WASHINGTON - In April, three U.S. military veterans in the state of Nevada began plotting attacks on government targets to bring about a second American civil war – what they called the "Boogaloo."
The three men – Army reservist Andrew Lynam, former Navy seaman Stephen Parshall and former Air Force airman William Loomis – had apparently met on a Facebook group created by adherents to the Boogaloo ideology, according to federal documents.
They were part of a growing online movement of extremists bridling at government lockdowns imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the coming weeks, the trio, carrying assault rifles and wearing military-style vests, met in the woods outside Las Vegas and attended several “Reopen Nevada” rallies. Their goal: disrupting the U.S. economy and government.
At one point, they discussed setting off fireworks, smoke bombs or noisemakers at an upcoming rally.
“The goal would be to set the devices off and to cause panic to the police and public, in hopes that it causes others to take some type of action,” according to a criminal complaint against them.
At another point, they considered a dry run: destroying a ranger station near Lake Mead.
The group, Lynam told his accomplices, "was not for joking around and that it was for people to violently overthrow the United States government," according to a confidential FBI informant cited in federal prosecutors’ filings in Las Vegas.
Then on May 25, George Floyd, an African American, died while in the custody of white Minneapolis police officers, sparking anti-police protests, civil unrest and violence across the country that drew the attention of the Boogaloo Boys.
While President Donald Trump and his administration blamed radical left-wing groups like antifa for stoking violence, to date, out of more than 70 people arrested on federal charges, not a single case has been tied to antifa. In contrast, federal prosecutors have charged Boogaloo Boys in at least three cases in Nevada, California and Texas. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department does not track group affiliations of those arrested and charged.
As the anti-police protests spread to Las Vegas, Parshall and Loomis discussed “causing an incident to incite chaos and possibly a riot,” according to the court documents.
They then scouted their target: a power substation in Las Vegas. The idea was "to create civil unrest and rioting throughout Las Vegas" – a prelude to a violent confrontation with the government, according to the documents.
But the plot unraveled after an associate of the conspirators tipped off the FBI and began secretly working with agents. The men were arrested on May 30 and indicted last week on federal charges of conspiracy to cause destruction during the protests and possession of a Molotov cocktail.
The arrests, the first of known Boogaloos, put a spotlight on a shadowy movement. Law enforcement officials say it is one of a handful of radical groups – both from the left and right of the ideological spectrum – that have attempted to advance their cause by exploiting nationwide protests against police violence and government lock-downs of the economy.
Court documents filed in the Nevada case and in the killing of a protective service officer in California reveal how Boogaloo Boys are willing to co-opt practically any anti-government or anti-establishment event – from demonstrations against lockdowns to Black Lives Matter protests – to pursue the goal of bringing about a violent confrontation with the government.
“These individuals made an effort to capitalize on both, which shows that it's not really a right or left mentality for these guys so much as anti-government," said Katie Paul, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Tech Transparency Project, which has investigated the movement’s activity on Facebook.
Even before Floyd's death, Paul said, some Boogaloo members sought to take advantage of demonstrations prompted by the killing of an African American jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, by a white father and son in Georgia. "They actually posted [an] article [about Arbery's death] in one of the private Facebook groups and said, is this a recruiting opportunity?" Paul said.
The term boogaloo – often used sarcastically – is a pop culture reference to a second civil war, its origins traced to a 1965 hit song – Boo-Ga-Loo – and the 1984 Hollywood cult classic Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Boogaloo sympathizers say they’re law-abiding citizens determined to protect their constitutional rights and to fight tyranny.
In a recent video introducing "Top 5 Boogaloo Guns," the unnamed host of the YouTube channel, Iraqveteran888, sporting a Hawaiian-inspired shirt, described Boogaloo as a "potential standing up against a tyrannical government” and taking to the streets “to take care of business.”
Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who researches online extremism, said bad press about the movement has led many adherents to play up their libertarian streak.
“So everything is about tyranny right now, like we're against tyranny, tyranny, tyranny,” Squire said.
The Department of Homeland Security rejects the notion that Boogaloos are either left wing or right wing.
“They’re simply violent extremists from both ends of the ideological spectrum,” DHS tweeted on June 20.
But in an affidavit filed in connection with the killing of the protective service officer in Oakland, California, an FBI agent wrote that while the Boogaloo movement is not “a defined group,” their followers may identify as militia and “share a narrative of inciting a violent uprising against perceived government tyranny.”
