On May 29, Jonathan Young posted two pictures to his Facebook page.
“Y’all think I should wear the AR w/the high tops, the AK w/the low tops, or the Shockwave with the turtle slippys?” Young asked above a three-way split photo showing his footwear choices accessorized with body armor, a pair of assault rifles and a shotgun.
“The people have spoken!” he captioned a later post with a picture depicting Young brandishing the Shockwave pump-action shotgun, while sporting an incongruous pair of fluffy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slippers. In the end though, he went with the AK-47.
This was not just a Facebook fashion show, this was Young’s way of finding out how he wanted to arm himself before attending a Black Lives Matter protest planned that night in front of the CMPD’s Metro Division office on Beatties Ford Road.
Young was openly carrying his customized polymer-frame AK-47 with a foregrip when Queen City Nerve tweeted a photo of him standing with a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside the CMPD department that night, the first night of Charlotte protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Young later told us that he came to the protest because of the shocking disparity between police treatment of white and Black protesters. He cited photos published in May showing heavily armed Reopen NC demonstrators parading unchallenged outside the State Capitol building in Raleigh.
“Every time Black and brown people try to take to the streets and exercise their rights and be heard, they’re met with force. But they don’t do that for white guys with guns,” Young asserted. “They don’t get tear-gassed. They don’t get shot with rubber bullets.”
Young felt that, as a white guy with a gun, he needed to show up in solidarity with BLM advocates. “It was time for me to stop being an armchair quarterback,” he said.
Boogaloo Boys Enter the American Consciousness
What many folks noticed on social media that night wasn’t the AK-47 in Young’s hand, but the patch on his vest. The patch resembled a can of Campbell’s soup and read, “Boogaloo Bois Condensed/ Alphabet Boi Soup.” It depicted three bullet holes surrounding a government seal.
The day after the protest, Young was taken into custody by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Though he doesn’t use the term to describe himself, Young has at least once posted memes professing sympathy with the Boogaloos, also called Boogaloo Boys (or Bois) or the Boojahideen. That’s not to mention the patch that he openly flaunted at the Beatties Ford Road protest.
The Boogaloo Boys are a loosely knit group of heavily armed, anti-government activists — though some media outlets have recently upgraded “activist” to “extremist.”
The name originated from internet slang for sequel, referencing the 1984 film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and evolved into terminology referencing the second Civil War on far-right, anti-government 4chan chat groups. The group has been referred to as “accelerationist,” meaning that their goal is to incite violence so as to bring about a new civil war faster.
The Boogaloo term spawned puns and wordplay. “The Big Igloo” came to be seen as a synonym for a violent schism, civil war or period of unrest. Boogaloo aficionados also started wearing Hawaiian shirts to protests and rallies to signal to other followers that they supported the apocalyptic “Big Luau” that was coming.
A History of Violence
Writing for The Intercept on June 10, British journalist Mehdi Hasan called Boogaloos “perhaps the most dangerous group that, until the past week or so, most Americans had never heard of.” To bolster his claim, Hasan listed a series of Boogaloo run-ins with the law.
In March, 36-year-old Timothy Wilson was shot and killed by the FBI after plotting to bomb a Kansas City hospital. An undercover FBI agent reported that Wilson referred to his aborted attack as “Operation Boogaloo.”
In April, 36-year-old Arkansas man Aaron Swenson was arrested for threatening to kill a police officer in a Facebook Live video. According to the police, Swenson also made Boogaloo references on Facebook.
In Nevada in early June, federal prosecutors charged three men with conspiring to “cause destruction during protests in Las Vegas,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Former military personnel Stephen T. “Kiwi” Parshall, Andrew Lynam, and William L. Loomis attended a May 29 protest honoring George Floyd in Las Vegas, CNN reported.
After Parshall tried to goad the crowd to commit violent acts, the three men were arrested for carrying a Molotov cocktail to a second BLM demonstration the next day. Prosecutors allege that the three men have Boogaloo ties.
