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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.

Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists Cheer Trump’s Feud With Black Leaders

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When President Donald Trump unleashes his racist attacks on public figures of color like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Al Sharpton, it provides direct comfort and support to the most repugnant and dangerous parts of the white supremacist movement.

But while unabashed racism has become ubiquitous in Trump’s rhetoric, a couple of remarks in his recent Twitter tirades jumped out at me as particularly strong dog whistles for darkest corners of the bigoted right-wing.

As part of his recent attacks, Trump said — without explanation — that Cummings is “racist.” Targeting Sharpton, he was even more specific about what he meant, saying the he “Hates Whites & Cops!

There is, of course, blatant hypocrisy in these remarks, because while the president and his defenders say it’s ridiculous to call him racist, Trump feels no compunction about lobbing such accusations at others without explanation. But aside from this obvious hypocrisy, it seemed to me there was something deeper and more nefarious going on in these accusations. It’s a step beyond his accusation that Omar and her allies in the “Squad” supposedly “hate America” — an accusation that is steeped in racism and bigotry but also reflects feeds off a long-running political argument in the United States about political divides over patriotism.

The accusation that Cummings and Sharpton actively hate “Whites” — not America generally, but only “Whites” — stood out. And white supremacist contributors to the hate site “Stormfront” picked up on the wording as well, taking it as a signal that the president is on their side.

“Is this the first time DJT has explicitly stood up for White folks?” one asked. “Or has he apologized yet? More of this, Donnie, and you might win next year!” (The president has not apologized.)

Others on the site agreed, echoing the sentiment that Sharpton hates white people, with some adding that all black people hate white people and that the feeling is “mutual.” One added a hopeful note about what Trump’s comments mean: “For an American President to call a black person racist will hopefully embolden thousands of Whites to do the same against other non-Whites.” Yet another said Trump got “bonus points” for his tweet capitalizing the word “Whites,” as is often a custom in these forums.

As has been repeatedly observed, many white supremacists who contributor to forums like Stormfront are skeptical and critical of the president because of his relationships with Jewish people. Anti-Semitism, Nazism, and Holocaust denial run deep in these circles, and while Trump has sometimes employed anti-Semitic rhetoric, he doesn’t go nearly as far as some of these bigots would like and he has Jewish family members. In the discussion of Trump’s remarks, some of the Stormfront contributors continued to express skepticism about the president for being “close to the jews,” but they welcomed his attack on Sharpton and “blacks in general.”

Jessie Daniels, a sociology professor at the City University of New York and expert on internet manifestations of racism, told me that the president’s comments were “egregious and obviously racist” and that she was “stunned” there was any debate about the question.

“If the white supremacists are giving you thumbs up, then that’s a good sign that what you’re doing is racist,” she said.

With these types of comments, she said, the president is clearly “emboldening” the far right.

“There’s this history and this consistency in this presidency of saying things that signal to white supremacists that he’s on their side,” Daniels said. She pointed to another moment during the 2016 campaign when Trump retweeted a user with the handle “WhiteGenocideTM.” Some white supremacists, she said, took this as a signal that he was on their side, even if they didn’t see him as an anti-Semitic ally.

By accusing prominent black figures of being racist toward white people, Trump feeds into the white supremacist myth that white people are the true victims of racism. This partisan nature of this belief is reflected in polling data, which shows that Republicans are significantly more likely to say whites are subject to “some” or “a lot of” discrimination.

Daniels said this has long been a part of the white supremacist narrative opposing civil rights and equality for African-Americans.

“Whites saw themselves as under attack because of the calls for equality,” she said.

“It goes through til today,” she continued.  “We’re living in a moment of white backlash against the Obama presidency.”

Most people who voted for Trump or plan to vote for him again likely don’t see themselves as allies of the people who contribute to sites like Stormfront. But Trump seems to think his best chance at re-election is by tapping into the fears at the core of the ideology that drives white supremacy, which may be shared by many people who would explicitly reject the label. And by echoing the type of rhetoric and beliefs favored in some of the most bigoted recesses of the far-right movement, Trump is doing his part to give these people a voice on the national stage.

