Federal prosecutors in California have charged Steven Carrillo, a supporter of the far-right “Boogaloo” movement, with the murder of federal protective security officer Dave Underwood during a May 29 anti-racism protest in Oakland.
Federal leaders initially suggested antifa, a loosely organized group of anti-fascist activists, was behind the killing. “This antifa violent activity has to stop,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said May 31, referring to Underwood’s death.
But Carrillo, who was charged last week in the killing of a Santa Cruz, California, police deputy, has ties to the right-wing movement that has shown up, sometimes heavily armed, to anti-racism protests around the country in recent weeks.
According to the new charges, Carrillo shot at Underwood and his partner, who was wounded in the attack, from the window of a white van as they guarded the Oakland Federal Building. Federal prosecutors also charged 30-year-old Robert Alvin Justus Jr. with aiding and abetting Carrillo’s attack in Oakland, accusing him of functioning as a getaway driver. Justus Jr. told the FBI that he had met Carrillo on Facebook and arranged to drive together to Oakland for the Black Lives Matter protests, with Carrillo picking him up in the white van and the two driving around the city prior to the attack. Justus Jr. claimed Carrillo dropped him off after the killing and told him to remain silent.
Underwood’s death launched an eight-day search that ended with Carrillo allegedly killing another law enforcement officer during a shootout with authorities after his van full of weapons and bomb-making materials was spotted on June 6 in Santa Cruz.
Carrillo, 32, was charged last week on 19 counts related to the attack in Santa Cruz. He is accused of using an AR-15-style rifle to kill Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and injure another deputy as they approached his hideout. After reportedly hijacking a car to attempt an escape, a wounded Carrillo wrote slogans related to the Boogaloo movement in his own blood on the hood of the stolen car before his arrest.
The Boogaloo is a far-right, anti-government extremist movement with its roots in internet culture and message boards. Its central ideology revolves around the idea of a coming civil war or violent uprising against the government, but it is also a somewhat amorphous community that includes groups such as militias, white supremacists, Second Amendment advocates and online trolls. Some of its adherents have also recently been arrested at protests or charged in terrorism plots, creating growing concern over its capability for violence.
The Boogaloo movement, which is seeped in the irony and self-reference of online groups, has embraced symbols such as Hawaiian shirts and igloos along with its extremist rhetoric and military-style gear. After Carrillo was arrested, prosecutors say law enforcement searched a white van he used in the attacks and found a ballistic vest with patches sewn onto it, including an igloo and Hawaiian print.
The movement has gained increasing attention through the presence of the so-called Boogaloo Bois at nationwide anti-racism rallies as they look to co-opt the demonstrations to further their own goals. Federal prosecutors in Nevada charged three Boogaloo supporters with terrorism offenses earlier this month, detailing a plot to incite mass violence at a Black Lives Matter rally and use firebombs to create chaos. Earlier this year, police also shot and killed a neo-Nazi connected to the movement who had plotted to blow up a hospital.
On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers condemned Carrillo’s attack and described the killings as extremist attacks.
“Indiscriminate targeting of law enforcement officers by those motivated by violent extremism of any stripe is contrary to our nation’s values and undermines the powerful message of peaceful protesters,” Demers said.
Facebook has been a common gathering place for Boogaloo movement supporters, and groups have proliferated on its platform. Although the platform has attempted to curb their activity ― such as banning the use of “boogaloo” when used in connection to violence ― members have largely found workarounds. The movement’s symbols of igloos and Hawaiian shirts resulted from altering Boogaloo to the similar sounding “big igloo” or “big luau,” evading Facebook’s gesture at controlling the spread of the extremist movement.
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