Thousands of armed right-wing militants are plotting a violent uprising against the U.S. government during the coronavirus crisis, a new report finds, and Facebook is providing them a platform to prepare and organize.
A report published Thursday by the watchdog group the Tech Transparency Project found 125 Facebook groups devoted to the idea of the “boogaloo,” a far-right term used to describe what they believe is an inevitable civil war in the U.S. Members discuss weapons, combat medicine, and how to develop explosives, the report says. One group even shared a document detailing how to disrupt U.S. government supply lines and discussing the possible need to assassinate government officials.
These groups have proliferated during the pandemic, according to the report, as right-wing extremists grow more agitated over lockdown orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, measures many militia and “patriot” groups view as the oppressive maneuverings of a tyrannical government.
Over 60% of the groups were created in just the last three months, according to the report. The 125 groups have nearly 73,000 members, though it’s unclear how many individuals may belong to multiple groups.
About 50% of the groups’ members have joined within the last 30 days.
The groups have flourished despite Facebook community guidelines that prohibit facilitating, organizing or promoting “harmful activities targeted at people.” The guidelines also ban “statements of intent to commit high-severity violence.”
Daniel E. Stevens, executive director of Campaign for Accountability, the umbrella organization under which TTP operates, told HuffPost in a statement Thursday that “Facebook’s failure to stop their platform from being used as an organizing tool for extremists is completely unacceptable.”
“There is nothing subtle about how these extremist groups are using Facebook’s platform to advance their cause,” Stevens said. “Boogaloo proponents are not simply discussing ideas or political views; they are directly advocating for violent action and tactically planning how to defeat government entities.”
In a statement to HuffPost Thursday, a Facebook spokesperson claimed the company is aware of the boogaloo groups.
“We’ve removed groups and Pages who’ve used this and related terms for violating our policies,” the spokesperson said.
None of the handful of boogaloo groups specifically named in TTP’s report summary had been taken down as of Friday morning.
“We’re reviewing the content referenced in this report and will enforce against any violations,” the Facebook spokesperson said.
The potential for real-world violence by these groups came into focus earlier this week, when an Arkansas boogaloo enthusiast named Aaron Swenson live-streamed himself on Facebook driving around Texarkana, Texas, allegedly looking for a police officer to shoot and kill.
Comments left on the livestream showed some users endorsing attacking police officers. Other users suggested people call 911. Swenson was eventually arrested, according to the local police department.
A review of his Facebook page by TTP found that he “liked” over a dozen boogaloo pages, including a prominent boogaloo page called the Thicc Boog Line.
After HuffPost’s inquiry Thursday, Facebook appears to have removed Swenson’s profile page.
Facebook studies and monitors new terms, including boogaloo, which extremists may use to mask their activities, the Facebook spokesperson insisted, adding that the company has 350 people on staff devoted to stopping people and organizations from using its platform to plot or engage in violence.
The pandemic is proving to be a fraught period for the social media giant, as it struggles to slow the spread of misinformation about the virus that could put people in danger.
Many such protests, however, have still been organized on the platform, resulting in crowds of right-wingers not observing social distancing guidelines descending upon government buildings, demanding that lawmakers reopen local and state economies despite the desperate warnings of public health experts.
TTP also infiltrated private boogaloo groups on Facebook where pages promoting anti-lockdown events were shared and attendance was encouraged, including a page for an April 24 protest in Wisconsin.
Heavily armed militiamen, some of whom have carried boogaloo signs or worn boogaloo patches, have appeared at previous anti-lockdown rallies.
“This is not a case of extremists outsmarting Facebook,” Stevens, of the Campaign for Accountability, told HuffPost in his statement. “By allowing these pages to exist, Facebook is demonstrating a clear unwillingness to protect the public from possible domestic terrorists. Unless Facebook takes substantive action to break up these dangerous online communities, there is a very real risk of violence spilling out into the streets.”
The boogaloo groups are part of a larger anti-government extremist movement in the U.S., which includes militia and “patriot” organizations such as the Oathkeepers and the Three Percenters, whose adherents have been implicated in bombings, murders and armed standoffs with federal law enforcement.
There is sometimes overlap between anti-government and white supremacist movements. TTP’s analysis of the boogaloo groups found that some members’ profiles include white supremacist content, including images of Adolf Hitler. Many other group members, however, claimed to reject white supremacist ideology.
TTP says it identified the 125 groups in its report by searching for different variations or abbreviations of “boogaloo,” such as “boog,” “big igloo,” “Big Luau,” and “boojihadeen.”
One group, “BoojieBastards: Intelligence and Surveillance,” has averaged 100 new members a day since its creation in February, and now boasts some 6,500 followers.
The largest group, the Thicc Boog Line, has gained about 30,000 followers since its creation in October 2019. Its main page is public and is often used to hawk boogaloo-branded clothing and accessories. The Thicc Boog Line also operates 11 private boogaloo groups that more explicitly discuss preparing for the coming civil war.
About 89% of the groups identified in TTP’s report, or 112, are set to private. Many take their war preparations so seriously that members are banned from posting memes, so as the discussion stays focused on intelligence sharing.
“The groups engage in national-level coordination or act as state and local chapters where users share tactical information and survival tips, ranging from topographic map access to instructions for evading authorities,” the report states.
Perhaps most concerning are the planning documents members upload to the boogaloo groups which, according to TTP, include military manuals, a CIA handbook, and “The Anarchist Cookbook,” a famous bomb building guide.
Another alarming, 133-page document entitled “Yeetalonians” spells out what weapons should be used for the boogaloo and instructs members how to develop propaganda to win over others to their cause.
The document discusses how “national guard depots, police stations and factories that produce munitions are all very solid targets” for disrupting the U.S. government supply chain.
It emphasizes to members that it’s deeply important “to make the enemy (government forces) see that they are not fighting terrorists, they are fighting their own countrymen who simply love liberty.”
The “Yeetalonian” document also mentions “target selection,” arguing that while assassinations of public officials and figureheads are often “overrated” as a military strategy, “some people have to go.”