The Boogaloos Are Pitching a Big Tent for Far-Right Violence
Future oppressors are often viewed as bumbling idiots. But if we are too complacent, hindsight may show us to be the fools, blind to the threat.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Building in D.C., right-wing militia groups and allied Trump supporters are planning something bigger for the week of Jan. 17, in the lead-up to the inauguration of Joe Biden. A widely disseminated online poster calls for an “armed march on Capitol Hill and all state capitols.”
What might unfold is anyone’s guess. Even prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the FBI, as early as Dec. 29, had been apprised by confidential informants that, starting on Jan. 17, a “militant antigovernment movement” called the Boogaloo promised “armed, anti-government actions leading to a civil war.” The National Counterterrorism Center and Department of Homeland Security this week issued a bulletin that “domestic violent extremists” and “boogaloo adherents” intending to trigger a race war “may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States.” Then again, the Boogaloo organizers of the nationwide rallies set to begin on Jan. 17 are publicly trying to distance themselves from the Jan. 6 crowd, playing up obscure ideological differences and trying to save face, as The Daily Beast has reported.
If you haven’t heard of the Boogaloo and their “accelerationist” intentions for the destruction and rebirth of this country in the crucible of civil war, you’re not alone. When in 2019 my friend Jeff Schwilk, a photographer and investigative journalist, approached me to edit a book about neofascists, Nazis, white supremacists, right-wing militias and how Trumpism had served to unite them, I laughed my head off when he described the trappings of the Boogaloo Boys: that they wore Hawaiian shirts under their body armor as a mark of solidarity at protests and marches; that they flew a variant of a Nazi war flag that symbolized a mythic nation called Kekistan; that they had taken on as mascot, maybe sort of as a joke, an internet meme called Pepe the Frog in honor of the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness, the frog-humanoid Kek. This is a movement that deliberately makes itself look comical in order to attract meme-poisoned teenagers with an “aesthetic of violence,” while outwardly downplaying the threat it poses.
The joke’s on me, of course. Members of the Boogaloo have been tied to law enforcement and the military and have trumpeted their involvement in the murder of law enforcement officers; were tied to the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; and were among the seditious mob that stormed the Capitol Building. As Schwilk observed in the book that he and I put together, Unflattering Photos of Fascists: Authoritarianism in Trump’s America, “Future oppressors are often viewed as bumbling idiots. But if we are too complacent, hindsight may show us to be the fools, blind to the threat.”
However online and mimetic and ideologically incoherent the Boogaloo may be, says Schwilk, they are at the same time functioning as a kind of big tent of the extreme right with members who might also be Proud Boy street thugs, or Three Percent militia, or retired cops turned Oath Keeper, or white power fanatics (think Aryan Nations), or hard-right Christian militants (think Patriot Prayer), or QAnon crazies, or simply MAGA meatheads with guns.
COVID lockdowns and mask ordinances opportunized the expansion of the Boogaloo tent to include right-wing “plandemic” paranoiacs, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. Quite suddenly, there was a cross-over of hardcore neofascist white supremacists with Fox News-watching Trump voters who were being radicalized and finding common cause with the accelerationists.
Whether at Trump rallies, “freedom” marches, Second Amendment celebrations, or lockdown and mask protests, you can literally see the groups merging together in many of Schwilks’ photos. Whatever nominal flag people are there under, they seem increasingly to embrace extremist ideology.
When the second civil war explodes, as they imagine that it will, many members of all these groups–call them the Trumpenvolk–expect to coalesce while “the enemies of the right,” as Schwilk explains, are “exterminated by death squads clad in Hawaiian shirts.”
No longer can we laugh at this nightmare vision.