Although Attorney General William Barr initially blamed antifa, he later acknowledged that a “witch’s brew” of extremist groups had been involved in the civil unrest and that the Boogaloos have been “on the margin of this … trying to exacerbate the violence.”
Much of the movement’s behind the scenes activities takes place in private Facebook groups. Although Facebook has banned many other right-wing groups, the Boogaloos continue to thrive on the social platform, according to Paul.
In an April report, the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found 125 Boogaloo-linked groups on Facebook, more than 60 percent of them created in the prior three months as states across the country imposed stay-at-home orders. Collectively, the Facebook groups have about 75,000 members.
A Facebook spokeswoman said the social network has removed Boogaloo-linked content and accounts.
“For specific accounts for people who claim an affiliation to boogaloo and who have attempted to commit mass violence, we ban those people from having a further presence on our platform under our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy,” the spokeswoman said via email. “For individual content (including Pages and groups) we remove content tied to boogaloo under our Violence and Incitement policy.”
The three military veterans arrested in Nevada belonged to several Boogaloo Facebook groups. All three were members of “Battle Born Igloo” – one of dozens of local chapters created on Facebook “as Boogaloo supporters sought to exploit public fears about government-led coronavirus lockdowns,” according to the TTP report. Lynam, the Army reservist, was an administrator of the page. The page was taken down after the three men’s arrests.
“He was very much a coordinated organizer and used Facebook to create this local chapter," Paul said of Lynam.
Another Facebook group Lynam belonged to was called [Redacted] Liberty: Intelligence and Surveillance,” previously known as "BoojieBastards: Intelligence and Surveillance."
One of the largest Boogaloo groups on Facebook, its members included users "identifying as veterans, active military, retired and active police, supporters and detractors of President Trump, and average citizens with no obvious political ideology," according to TTP. Members of the group shared a bomb-making manual and a manifesto, including a chapter on assassination.
Although Facebook removed the group, Paul said “another intel” group run by the same administrators has since replaced it.
In addition to the Nevada Facebook group, Parshall, the former Navy seaman, belonged to “The Rhett E. Boogie Group,” a group that has more than 3,500 members and remains active. He was added to the group a day after it was created, suggesting he was close to its organizers, according to TTP. Parshall’s Facebook profile featured white supremacist imagery including photos of a swastika and a Confederate flag.
The federal criminal complaint against Parshall and his accomplices did not reference any damning private communications on Facebook, suggesting the trio took steps to cover their tracks.
“They're aware that they are being watched, but they're very careful about that,” Paul said.
Not so Steve Carrillo, a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant and boogaloo sympathizer accused of killing the protective security officer guarding a courthouse and a local police officer in California in late May and early June.
On May 27, two days after Floyd's death, Carrillo allegedly met another apparent Boogaloo sympathizer – Robert Justus – on Facebook and discussed plans to attend a protest in Oakland, California, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in San Francisco.
“It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide," Carrillo wrote on Facebook in the early hours of May 28, according to court documents. "It’s a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois" – a reference to law enforcement agencies.
Seventeen minutes later Justus responded: "Let's boogie."
Seven minutes later, an unidentified commenter chimed in: “Starting tomorrow, Oakland be popping off. Maybe more.”
The next evening, according to prosecutors, with Justus driving a van, Carrillo opened fire on two unsuspecting officers guarding a federal courthouse in Oakland, killing Protective Service Officer Dave Patrick Underwood and critically wounding another officer.
The killing led to an eight-day manhunt. On June 6, Carrillo was arrested after killing a sheriff’s deputy during a shootout with law enforcement officers.
Following his arrest, investigators found several clues tying Carrillo to the Boogaloo movement. In his abandoned van, they found a ballistic vest with a patch bearing symbols associated with the Boogaloo movement: an igloo and a Hawaiian style print.
Before being taken into custody, Carrillo, apparently using his own blood, wrote several boogaloo-linked phrases on the hood of a car he had carjacked: “BOOG,” “I became unreasonable,” and “stop the duopoly.” It’s unknown whether Carrillo and his accomplice belonged to any boogaloo groups on Facebook.
In announcing Carrillo’s indictment, assistant attorney general John Demers made a reference to a frequently invoked Boogaloo term: liberty. “Liberty,” Demers said in a statement, “flourishes in the rule of law.”