On June 16, federal law enforcement officials charged 32-year-old Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo and suspected accomplice Robert Justus Jr. for the May 29 murder of a federal security officer during a protest in Oakland, California.
Surveillance video showed Carrillo slide open the door of a van to shoot at two security guards outside of a federal building in downtown Oakland during the protest, killing one. Justus was allegedly driving the van. When investigators searched the van, which was found in some woods outside of the city, they found guns, ammunition, bomb-making material, and a tactical vest with a patch not unlike Young’s. It depicted an igloo and Hawaiian style print.
“There is no evidence that these men had any intention to join the demonstration in Oakland,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jack Bennett at a press conference following Carrillo’s arrest. “They came to Oakland to kill cops.”
When police went looking for Carrillo at his home 70 miles south of the city, he opened fire on them, killing one sergeant and injuring another. After being shot himself, Carrillo hijacked a car on a nearby highway, and by the time he was finally taken into custody, he had written “BOOG” on the hood of the car in his own blood.
Movement or Meme?
Young rejected the characterization of the Boogaloos as a group of white supremacist extremists along the lines of racist militias like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. He described himself as a left-leaning Libertarian.
“I am pro-black, pro-brown, pro-LGBTQ, pro-community, anti-government and anti-cop,” he said.
In fact, the Boogaloos are hardly a movement at all, he asserted. There are loose amalgamations of groups, mostly 3-to-5-man-strong, scattered across the country, he explained. A federal complaint against Carrillo states that the Boogaloos are not a fixed group.
Boogaloo Boys are primarily an online phenomenon, Young maintained, or at least that’s how people get into the Boogaloo headspace. Young said he got into the Boogaloo loop through Facebook gun groups. Then a stream of anti-government jokes and memes led him to more closed groups.
“A lot of the groups … are slightly left-leaning,” Young asserted. “I have an affinity for fighting with racists on the internet, [so] that moved me to the forefront of these groups. I got administrative powers so I could block people.
At the same time, it’s a mistake to think of the Boogaloo Boys as a fraternity, he offered. “I always felt like Boogaloo is an action word. It’s the end result of all of [our] anti-government struggles.”
The Feds Come Knocking
In fact, it was a meme that got Young into trouble with federal authorities. He posted a picture of a soldier in a skull mask with the accompanying caption, “I want you to join the United States Boojahideen.” Young appended his own caption, “If we could all get on the same page, we could sack every PD [police department] in America in one day.”
Young said he was inspired by watching protesters in Minneapolis take over a police precinct on May 28 and redistribute riot gear. Apparently, the FBI was not amused.
The day after the Beatties Ford Road protest, Young was stopped in Clover, South Carolina, by five unmarked cars, he recounted.
“Eight York County sheriff’s deputies jumped out in full tactical gear and pointed rifles at my head, so they could walk me across the street to the Clover Police Department,” Young remembered. There, two plainclothes FBI agents sat down across the table from Young and pulled out a folder filled with screen grabs of memes he had posted.
“I told them how I felt,” Young recalled. He said he complained about CMPD’s use of overwhelming force with military grade weapons during the previous night’s protests.
The authorities subsequently stripped Young of his Second Amendment rights; he asserted. Citing a 15-year-old misdemeanor in which then-17-year-old Young was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after throwing a keg party for his teenage friends, the FBI made Young agree to move his weapon to his mother’s house.
“[They] told me when I get this misdemeanor expunged then I can have my guns and armor back,” Young said.
After being held for 24 hours and released on a $1,000 bond, Young went home to discover all his social media accounts had been taken down and his access blocked.
“I was completely shadow banned by Facebook — no notification, no warning, no violation of community standards,” he offered.
‘It’s more or less tactical cosplay’
Despite the rather humorous roots of the memes’ name, the Boogaloo movement itself is deadly serious, according to federal law enforcement agencies (referred to as Alphabet Bois by many Boogaloo supporters, explaining the Campbell’s alphabet soup patch that Young wore at the May 29 protest).
