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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.

After Gun Massacre, Charlotte Is ‘One Of Those Cities’

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “Now we’re one of those schools.” That’s what a University of North Carolina student, in more sadness than anger, told a local radio station after a gunman killed two and wounded four others on her campus last Tuesday. And now Charlotte, a city already experiencing a spike in homicides, is “one of those cities.”

In the city and state, there is shock, plus questions. A suspect is in custody, but that doesn’t provide answers about why it happened and what can be done to keep it from happening again.

That this latest incident did not make it to the top spot in many national news outlets speaks to how commonplace such incidents have become and how frustrated many citizens are. Is the answer more mental health resources, more “good guys with guns,” more regulations and background checks, or something else?

Against this backdrop, the National Rifle Association is undergoing shakeups of its own, with warring leaders (chief executive Wayne LaPierre has won that fight with former president Oliver North), a sprawling mission that now includes NRATV taking stands on issues such as immigration and race as often as guns, and a looming investigation of its finances and nonprofit status by the New York attorney general.

But despite that, expect its GOP politicking and power plays to remain, as the presence of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as speakers at the NRA’s recent annual meeting makes clear. The organization’s new president, Carolyn Meadows, lives in Georgia’s 6th District, where Democrat Lucy McBath won in 2018 with a campaign that included support of some gun control measures, and Meadows has promised to support McBath’s opponent.

As usual, Americans looking for reassurance, or at least a discussion and some compromise, won’t get very much of either in a debate that will only grow more politically charged in an election season, especially with parties increasingly divided so evenly into opposite camps.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have made the issue their signature, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was in office in July 2012 when a gunman in a movie theater killed 12 people and wounded many others. After that incident, Hickenlooper shepherded gun control legislation, including background checks, in the state. Rep. Eric Swalwell also centered the issue in his campaign rollout, saying the Second Amendment does allow for gun control measures.

Sen. Kamala Harris, further up than either in most polls, has said that as president she would sign an executive order that includes regulations for gun manufacturers and restrictions for gun dealers, since legislation proposed in one chamber of Congress has little hope of passing in the other.

In North Carolina, where this latest school shooting has left many in shock, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is up for re-election in 2020. Last year, after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, he said that if there are breakdowns in the current process, “Then we need to talk about the next program for background checks, we need to talk about bump stocks, we need to talk about a number of other things that I think reasonable people are prepared to take action on in Congress.” Tillis, who has received support from the NRA, has also emphasized more mental health resources and has shied away from most gun control restrictions.

Debate in the North Carolina legislature mirrors the national one, with Democrats and Republicans offering dueling proposals, tightening or loosening gun restrictions, and framing the issue as a matter of freedom or safety. Republicans, who held a super-majority they lost in 2018, have filed bills that would expand gun rights, including one that keeps showing up, which would eliminate the state requirement for concealed handgun permits. In the wake of shootings, though, both sides are preaching what looks like impossible bipartisanship.

When bipartisanship fails, frustrated grassroots organizations have continued the discussion. If there is action or compromise, it will be prompted in part by groups such as the Parkland students, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, organizations named for and inspired by Gabrielle Giffords and James Brady, victims of gun violence, and citizens in neighborhoods and cities across the country touched by gun violence.

That list is growing. Tucson, Arizona, where my son was born, became one of those cities, as did the historic city of Charleston, South Carolina, where friends and acquaintances lost those close to them when a murderer killed nine at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. Shootings in schools, places of worship, in acts of domestic terrorism, in personal disputes, or because of imagined grievances unfortunately mean many more places are in danger of becoming one of those cities where no one imagined gun violence could happen.

Charlotte is now in the center of that debate, but if history is any guide, tragically it won’t be for long.

The danger is becoming numb to the unacceptable; the goal is to remind our leaders that that is not an option.

Mary C. Curtis is a columnist for Roll Call. An award-winning journalist, she has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

IMAGE: File Photo: NRA gun enthusiasts view Sig Sauer rifles at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings and exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. on May 21, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II


In Pennsylvania Senate Race, Unfamiliar Battle Lines On Gun Rights

PHILADELPHIA, Sept 16 (Reuters) – As he seeks re-election to his U.S. Senate seat this November, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey can make an unusual claim. He is the sole Republican nationwide running with the endorsement of top U.S. gun control advocates Gabby Giffords and Michael Bloomberg.

That pair of endorsements could give the first-term senator an edge over Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, a former environmental official in the White House and the Pennsylvania governor’s office. The race is one of a handful of close contests on Nov. 8 that could determine whether Republicans, currently with a 54-46 majority, maintain control of the Senate.

Both candidates are targeting educated moderate voters, particularly in the Philadelphia suburbs, many of whom may be turned off by the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to political analysts in Pennsylvania.

McGinty, who calls her support of gun control measures stronger than Toomey’s, is working hard to dismiss his endorsements from Giffords and Bloomberg, and has touted her own endorsement by a Pennsylvania anti-gun violence group.

Giffords, considered a hero by many gun control advocates, is a Democratic former U.S. congresswoman from Arizona who survived being shot in a 2011 assassination attempt and has become an activist for gun restrictions. Bloomberg is the billionaire former New York City mayor who considered a run for the presidency this year and, since leaving office, has focused much of his energy on gun control.

