Nazi salutes.
Dunn, 19, was at that January rally, although he wasn’t yet a member of the Boogaloo scene, he told Vice. But he and other members of the movement have since homed in on Northam as a “tyrant,” first for gun laws and then for Virginia’s anti-COVID precautions.
Some of the tyrant talk is just white noise—the stuff of evergreen right-wing rage. But Boogaloo adherents have allegedly been deadly serious; two are accused of the murders of two federal agents earlier this year, in line with the movement’s anti-government ethos. And 13 people associated with the Boogaloo movement were arrested last week by federal and Michigan authorities over their alleged plots to kidnap Whitmer.
At least two of those men allegedly participated in June discussions about potentially kidnapping Northam.
“At this meeting they discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governors of Michigan and Virginia, based upon the lockdown orders,” FBI Special Agent Richard Trask testified, in reference to state-level restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A Northam spokesperson told The Daily Beast the governor was never in immediate danger. She suggested the threats were exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s tweets, which have called on supporters to “liberate” blue states like Virginia and Michigan from COVID measures.
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ in April—just like Michigan. In fact, the President regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop,” the spokesperson said.
Although none of the named men accused of the Michigan plot live in Virginia, Trask testified that they were part of a larger inter-state group that organized online this year.
With its quick, largely digital formation, many Boogaloo adherents are networked with each other. On Twitter, Dunn has claimed to know “a few” of the Michigan men arrested on state charges. (Dunn is not implicated in that case, and is only facing charges from an incident last week in which he allegedly carried a gun on public property in violation of a local law.)
Reached for comment on Tuesday about the alleged plot to kidnap Northam, Dunn told The Daily Beast that he has “not planned, neither have I taken part in plans to harm, hurt, or devastate anything or anyone. Any plans made by I, Mike Dunn, have been for the sole purpose of self defense and in support of Liberty and the Constitution.”
He is, however, planning a heavily armed Thursday event in Newport News, Virginia, in which attendees will break a law against open-carrying on public property, he claims. The city’s police did not immediately return a request for comment.
“Thursday I’ll have a lot of men backing me,” he told The Daily Beast last week, adding that he didn’t anticipate arrests because “it’ll be a bunch of men that are willing to shoot their way out of it.”
Dunn confirmed on Tuesday that the planned event was still on.