The Boogaloos are extremists who are fixated on an apocalyptic war, The Economist reported in May. “Boogaloo Boys style the forthcoming war as a repeat of the American civil war,” the publication explained, saying that violent overthrow of the government was the end game.
Kevin, who asked that Queen City Nerve not mention his surname, disagreed with that assessment.
“I don’t believe that there is any such thing as the Boogaloo movement,” Kevin said. “[Boogaloo] is more of a running joke on the internet.”
Kevin who described himself as “a Christian, a Conservative, a Libertarian and an American Patriot,” could be considered an online warrior. He’s interested and knowledgeable about the Boogaloo Boys, but he has not taken part in any protests.
“I’ve got a pretty busy schedule and a family to take care of,” Kevin offered. “[Protesting] hasn’t been a part of my schedule.”
A Movement Cultivated Online
Like Young, Kevin was drawn into the Boogaloo world through online memes, which led to Facebook groups. He remembered when he noticed the word “Boogaloo” gaining traction within that virtual world.
“Any event that would involve rising up against a tyrannical government or trying to wipe out authoritarianism or totalitarianism was loosely referred to as the Boogaloo,” Kevin recalled.
Still, for all the attention that the Boogaloo Boys have received, it has still not translated to paramilitary action in the real world, Kevin insisted.
“It’s a meme that has gathered a large cult following,” Kevin asserted. “It’s more or less tactical cosplay.” [We spoke with Kevin before Carrillo’s arrest.]
According to Young, Kevin’s account comprises only part of the online Boogaloo story.
He said the Boogaloo movement — and he still uses the term “movement” loosely — can be broken down into two groups. The first group started in the underbelly of the internet, websites like 4chan and 8chan that host extreme white nationalist views and hate speech.
“I’m not a part of that,” Young said, “I don’t know what those guys talked about.”
Facebook Attracts a New Generation
Once Boogaloo moved to Facebook, it started picking up younger members like himself, Young maintained.
“Mostly we talked about guns and the government, as far as regulations and everything,” he offered. A large subsection of the group is more left-leaning, he asserted. There are members that support their communities and people of color. There are many Boogaloos that are anti-police.
“For what it’s worth, a lot of those people see the brutality against Black people and they’re pissed off about it,” Young said.
There are plenty of folks taking different tones on the internet, as well, if you know where to look.
The #Charlotte-Urgent sub-channel of the Citizens Liberty Organization on the Discord chat app was home to many self-identified “boogs,” and the talk often focused on protecting local businesses from looting protesters, rarely on defending protesters from police.
On May 29, while the Beatties Ford protest was happening, a man who said he was working security at a Cook Out on Sunset Road four miles from the protest sent out an urgent “Send Help!” alert into the chatroom that read, “Not a drill.” He reported that someone had waved a gun out of a car while driving by the restaurant and he needed backup.
Immediately users like NC_Redneck_Jarhead and Gizmo started asking for “clear comms” and “sitreps” while Zoomer Medi said “We need EXFIL immediately.” A few users said they were on the way, some from hours away, but it’s unclear whether any of them ever actually met up. The #Charlotte-Urgent has since been retired.
A Carolina Boog Takes a Trip to Minneapolis
“I’m part of the Booj army,” Ryan Teeter professed proudly. One of the Boogaloos angered by police-inflicted oppression and violence against people of color, the 22-year-old from Hampstead, North Carolina, has been in Minneapolis since late May.
Teeter had been following the news in the wake of officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd when he heard through social media that one of the local North Carolina Boogaloos had been detained by police in Minneapolis and was then maced during a protest the following day. Teeter, who is self-employed as a handyman and home renovator, hopped in his car and drove to Minneapolis.
