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Tag: boogaloo

Facebook’s Internal Probe Finds Failures That Stoked January 6 Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Facebook executives have been dismissive from the start about attempts to hold them accountable for their social media platform's role in inciting and organizing the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—including CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress last month in which he evaded questions about his company's culpability, saying: "I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law and do the insurrection."

But an internal Facebook report uncovered by BuzzFeed shows that the company failed to take action against "Stop the Steal" and other accounts where false information about the election was widely propagated in an attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election, violence was encouraged, and where much of the insurrection was organized. Though the report was completed shortly after Zuckerberg's testimony, it essentially corroborated a report by the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz days before he testified that found Facebook's culpability in the Capitol siege extended to well over a year before the event.

BuzzFeed reports that the internal document, assembled by an internal task force studying harmful networks, acknowledges the role of Facebook activity by "Stop the Steal" activists, as well as pro-Trump groups associated with the brief attempt to organize a "Patriot Party" split from the GOP, in the violent events of January 6. It also observes that insisting on an "inauthentic behavior" standard—rather than one based on the spread of misinformation and violent speech—hindered its attempts to take the appropriate preemptive steps.

"Hindsight is 20/20, at the time, it was very difficult to know whether what we were seeing was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy," reads the report. "But hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection."

"Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" wondered Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, in comments to BuzzFeed.

"For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to: Do you care? Do you care enough about democracy? Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" she said. "There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events. And when they're organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes."

The report noted that while Facebook executives were pleased "at having made it past the election without major incident," that feeling was "tempered by the rise in angry vitriol and a slew of conspiracy theories that began to steadily grow" afterwards.

Donovan observed that the Stop the Steal organizing began long before Election Day, and that Facebook's failure to prepare illustrates how poorly it is able to protect democracy. Indeed, that was largely the thrust of the Avaaz report on Facebook's culpability in the insurrection published March 18, six days before Zuckerberg testified.

The Avaaz study found that over the eight months leading up to the election, there were an estimated 10 billion views on key top-performing Facebook pages that regularly and repeatedly shared false information about the election. There was also a marked lack of moderation on those pages, allowing the "false or misleading information with the potential to cause public harm" to flourish. Those pages, the study found, saw a nearly threefold increase in interactions from October 2019—when they had 97 million—to a year later, when they had 277.9 million. It also found that nearly 100 million voters saw false voter fraud content on Facebook.

"A poll conducted in October 2020 found that 44 percent of registered voters reported seeing misinformation about mail-in voter fraud on Facebook (that equates to approximately 91 million registered voters)," the report states. "The polling suggests that 35 percent of registered voters (approximately 72 million people) believed this false claim."

This growth particularly benefited pages backing the authoritarian QAnon conspiracy cult and, later, the Stop The Steal movement. The Avaaz study found 267 groups championing violence around the election with a combined following of 32 million—nearly 70 percent of which had Boogaloo, QAnon, or militia-themed names and content.

Facebook's reliance on algorithmic detection played a large role in its failures to act on these pages, Avaaz noted, since the company's policies also allow misinformation on their platform if it is being spread by politicians. It noted that political ads for the Georgia election featured misinformation that had been debunked by fact checkers nonetheless being spread by Republican candidates—permissible under Facebook policy.

"The scary thing is that this is just for the top 100 pages—this is not the whole universe of misinformation," Fadi Quran, a campaign director at Avaaz, told Time. "This doesn't even include Facebook Groups, so the number is likely much bigger. We took a very, very conservative estimate in this case."

Donovan pointed to Facebook's focus on "inauthentic activity," such as people using fake accounts, as the source of its failure. This problem was manifested earlier when Facebook attempted to clamp down on QAnon pages, but failed utterly because its takedowns were based on "coordinated inauthentic behavior," which describes accounts and pages that mislead people about their identity and intentions, regardless of whether the information they spread is accurate or not.

In other words, those QAnon pages were removed not because they spread wildly false smears but because the people operating them broke Facebook's rules about false or double identities. It's a peculiarly self-serving standard that uses truthfulness in creating accounts as a proxy for truthfulness in the content being promulgated. Moreover, as Donovan told BuzzFeed, it means that Facebook can ignore how its products create coordinated activity among real people, and the harm that can result, she said.

The internal Facebook report largely acknowledges this, explaining that the social media giant was outmaneuvered by coordinated accounts that formed a powerful network of groups promoting hate, inciting violence, and spreading lies about the election.

So-called "super-inviter" accounts—highly influential activists within these far-right movements—played key roles in the ability of Stop the Steal pages to spread even after Facebook banned the original group. The largest of these pages were fueled by 137 super-inviters who recruited some 67 percent of their members; and that many of these people coordinated with each other, lying about their locations and using private groups to organize.

"Because we were looking at each entity individually, rather than as a cohesive movement, we were only able to take down individual Groups and Pages once they exceeded a violation threshold," the report reads. "After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement."

The Avaaz report features a long list of recommendations, including reforms for the company to undertake on its own, such as "detoxing" the algorithms, submitting to audits and other forms of transparency, and proactively correcting the record when misinformation appears on its platforms. It also recommends that President Biden launch an initiative to build an anti-disinformation infrastructure.