McGinty has called Toomey’s commitment to gun safety “paper thin” and notes that the Republican incumbent received an “A” rating from the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobbying group during his first Senate run in 2010.

The issue of gun rights is potent in a nation where the right to “keep and bear arms” is enshrined in Constitution’s Second Amendment. The NRA opposes candidates who support gun control efforts including restricting the types of firearms people can own or expanding background checks required for gun buyers. Many Republicans side with the NRA, while many Democrats support gun control.

Opinion polls show Toomey’s race as virtually tied, even as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton leads Trump by several percentage points in a state that has voted Democratic in the past six presidential contests, starting in 1992.

Pennsylvania is home both to rural communities where hunting is a popular pastime and big cities including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where crime and gun violence are major concerns. Shifting attitudes on guns in the state have emboldened both parties in Pennsylvania to distance themselves from the NRA’s stance opposing almost any effort to restrict gun rights.

The state’s law mandating background checks for private handgun sales already goes beyond federal law, said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania has a very substantial hunting and fishing culture,” Madonna said. “But hunters aren’t opposed to that.”


Toomey’s position on guns sets him apart from most of his Republican U.S. Senate counterparts, as he tries to attract moderates while keeping conservative voters in his column.

In a telephone interview, Toomey said the Giffords and Bloomberg endorsements recognized “that what I did was a very hard thing to do politically.” He also emphasized his belief that most gun owners share his position.

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter,” Toomey said. “I see no contradiction between that support and insisting on background checks, so that people who’ve got no right to the Second Amendment because they’re dangerous criminals or they’re dangerously mentally ill or they’re terrorists, should be denied a firearm any way we can.”

Giffords has also endorsed Ohio Senator Mark Kirk, another Republican running for re-election, though Bloomberg has not weighed in on that race.

In an email, McGinty told Reuters Toomey is “no moderate” when it comes to gun violence.

“Time and again, he has sided with the gun lobby instead of doing what’s right to keep communities safe,” McGinty said. “Pat Toomey has completely run away from legislation to expand background checks, since it failed to pass the Senate three years ago.”

Toomey made headlines in 2013 following an elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, when he and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia introduced legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers nationwide.

That legislation, fiercely opposed by the NRA, failed in the Senate, but Toomey gained praise from Democrats for bucking the majority of his party.

He voted for a similar bill after the mass shooting last year in San Bernardino, California, and supported Republican-backed legislation in Congress this year following the Orlando nightclub shooting to restrict access to firearms for people on official “terrorism watch lists.”

McGinty backed a stricter Democratic-backed version. None of the measures passed.

McGinty, who called Toomey’s gun control positions weak, favors more sweeping restrictions such as bans on military-style “assault weapons” and high-capacity ammunition clips that Toomey opposes.

In a recent television ad, McGinty used a clip of Toomey telling voters this summer that he had a “perfect record” with the NRA. The NRA has not yet released ratings or issued an endorsement in the race.

Toomey called McGinty a “political opportunist” and again pointed to his support from Giffords and Bloomberg.

“The idea that somehow they’ve all got it wrong and Katie McGinty, my opponent, has it right is just laughable,” he said. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Photo: U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) speaks to the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington DC, U.S. February 10, 2011.   REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

Trump Panders On Guns After NRA Endorsement

Today, Donald Trump gave a speech at the NRA, the first specifically devoted to his ever-changing views on gun control. Echoing his history of waffling on abortion, Trump took a maximalist position on the issue at hand in order to make the group of people directly in front of him satisfied with his show of ultra-conservatism.

“Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the second amendment,” Trump said unironically. “We’re not going to let that happen. I’ll tell you that. We’re going to preserve it, we’re going to protect it, we’re going to cherish it.” He went on to describe the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. “If we had guns, it wouldn’t have been that way,” he said.

“I’d like to call for Hillary Clinton to put together a list [of potential Supreme Court nominees] also,” Trump said, referring to his unprecedented step of letting the Heritage Foundation suggest a list for his campaign. “Because I’d like to see what that list consists of… It will not be good for the people in this room,” Trump said, before catching himself. “And it won’t be good, by the way, for the people of our country, most importantly.”

Trump had already taken to Twitter before his remarks to attack Hillary Clinton’s opposition to lax gun control regulations.

Trump is a relatively new supporter of the Second Amendment. While Charlton Heston famously raised a rifle over his head and said Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore would take his gun rights away “from my cold, dead hands,” Trump was decidedly less zealous.

“It’s often argued that the American murder rate is high because guns are more available here than in other countries. Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed. The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions,” he wrote in his book The America We Deserve. “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today’s Internet technology we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.”

When Trump announced that he is a “big Second Amendment guy,” it wasn’t only because he’s allegedly had a change of heart. It’s because he’s pandering to the most extreme elements of his base.

Similarly, Trump took the most extreme position possible on a woman’s right to have an abortion. This year, pressed for an answer by Chris Matthews, Trump said women should be punished for getting abortions. But back in 1999, he said, “I believe it is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.”
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses members of the National Rifle Association’s during their NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., May 20, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II