“I’ve never been one to stand by when something bad I think is going on,” Teeter said. “George [Floyd] was from North Carolina, so I figured that somebody better stand up and represent with him.”
Teeter is gay and a staunch supporter of gay rights, though he says he doesn’t support the kind of civil rights legislation that would force bigoted bakers to make a cake for a gay marriage.
“If we mandate that someone has to do labor for someone that … is enslavement,” Teeter professed. “I think people should be allowed to have bad ideas.” He said he simply prefers not to give his business to people who believe he doesn’t have a right to exist.
“Let bigots be bigots,” Teeter maintained.
When asked to describe his political stance, his answer carried more than a hint of bravado.
“I heard if I came up here, I might get to hunt Nazis and I was pretty excited about it,” Teeter offered. “So, I think that should explain that.”
Turning Thoughts to Action
In practice, he hasn’t had much time to hunt fascists. Most days, Teeter’s brigade of Boogaloo Boys are out among the peaceful protesters. During daylight hours they leave their assault rifles and body armor behind so they can blend in with the populace.
“We’re not trying to co-opt this and make it about us,” Teeter maintained. “The point was to come out here and protest with these people, and then if need be, to protect them.”
Protection becomes a priority after sunset. That’s normally when the Boogaloo Boys take up positions to guard local businesses or apartment buildings. Teeter’s kitted out then, open-carrying an M4A1 semi-automatic rifle.
Teeter claimed that the Boogaloos have received an enormous amount of support from members of the community, but from the police, not so much. He shrugged off the cops’ suspicions.
“When you and 20 of your buddies are protecting a business with guns and body armor, the police are not so quick to say anything about it,” he said.
According to Teeter, the Boogaloos have dealt with threats from the Ku Klux Klan, which threatened to blow up a grocery store his group was defending. The Boogaloos took up position, but the Klan never showed, Teeter said.
“Every now and then somebody would roll up behind us and take a couple pot shots,” Teeter said. “There’s been a lot of shooting but not a lot of hitting.”
An admitted KKK member did drive through a crowd of protesters in Virginia on June 7, but Queen City Nerve could not verify that the Klan has any beef with Boogaloo Boys specifically.
Facebook bans the Boogaloo Boys
The Boogaloo movement, as loosely amalgamated as it may be, is growing. This month Reuters reported that according to the Tech Transparency Project, “tens of thousands of people joined Boogaloo-related Facebook groups over a 30-day period in March and April as stay-at-home orders took effect across the United States.”
On June 17, Facebook announced it has banned the use of the word “Boogaloo” and 50 other derivatives of the term when accompanied by images or statements depicting armed violence.
If, as Young, Teeter and Kevin attested, the burgeoning Boogaloos are disinterested in anarchy and destruction, what exactly is their target?
Minneapolis may point the way. When the city’s governing council pledged to do away with the police force altogether in order to find a “new model of public safety,” Teeter applauded the decision.
“I think community policing is a great idea,” he said.
In that respect, Teeter, Young and other Boogaloos may not be so far outside the mainstream, which has seen growing support to reassess police departments and redistribute community resources.
“If I could wave a magic wand, I would like our police department to go back to being Andy and [Barney, of The Andy Griffith Show], and not the military assaulting citizens,” Young said.
He felt a solution to the societal ills he opposes may already be forming amid the Queen City’s cauldron of protest. The demonstrators are laying the groundwork for a better tomorrow, he said, with progress already marked by Charlotte’s tear-gas ban.
“We’re talking about serious police reform, defunding the use of chemical weapons, and taking money away from militarized police departments and putting it back into underprivileged communities in our city,” Young said.
If there is a Boogaloo, he asserted, it’s not some hypothetical future event on the horizon. It’s been happening in Charlotte and other cities for the past few weeks. Young said he hopes we get it right.
“I want good community policing,” he said. “I want people to be treated fairly. And I want everybody to have the opportunities of the American dream.”
Ryan Pitkin and Jordan Green contributed reporting to this story.