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Local

Far-right extremists keep showing up at BLM protests. Are they behind the violence?

 

Recent protests near the Country Club Plaza led to no shortage of talk on social media about who, exactly, was behind violence such as the burning of a Kansas City police car.

“Two of them were the guys on the plaza Friday night who were open carrying and we begged to officers to remove them and they refused,” one woman posted in response to a photo shared in a tweet.

Some questioned whether the men were white supremacists or other far-right extremists who had shown up to commit or incite violence that would then be blamed on the protesters. Or Boogalooers, those who are part of growing and loosely knit movement, many of whose adherents are gearing up for a second Civil War.

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Their slang for the conflict, “Boogaloo,” has morphed into “Big Igloo” and “Big Luau,” prompting supporters to co-opt Hawaiian shirts as their trademark. Their flag, patterned after the U.S. flag, often depicts an igloo and palm tree in place of the stars, one stripe replaced with a floral Hawaiian print and the others sometimes bearing the names of people killed in confrontations with police.

While Kansas City police haven’t made any arrests in the May 30 arson incident and say they haven’t seen direct evidence of extremists trying to disrupt the local protests, that hasn’t been the case in other parts of the country.

Experts say that in many states, far-right extremists, fresh from recruiting at “open states” rallies during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to inject themselves into the protests, creating a potential powder keg as they mix with Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

What makes the situation so volatile, those monitoring the protests say, is that there are so many agendas at play that it’s hard to tell who’s on what side. In some cases, they say they’re seeing a bizarre alignment between those on the far right, such as militias and the Boogalooers, and Black Lives Matter advocates protesting the death of George Floyd, with anger at police and the government being the common thread.

Devin Burghart, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, said his organization has found evidence of Boogaloo and other far-right extremist groups at 40 protests related to Floyd’s death, including some in Kansas City and Wichita.

One Boogaloo Facebook page contains photos and videos taken during the May 30 protest on the Plaza that show the chaotic scene after police deployed tear gas. The person managing the Facebook site complained that he and four others had gone to join the protest but were run off by demonstrators. The site has more than 20,000 followers.

“We were essentially forced to leave by one woman and one man with their camera lights in our faces saying we were racist, white supremacist agent provocateurs there to make black people look violent,” the site manager wrote. “I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a mask. None of us were open carrying or looking ‘tacticool.’ We were in the crowd, doing the same as the crowd.”

On May 31, he posted a picture of protesters marching near the Plaza, some carrying a Boogaloo flag.

Facebook temporarily restricted the account on June 2, citing activities “that don’t comply with Facebook’s policies.” Once the limits were lifted on June 9, the site manager changed the name of the group to keep it from drawing attention.

Some photos and videos posted on Twitter show a man with a long gun and wearing a green Hawaiian shirt being detained by police during the May 31 protest on the Plaza. And others show protesters surrounding two white men at Mill Creek Park next to the Plaza — one of the men carrying a long gun — and shouting at them to leave.

Burghart said besides the Boogaloo adherents, other far-right groups that have shown up at protests around the country include the Proud Boys, Three Percenters and Oathkeepers, but not in large numbers.

“In comparison to the size of these protests, the numbers we’re seeing from the far-right showing up either at the protests or to turn out and defend local businesses is substantially smaller,” he said. “But given the types of folks involved and their propensity for violence, in a flash point situation like this, it becomes a powder keg. Anything can happen, especially when you throw AR-15s in the mix.”

Some, Burghart said, have issued bogus calls for violence in an attempt to stir things up.

“And that’s super dangerous,” he said. “You get those kinds of scares going around, and we’ve gotten a few reports of militia types then going out to those places to patrol. And it creates a justification to have heavily armed, far-right paramilitaries roaming the streets, which is an incredibly disturbing scenario.”

Such a scenario may be what took place Monday night when a protester was shot and seriously wounded during a confrontation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The demonstrators were calling for the removal of a statue of a Spanish conquistador outside a museum when a man grabbed a protester and tossed her to the ground, then someone shoved him back and others joined in, one of them striking the man with a skateboard, videos posted on social media show. Moments later, the man fired several shots and members of the New Mexico Civil Guard — an armed militia group that had faced off with protesters prior to the shooting — formed a protective circle around him.

