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The Complicated Truth About the Boogaloo Movement

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Published on 22 Oct 2020 / In News and Politics

These Hawaiian shirt-wearing, gun-toting Gen Z activists say they stand with Black Lives Matter, against gun control, and are preparing for total state collapse.

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Is America headed for a civil war?

According to the followers of one fast-growing online subculture, increasing political polarization and instability will inevitably lead to a domestic armed conflict, which they refer to as Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.

That's a play on the title of a 1984 breakdancing film, from which the movement—known as "the Boogaloo," "Big Igloo" or, sometimes, "Big Luau"—also derived its name.

The Hawaiian shirt-wearing, gun-toting activists known as Boogbois have migrated out of memespace and into the streets, showing up at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in many American cities—often in apparent sympathy with the cause.

The media have called them white nationalists and accelerationist terrorists. "The boogaloo movement is (for the most part) a libertarian group," according to one member.

But these labels don't capture what this dispersed movement is all about.

The Boogaloo movement is Gen Z Second Amendment activism. Its members forgo the patriotic symbolism of traditional militia movements for flowered apparel, bright patches, and colorful memes. Their approach to organizing resembles Hong Kong's decentralized, privacy-conscious, and social media-heavy protest movement.

They are digitally native activists, raised on Instagram and TikTok, who understand that in the world of online feedback loops, actions are often less important than the way they're presented.

Their online rhetoric is infused with paranoia, and its members circulate unfounded theories of rampant, unchecked pedophilia, which they say must be stamped out extrajudicially, if necessary. They claim that societal breakdown is inevitable, but their public stances often makes it seem as if a violent Civil War is something they'd like to see happen. And the movement's organic, leaderless structure leaves it highly susceptible to being co-opted by its worst, most dangerous actors.

The members who spoke to Reason stand against gun control, the drug war, and aggressive policing. They are also convinced that there's rampant pedophilia in American society that must be dealt with, extrajudicially if need be.

Sometimes they've aligned themselves with right-wing militia groups, at other moments, with Black Lives Matter. The one issue that seems to unify them is a conviction that armed resistance to government overreach is entirely justified.

"It's a very powerful movement that has come together and unified against racism, tyranny, pedophilia, and government overreach," says Mike Dunn, a visible face in a mostly faceless movement. "It's one of the biggest unified movements there has been among gun owners and freedom-loving Americans."

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. 

Photos: Zach D Roberts/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Jana Birchum/Polaris/Newscom; REBECCA COOK/REUTERS/Newscom; BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS/Newscom; JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/Newscom; John C. Clark/ZUMA Press/Newscom; JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/Newscom; JULIA RENDLEMAN/REUTERS/Newscom; NURI VALLBONA/REUTERS/Newscom; Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA/Newscom; Stephanie Keith/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Joel Angel Juarez/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Adam J. Dewey/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Zach D Roberts/ZUMA Press/Newscom; John C. Clark/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/Newscom; JULIA RENDLEMAN/REUTERS/Newscom; JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/Newscom; John Rudoff/Sipa USA/Newscom; Chad Martin / SOPA Images/Sipa U/Newscom

Music: "Leaving Earth," Bits and Pieces," "Killing Time," "Imitate," "Fall," and "Apparition" by Stanley Gurvich licensed through Artlist.

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