Danziger: Death’s Head

In Germany, the murder of conservative politician Walter Lübcke by a neo-Nazi is an ominous sign of the state’s failure to control violent extremism.

‘RAM’ White Supremacists Charged in Charlottesville Riot Plead Guilty

Last year, when federal authorities arrested and charged four members or associates of a white supremacist gang for their roles in the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the men and their supporters struck a defiant tone.

The men proclaimed their innocence, and their backers described them in social media posts as “patriots” and “political prisoners.” The gang, known as the Rise Above Movement and based in Southern California, set up an anonymous tip line for people to share evidence that might exonerate the imprisoned members, and it established a legal defense fund, with donations taken via PayPal and bitcoin.

But in the following months, the men, one after the other, have pleaded guilty. Last Friday saw the final two guilty pleas, including one from Ben Daley, 26, one of the group’s leaders. He was joined by Michael Miselis, 30, a former Northrop Grumman aerospace engineer. The men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to riot.

“These avowed white supremacists traveled to Charlottesville to incite and commit acts of violence, not to engage in peaceful First Amendment expression,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said in announcing the guilty pleas. “Although the First Amendment protects an organization’s right to express abhorrent political views, it does not authorize senseless violence in furtherance of a political agenda.”

The Rise Above Movement and its role in the violence in Charlottesville in 2017 and at rallies in other cities was the subject of reporting by ProPublica and Frontline, work the authorities have credited in taking action against the men. Federal prosecutors in California are pursuing charges against four other RAM members, including its founder, Robert Rundo.

The plea documents filed during Friday’s court proceedings in Charlottesville lay out a detailed narrative of what the authorities say were RAM’s repeated acts of violence two years ago.

The narrative chronicles RAM’s combat training and the visual evidence capturing its members attacking protesters, including in Charlottesville, where, the authorities spell out, they “collectively pushed, punched, kicked, choked, head-butted, and otherwise assaulted several individuals, resulting in a riot.”

In pleading guilty, the authorities said, Daley and Miselis admitted their actions were not in self-defense.

In the contemporary white supremacist scene, RAM had positioned itself as the violent vanguard of the movement, a successor to the volatile and hyper-aggressive skinhead gangs that were prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s. Since its formation in 2016, the group has recruited several members of the Hammerskin Nation, the largest skinhead gang in the country, which has been tied to numerous killings, including the massacre of six Sikh worshippers at a temple outside Milwaukee.

Though RAM has eschewed the skinhead style — combat boots and bomber jackets — in favor of a more mainstream look, its members have embraced the bloody tactics of the Nazi skinhead gangs.

Miselis, a onetime engineering student at UCLA, was fired from his job at Northrop Grumman after ProPublica and Frontline exposed his membership in RAM. In a companywide email, then-CEO Wesley Bush said he was “deeply saddened yesterday to see news reports alleging that one of our employees engaged in violence as part of the Charlottesville protests.” Miselis held a government-issued security clearance while at Northrop, a major defense contractor, though the company has so far declined to say what projects Miselis was assigned to.

Rundo, who was living in Orange County at the time of his arrest, has also portrayed the federal prosecutions as a miscarriage of justice. “The rioting charges brought against us have not been used in 70 years,” Rundo said in a jailhouse interview posted on YouTube in February. “This has little to do with rioting and all to do with censorship and silencing anyone that they deem too radical by today’s standards.”

In the interview, Rundo blamed the media for demonizing RAM and described the group as a self-improvement club for white men.

Rundo has pleaded not guilty, and he could be headed to trial.

The RAM prosecutions have become something of a cause celebre for the racist right. Augustus Invictus, a fringe political figure and attorney, has set up a legal defense fund to solicit donations for the RAM members facing charges. “The federal government has taken an absolute political hard line against the right wing,” Invictus said in a 53-minute YouTube video discussing the case. The video has generated more than 22,000 views and nearly 700 comments, most of them sympathetic to RAM and many of them racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic.

One of RAM’s most infamous supporters is Robert Bowers, the Pennsylvania man accused of murdering 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. Shortly before the massacre, Bowers posted a message decrying the RAM prosecutions on Gab, a far-right social media platform. Bowers has pleaded not guilty in the unfolding case.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

IMAGE: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)