However, given Facebook's refusal to accept culpability in the insurrection, it also makes sense for lawmakers to take steps. So the report urges an investigation into Facebook's role, both by Congress and by a proposed January 6 Commission, which would "go beyond the actors involved in the insurrection, and investigate the tools they used, including Facebook's role in undermining the 2020 elections, and whether the platform's executives were aware of how it was being used as a tool to radicalize Americans and/or facilitate the mobilization of radicalized individuals to commit violence."

"This shows the company is anti-democratic at the very least," Donovan observed, "and at the very worst, it shows that they know the risks, and they know the harm that can be caused and they are not willing to do anything significant to stop it from happening again."

Domestic Terrorism Dominated By Right-Wing Extremists In 2020

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

We've known for some time that Donald Trump's presidency unleashed a tide of right-wing domestic terrorism that was especially notable for its increasingly lethal effects in its first three years. Now, thanks to a government intelligence report, we know that the final year of his tenure featured a continuation of this trend, though with a different emphasis.

The report, from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center and distributed to law enforcement officials around the nation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), says that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of fatal domestic terrorist attacks in 2020. Even though anti-government violence and civil unrest was the product of "non-affiliated, left-wing and right-wing actors," the report found, "right-wing [domestic violent extremists] were responsible for the majority of fatal attacks in the Homeland in 2020."

As Jana Winter at Yahoo News observes, the report marks a shift from the Trump administration's long-running record of downplaying the threat of far-right terrorism. A whistleblower's complaint in 2020 revealed that Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, DHS' second-highest-ranking official, issued orders to modify intelligence assessments so as to make the white supremacist threat "appear less severe." He also wanted the assessments to include information on "left-wing" groups and antifa.

The JRIC's analysis was based partially on data provided by U.S. Crisis Monitor, an organization with a full set of data on political violence that includes reporting on various protests around the nation.

Much of the most lethal domestic terrorism during the Trump years was the work of "lone wolf" extremists who committed mass killings on behalf of various far-right causes. That situation shifted noticeably in 2020 due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced opportunities and targets for such terrorism—and also created new opportunities amid protests over public health restrictions and police brutality, the latter of which were left-wing protests that attracted far-right terrorists intent on amplifying the protest violence.

The most stark example of this was "Boogaloo Boi" Steven Carrillo's shooting of two federal officers at the scene of an Oakland anti-police protest in June. Less than a week later, Carrillo also shot and killed a sheriff's deputy attempting to arrest him.

Since the report only included data on fatal incidents, it did not include any of the many cases of far-right domestic terrorism in 2020 that involved preemptive arrests of would-be terrorists. This includes the arrests in early 2020 of members of neo-Nazi terrorism squads The Base and Atomwaffen Division (members of these organizations were also arrested during the year for similar activities) as well as the arrests in Michigan of 14 militiamen who planned both an attack on the state Capitol in Lansing featuring televised executions of state officials, and to kidnap and kill Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Far-Right ‘Boogaloo’ Activist Charged With Rioting In Minneapolis

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump and many of his allies in the right-wing media have been claiming that most or all of the political violence that has occurred in the United States following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has come from the left — totally overlooking the history of violence associated with the Proud Boys, QAnon and a variety of white nationalist and militia groups. But federal prosecutors accused a Texas-based member of the far-right Boogaloo Bois on Friday of going to Minneapolis in late May with the intention of taking part in a riot.

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‘Boogaloo Boi’ Seeking Civil War Is Arrested For Deadly Attack On Deputies

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

It's becoming clear that the "Boogaloo Bois" who have been filling Facebook and other social media platforms with their increasingly violent scenarios about engaging in a civil war—beginning with civil authorities as the chief targets, expanding to include racial and ethnic minorities, and finally including their ordinary neighbors—are not content to merely keep fantasies online.

A 32-year-old Air Force sergeant with special combat training tried to make the "Boogaloo" a reality this week in Santa Cruz, California, when he embarked on a killing rampage targeting law enforcement officers, ambushing two sheriff's deputies, killing one, and severely wounding another. He then was stopped by a determined neighbor before he could get any farther. On the hood of his car, he had scrawled in blood: "I became unreasonable" and "Boog."

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Far-Right Wants To Act Out Its Civil War Fantasies Now

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Age of Conspiracy Theories in which we are now immured has produced a kind of bastard offspring: the Shared Violent Fantasy. Exhibit A is the "Boogaloo," the far-right's ironic name for the long-sought "second civil war" they believe is on the verge of erupting in the United States—and in which the ongoing novel-coronavirus pandemic has become a virtual petri dish for cultivating the fear of societal collapse essential to their worldview.

Like many conspiracy theories, and all such fantasies, the "Boogaloo" has a powerful tendency to produce real-life violence from people who absorb the underlying paranoid values and believe in them fervently. A recent incident in Texas in which a self-proclaimed "Boogaloo Boi" set out to murder a police officer in order to help spark the civil war underscores the extent to which the believers are likely eventually to attempt manifesting their fantasies—which can entail violence not just against authorities, but sometimes even their unsuspecting neighbors.