Police identified the suspected gunman Tuesday morning as Steven Ray Baca, 31, but have not said whether he is a member of the militia. According to the criminal complaint, Baca was among those trying to protect the statue when protesters “appeared to maliciously pursue” him. Some struck him with their arms and legs, it said, and one man hit him with the skateboard before tackling him to the ground. Another man who then picked up the skateboard and swung it toward Baca was the man who was shot, the complaint said.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was “horrified and disgusted beyond words” at the violence.

“The heavily armed individuals who flaunted themselves at the protest, calling themselves a ‘civil guard,’ were there for one reason: To menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force,” she said in a statement Monday night.

In a Facebook post late Monday, the militia said Baca was not a member of the New Mexico Civil Guard.

“Our guys held him at gunpoint until the police arrived,” said the post from the New Mexico Civil Guard Curry County. “NMCG was not involved in the shooting. It was a moment of chaos and our members took point to prevent anymore rounds from being fired and to stop the angry mob from continuing to attack.”

The far-right faction currently getting the most scrutiny is the Boogalooers, also known as Boogaloo Bois.

“They want to capitalize on any type of event, whether it’s a hurricane or the pandemic or these civil disturbances, to try to add fuel to the fire and destabilize society so they can instigate a race war or civil war, overthrow the government,” said Daryl Johnson, a former terrorism analyst for the Department of Homeland Security.

Those tracking extremist activity say the movement is growing, fueled by what followers see as government overreach in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tech Transparency Project, a group that monitors technology companies, issued a report in April that said it had found 125 Facebook groups devoted to the Boogaloo. Of those, it said, 63 percent were created between February and April, with nearly half the members — 36,117 — joining in the previous 30 days.

But the Boogaloo network is difficult to define, said J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism who has spent years monitoring anti-government extremists.

“Boogaloo is slang for civil/revolutionary war,” MacNab said in a recent series of tweets about the movement. “But the subgroups that use this slang fall into different categories and they wouldn’t like each other much if they ever tried to actually form a cohesive movement.

“They share jargon, outfits, a love of firearms, and a desire to use violence to gain power, but they don’t actually share a common goal once power is achieved.”

The movement is far from unified, MacNab said.

“While there are pockets of white supremacist Boogaloos, the younger and bigger groups are generally not,” she said. “While there are Boogaloos that strongly support Trump, the younger and bigger groups hate him.”

And though some Boogaloos support the police, MacNab said, the younger and bigger groups detest them.

“While there are Boogaloos that want to discredit protests angry at the murder of a black man,” she said, “there are younger Boogaloos that are incensed by the murder and want to join the protests.”

Meanwhile, incidents of violence from those with connections to the movement have been stacking up across the country:

A 29-year-old Texas bodybuilder who prosecutors said “has been tied publicly with the anti-government Boogaloo movement” was charged June 5 in federal court with conspiracy to sell steroids. At his detention hearing, prosecutors argued that Philip Russell Archibald was a threat to the community, saying he used his social media accounts to advocate vigilante “guerrilla warfare” against the National Guard patrolling Black Lives Matter protests.

Three alleged Boogaloo adherents were arrested May 30 in Las Vegas for what authorities said was a plot to spark violence at Black Lives Matter protests. The men, ages 23 to 40, were charged in federal court with conspiracy to damage and destroy by fire and explosive and possession of an unregistered destructive device. According to the complaint, FBI agents arrested the men as they were heading to a protest with materials to make Molotov cocktails to lob at police.

The man charged with ambushing and killing one deputy and critically wounding another in Santa Cruz County, California, on June 6, scrawled phrases associated with the Boogaloo movement on the hood of a car shortly before his arrest, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday. Steven Carrillo, an Air Force sergeant, wrote the words in what appeared to be his own blood, U.S. Attorney David Anderson said at a news conference. Anderson added that a ballistic vest found in a van linked to Carrillo had a patch with a Boogaloo flag on it.

Authorities also announced that Carrillo had been charged with the May 29 murder of a Federal Protective Services officer in a drive-by shooting outside the federal building in Oakland. The attack occurred as a large George Floyd protest was underway nearby.

“The concern is law enforcement getting overwhelmed with too many things to do,” Johnson said. “You had the anti-lockdown protests, now you have the civil unrest. Could this be a potential dry run for what we’re going to see later in the year as we approach the election — even post-election? Is this going to continue to grow and get more violent? That’s the concern.”

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