Federal authorities are warning state and local and law enforcement about threats of possible violence by right-wing extremists at a series of protests planned for later this month in Washington and other state capitols, according to an FBI document obtained by Yahoo News.
The situational information report produced by the Minneapolis field office of the FBI is based on information provided by what it describes as “collaborative sources,” and was issued the week before a mob of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol. It addresses concerns about rallies that the Boogaloos, a right-wing movement, plan to hold in cities across the country on Jan. 17.
The Dec. 29 report warns that “some followers indicated willingness to commit violence in support of their ideology, created contingency plans in the event violence occured at the events, and identified law enforcement security measures and possible countermeasures.” Specifically, the report describes evidence of credible threats related to events planned for Jan. 17 at the state capitol buildings in Michigan and Minnesota.
Those rallies are part of what members of the violent far-right and libertarian boogaloo movement are hoping will be a nationwide “armed march” on Capitol Hill and all 50 state capitols next Sunday. Though it’s not totally clear how many people are expected to participate in the boogaloo-backed protests, the Jan. 17 events appear to be the next major organizing effort by extremist groups following last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol, which left 5 people dead, including a U.S. capitol police officer.
The FBI’s warnings about possible violence at Jan. 17 protests carry new weight in light of the apparent failures by federal law enforcement to adequately prepare for the violence in Washington last week. The FBI and an intelligence unit within the Department of Homeland Security DHS did not issue a threat assessment for the Jan. 6 protests, despite an abundance of evidence on social media in the weeks before showing that pro-Trump rioters had planned to storm the Capitol, according to the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Dec. 29 FBI report, earlier in December, some Minnesota-based followers of the Boogaloo attended other protests at the state capitol in Saint Paul “to perform reconnaissance to identify escape points and defensible positions in the event violence occurred” at the January 17 rally. These individuals reportedly “scouted general law enforcement presence” at the earlier rallies, and “also identified law enforcement sniper locations and considered breaking into federal buildings for use as firing locations, if fighting occurred.”
“One Boogaloo movement follower indicated the building with the snipers would need to be blown up in order to protect Boogaloo fighters in the event of a gun battle during the event,” the report states. Another planned to “put colored duct tape on the back of his body armor to appear as law enforcement and cause confusion.”
Though the report notes that these Minnesota-based Boogaloos did not mention any specific plots for an attack on the 17th, it says they planned to use violence if fighting occurred at the rally, and “At least one follower expressed his willingness to die for the boogaloo movement.”
Meanwhile, in Michigan, another follower of the Boogaloo movement “suggested the idea of using a gasoline-based device with a tripwire in Lansing, Michigan to cause a distraction while other individuals ‘take’ the capitol,” according to the same FBI alert. This individual “considered himself at war with the government, particularly with politicians and federal agents, and wanted to make a statement with the actions.”
Public affairs officers for the FBI Minneapolis Field Office and the FBI’s national headquarters did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did a spokespersons for D.C. Metropolitan police and U.S. Capitol police.
In an email to Yahoo News on Monday, a spokesperson for the Michigan State police wrote that “In general, we don’t discuss security measures, but I can confirm that we will be increasing our visible presence at the Capitol for the next couple of weeks starting this morning.”
A spokesperson for the Minnesota State Patrol referred Yahoo News to a statement issued within hours of the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week announcing that there “an increased presence of State Patrol troopers at the Minnesota Capitol in light of recent protests here and in Washington, D.C.
Over the last two years, the term “boogaloo” has evolved from a fringe internet joke referring to a second civil war to an extremist rallying cry that has been linked to a growing number of violent incidents and plots. Though the term has also been appropriated by some accelerationist factions of the white supremacist movement, it is most closely associated with a disparate network of anti-government extremists and paramilitary groups united by a fervent opposition to gun control and desire to bring about the violent overthrow of what they view to be a tyrannical government.
“Boogaloo movement supporters believe an impending insurgency against the government is forthcoming and some believe they should accelerate the timeline with armed, anti-government actions leading to a civil war,” explained the alert issued by the FBI Minneapolis field office in December.
Since the beginning of 2019, proponents of the more accelerationist wing of the boogaloo movement have seized on moments of civil unrest as an opportunity to incite violence and fuel chaos. Often heavily armed and sporting Hawaiian shirts and igloo patches, so-called “Boogaloo Boys” have been easily spotted at gun rights rallies, protests against lockdown measures aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. A number of them have also been arrested for violent acts or plots related to those protests, including an Air Force sergeant who was charged with fatally shooting a Santa Cruz County deputy and a federal security officer during a protest over Floyd’s death in Oakland, Ca., and three men who were arrested in June for allegedly plotting to use firebombs and explosives to incite riots at a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas.
The anti-government militia members arrested in October for allegedly plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are also believed to have been tied to the boogaloo movement.
Recently, members of the boogaloo movement have begun organizing their own events.
Jared Holt, a visiting research fellow with the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, where he tracks extremist online activity, said he first started seeing chatter about a nation-wide pro-gun rally in the boogaloo forums he monitors in late November.
“The idea behind it was to have a huge showing of firearms and...for it to take place all across the U.S.,” Holt told Yahoo News, adding that “this is among the first major national events that has come out of the boogaloo movement.”
Around the middle of December, Holt said that boogaloo organizers seemed to be trying to generate interest in the Jan. 17 protests from Trump supporters and other far-right groups by using hashtags like #StoptheSteal to promote the events on platforms like Parler. This effort has only escalated since Jan. 6.
“This is a boogaloo movement organized call to arms that's been spreading with increasing velocity outside of its usual communities,” said Holt, noting that he’s recently observed flyers for the Jan. 17th rallies circulating among many militia groups online, as well as “some run-of-the-mill Trump supporting groups and, interestingly enough, re-open protest.”
Still, while the events certainly appear to have caught the attention of broader extremist movements, Holt noted that, so far, he and his colleagues have not seen the same kinds of logistical planning for the Jan. 17 rallies, such as discussions about transportation and hotel accommodations, that raised red flags ahead of the pro-Trump gatherings in Washington on Jan. 6.
“I definitely think that if it continues the way that we've been seeing, it could potentially and very quickly become an active threat,” said Holt.
Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and the former longtime director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said she was encouraged to hear about the alert from the FBI’s Minneapolis division in light of the apparent failure by federal law enforcement to prepare for the violence that took place at the Capitol.
“I feel like the FBI and DHS completely fell down on the job before the sixth…which was embarrassing, frankly, given all the stuff that was on the web,” she said. “So I’m glad that they’re taking this seriously, because they need to.”
The fact that followers of the boogaloo movement are involved in the upcoming Jan. 17 rallies “is scary,” Beirich said.
“I think sometimes people look at them and think they’re some kind of jokey thing with their Hawaiian t-shirts and all that. There is no joke about this group,” she said. “The boogaloo boys are very dangerous.”
Jana Winter contributed reporting.