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‘Boogaloo’: Neo-Nazis Using Memes To Foment Violent Confrontation

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The myths and conspiracy theories that fuel the radical right often take on lives of their own: Think of how the QAnon phenomenon began as a handful of conspiracy theorists making groundless claims and predictions about a coming “Storm” that metastasized first into a wildly popular body of “Patriot”/militia conspiracism, and finally into a massive submovement operating within the framework of the Trump presidency—while producing a growing record of lethal violence by its unhinged believers.

Something similar appears to be coalescing around the “boogaloo”—the vision of members of the far right of a coming civil war, which they claim is being forced upon them by liberals who want to take their guns away as the first step toward their incarceration and enslavement. In reality, of course, a number of sectors of the far right have ginned up this kind of rhetoric for decades—but now, a systematic study of its spread through social media has found that it appears to be massing into a movement of its own.

The study, conducted by the independent Network Contagion Research Institute, explores, according to its subtitle, “how domestic militants organize on memes to incite violent insurrection and terror against government and law enforcement.” It focused on the “boogaloo” in large part due its increasing popularity—particularly as a hashtag (#Boogaloo or #Boogaloo2020)—on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as the extreme and often callous expressions of violent intent that form the essence of the chatter.

In its initial forms, the “civil war” talk was generated in different sectors of the radical right in different ways. Among neo-Nazis, it generally has focused on a “race war”—i.e., a genocidal conflict between whites and nonwhites—dating back to the 1980s and the classic white-supremacist blueprint, The Turner Diaries. This vein of rhetoric has produced a long record of lethal domestic terrorism, including the 1984 neo-Nazi criminal gang The Order; the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; and more recently, the 2011 attack in Norway that killed 87 people and the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand that killed 51.

Among the “Patriot” movement believers who form militias in resistance to “the New World Order,” most of the rhetoric has focused on using arms against law enforcement, particularly the federal kind, as well as the mythic “blue-helmeted” United Nations soldiers about to descend on them from black helicopters. In its more recent iterations among far-right Oath Keepers and “III Percent” militiamen, the “boogaloo” talk has mostly revolved around resistance to liberal gun-control legislation.

This reached its apotheosis in January when thousands of armed “Patriots” from around the United States descended on Richmond, Virginia, to protest imminent gun safety legislation making its way through the state’s General Assembly. Before the rally, FBI agents arrested a trio of neo-Nazis who were preparing to open fire on law enforcement at the event.

However, one of the results of the broad emergence of popular “boogaloo” rhetoric has been a blurring of the lines between the anti-government extremists who foresee conflict with federal forces and the more extreme white supremacists who lust for a bloody conflict between the white and nonwhite races. While many of the latter also eagerly participate in the anti-government talk, many of the former appear to be warming up to the race-war talk.

The NCRI study found not only that the discussion of the “boogaloo” on social media had surged, but that discrete groups were coalescing around the discussion and creating the nascent forms of a movement. The “boogaloo” “topic network” produces “a coherent, multi-component and detailed conspiracy to launch an inevitable, violent, sudden, and apocalyptic war across the homeland,” it said, adding that the models created by researchers “show that the meme acts as a meaningful vector to organize seditious sentiment at large.”

The conspiracy, replete with suggestions to stockpile ammunition, may itself set the stage for massive real-world violence and sensitize enthusiasts to mobilize in mass for confrontations or charged political events. Furthermore, the meme’s emphasis on military language and culture poses a specific risk to military communities due to the similar thematic structure, fraternal organization, and reward incentives.

One of the “boogaloo” groups featured in the study, calling itself “Patriot Wave,” illustrated perfectly how the lines between militia “Patriots” and alt-right white nationalists were completely blurred and submerged in the larger project of fomenting a violent civil war. Its members wore alt-right “Pepe the Frog” patches with the title “Boogaloo Boys,” while others wore the skull balaclava generally associated with members of the fascist Atomwaffen Division.

The study also pointed to a particular area of concern: namely, the ability of these extremists to simply blend into existing power structures, including law enforcement and the military. One “boogaloo” enthusiast, Coast Guardsman Christopher Hasson, was arrested with a full arms cache and a plan to assassinate liberal political leaders. A Patriot Wave member is quoted in the study: “Some of the guys we were with aren’t exactly out of the military yet, so they had to keep their faces covered.”

The spread of the “boogaloo” organizing on social media has been facilitated with the use of hashtags #Boogaloo and #Boogaloo2020, which are then accompanied by associated hashtags such as #2A, #CivilWar2, and #2ndAmendment, as well as hashtags such as #BigIgloo, intended to elude filters.

This kind of informational conflict—or what the study calls “memetic warfare”—has evolved, the study says, “from mere lone-wolf threats to the threat of an entire meme-based insurgency.”

The NCRI report was sent to members of Congress and the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, among others. Paul Goldenberg, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, told NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny that the report was “a wake-up call.”

“When you have people talking about and planning sedition and violence against minorities, police and public officials, we need to take their words seriously,” said Goldenberg.