Hawaiian Aloha shirts used to be associated unequivocally with relaxing times and even with love and peace. No longer. In recent months a unique group of protesters surprised America: wearing masks – a pandemic requirement – body armor and Hawaiian shirts and armed with conspicuous weapons.
In the New Hampshire anti-lockdown protest on April 18, members of the group proudly posed for pictures alongside protestors carrying signs such as “Deplorables for Trump 2020,” “Live free or die,” “Fire Fauci” (the lockdown champion).
They call themselves the “Boogaloo bois” (or boys), a radical libertarian group, overwhelmingly white, with a long and often contradictory list of revindications. Considered a far-right group, central to their cause are gun rights, government disruption (through armed insurrection), fighting with police and readiness for the imminent second Civil War, or race war, according to some Boogaloo members.
In the ‘60s, Boogaloo defined a musical genre; in 1984, a substandard movie, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” about breakdancing was released. It was so bad it became a cult favorite and years later appeared as a meme. Furthermore, it served as a joke in online right-wing and paramilitary discussion groups. A modified phrase gained space. “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo,” later shortened to “Boogaloo;” this derived to the similar sounding “Big Igloo”, and further to “Big Luau,” the Hawaiian celebration. Here is where Hawaiian shirts made connection. The subsequent fusion of disparate elements such as Hawaiian themes, Pepe the frog and AR-15 could only happen online.
Boogaloo members never protest alone, they embed into protests of other movements, such as the “excessive quarantine” (anti-lockdown) and “Black Lives Matter.” During the Kentucky anti-lockdown protest on April 17, a post on Facebook explained that, founded on principles of liberty, Boogaloo is inherently anti-supremacist, anti-religious radicalism, anti-hatred and anti-bigotry of all kinds. Boogaloo asserted they are against the two-party political system, tax increase, the mainstream media, police brutality, useless wars abroad, the state surveillance of individuals, the lose-lose “war on drugs” and pedophiles (likely alluding to Catholic priests).
Although claiming to “…welcome people of all races, nationalities, sexualities, faiths, genders, and orientations to join…in building a truly free and independent society for all,” the group’s proclivity toward violence suggests making the world a better place to live is anything but their goal.
“Soon the Boogaloo will be upon us and only the strong will survive,” said the host of the YouTube video “Tundra Guide to Boogaloo,” in which he dares viewers to hit the thumbs-down button, “if you’re a filthy commie.” This video and many akin, such as “What your tactical rifle brand says about you.” were posted by for-profit Tundra Tactical.
After months of investigations, the watchdog Tech Transparency Project (TPP) found that 125 groups on Facebook were devoted to Boogaloo; 79 of them were created between February and April; 36,171 out of 72,686 total members, had joined in the last 30 days. Other associated names are “Thicc Boog Line” and “Boojahideen,” a play on Mujahedeen, the person or group skilled in the art of Boogaloo. “In several private Boogaloo Facebook groups that TTP was able to access, members discussed tactical strategies, combat medicine and various types of weapons, including how to develop explosives and the merits of using flame throwers.”
To a few, Boogaloo also brings cash. Thicc Boog Line is “your go-to source for all your Boojahideen fashion needs,” the webpage says; its brand first-aid kit costs $92, whereas elsewhere a basic American Red Cross kits costs $11. Tundra Tactical sells a variety of weapons and claims to provide education and expertise.
In late November 2019, in Mahopac, New York, Afghanistan veteran Alex Booth started an Instagram live video session for a few thousand followers. Cheering Boogaloo, he said police were after his weapons, (domestic violence, police said). Booth barricaded himself. Enraged alt-right and paramilitary groups showed fervent online support. It appeared that militia men by the thousands would drive to Mahopac and face the “traitors.” After seven hours, 130,000 followers saw Booth surrendering. An out-of-state man and a handful of locals were the few who showed up, just to be disappointed by their comrades’ inaction.
No more passivity. On April 11, Boogaloo sympathizer Aaron Swenson (“Arnold Derpingston” on Facebook) of Texarkana, TX, decided to act: he was arrested while live-streaming the hunt of any police officer who happened to cross his path.
On May 30, in Las Vegas, Nevada, during protests for the killing of George Floyd, three Boogaloo men were caught making Molotov cocktails for immediate use. They were arrested on charges of terrorism. Their plans included bombing an electrical substation and inciting violence in other Black Live Matters protests.
On June 4, in Columbia, South Carolina, at protests for George Floyd’s murder, Boogaloo man Joshua Bernard, 25, broke into a police car, stole a jacket and behaved violently. He was taken into custody on, among other charges, riot instigation.
What about hate groups in Pennsylvania?
Quaker William Penn envisioned his to be the utmost tolerant State. Centuries later things turned out differently. In November 1994, Lee Murdoch of Chester County, a white man, was brutally killed for no reason by two white supremacists to prove allegiance to their brotherhood. Celebrations followed: over and over Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with its lyrics “I just killed a man” were heard, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Four months later, another horrific act shocked Allentown. Two neo-nazi brothers, 16 and 17, helped by a cousin, 18, stabbed and bludgeoned to death their mother and then killed their father and younger brother with a baseball bat.
Hate didn’t disappear in Pennsylvania: it rather proliferated. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League documented seven hate manifestations in the State in the last three years. In 2018, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti (a swastika) was discovered at Lafayette College; Anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and racist graffiti were found at a Lehigh University Library.
In February 2019, the “alt-right” group “Patriot Front,” distributed propaganda at Muhlenberg College. In May 2019, The Commuter documented that “hate came to NCC.” On April 15, 2020 the Boogaloo bois joined the anti-lockdown protests at the Pennsylvania State Capitol.
According to the Civil Rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in 2019, Pennsylvania housed 36 active hate groups, ranking eighth in the U.S. These groups represent ideologies such as anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, black separatists, general hate, hate music, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, neo-Volkisch, radical traditional Catholicism, racist skinhead and white nationalists. They operate mainly in Philadelphia (8 groups) and Pittsburg (4).
What can we do? The SPCL recommends 10 ways to fight hate:
1. Act: do something.
2. Unite: call a friend or a co-worker.
3. Support the victims: if you are the victim report it.
4. Do your homework: an informed campaign improves effectiveness.
5. Create an alternative: do not attend a hate rally.
6. Speak up: hate must be exposed and denounced.
7. Lobby leaders: they can be important allies.
8. Look long range: promote tolerance and address bias.
9. Teach tolerance: bias is learned early, usually at home.
10. Dig deeper: look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes.