Broken Promises

Facebook Boogaloo Crackdown Falls Short as Extremists Return

Facebook saw its first surge of anti-government “boogaloo bois” in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Despite a Facebook ban, they’re creeping back on the platform.

The so-called boogaloo movement of anti-government extremists is showing new signs of activity on Facebook, energized by the spike in violent, far-right rhetoric against federal officials following the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, according to a new Tech Transparency Project (TTP) investigation.

Facebook banned what it called a violent boogaloo network in June 2020 after a boogaloo adherent who posted frequently on Facebook was arrested for killing a federal security officer in California—an example of how the online movement, which TTP had been tracking and warning about for months, could explode into real-world violence.

Despite Facebook’s poor track record in enforcing the ban, the boogaloo movement, which foresees a violent uprising and second Civil War, appeared to fracture after the 2020 election, and its followers became less active on social media. (One of the boogaloo’s self-styled leaders, Mike Dunn, retreated from public view, contributing to the movement’s disarray.)

But TTP has observed boogaloo groups and individual “boogaloo bois” returning to Facebook since the Mar-a-Lago raid, seeking to capitalize on the wave of far-right anger at the FBI. They appear to see this moment as a growth opportunity for their movement, which first gained traction in early 2020 portraying Covid lockdowns as a sign of rising government repression.

TTP found no signs that Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has recognized or taken action on this re-emerging threat—demonstrating yet again how the platform fails to deal with extremist activity that violates its policies. The boogaloo movement is relying on the same strategies it’s used in the past to dodge detection by Facebook, using variations like “bogaloo” and “big igloo” as names for their groups and communicating via a well-known set of coded keywords.

In a sign of the renewed activity, the administrator of the Facebook page “RedactedCaucus,” which is affiliated with the boogaloo, shared a link to a newly formed group on Aug. 24 called “[ R3DACTD ],” posting, “It's been over a year. We are going to try the group thing again. Who wants in?” One boogaloo group member even suggested the movement is experiencing fewer restrictions on Facebook, writing, “Anyone else wondering why the algorithms are magically permitting it again?”

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A surge of activity

TTP observed that a number of Facebook boogaloo groups have been valorizing the armed man who was killed after attacking an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, days after the FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. (The man is believed to have been an enraged Trump supporter who posted frequently on Trump’s Truth Social network.)

One boogaloo group post includes an image of a rifle with a nail gun attached, a reference to the attacker’s reported use of a nail gun to attack the FBI field office. Boogaloo followers have a history of praising perceived martyrs to their cause, such as Duncan Lemp, who was killed by police during a no-knock raid in Maryland in March 2020, and Steven Carrillo, the boogaloo follower sentenced for killing the federal security officer.

Meanwhile, a self-described boogaloo “boi” used his Facebook profile to promote an August 13 protest outside the FBI office in Phoenix, Arizona, which attracted a group of armed Trump supporters. He promoted the event across dozens of Facebook pages and groups in Arizona and shared photos of himself at the event in a Hawaiian shirt (a boogaloo hallmark) and an armored vest with patches for the anti-government Three Percenter militia.

Later, the same individual turned an image of himself at the Phoenix protest into a meme that read, “PROTECT YOUR PEOPLE FROM YOUR OWN GOVERNMENT,” posting it in a Facebook boogaloo group called “Bigaloo Bogaloo” with over 3,300 members.

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Further examination of this person’s Facebook profile indicates he joined a group of armed men who turned up at a June March for Our Lives at the Arizona Capitol calling for stricter gun laws. He used Facebook to livestream his encounters with protesters, identifying himself as a “gun rights activist.” Following that event, he repeatedly posted on Facebook calling for people to “JOIN THE MILITIA NOW!!!”  

The boogaloo movement has relied heavily on memes as a tool for recruitment and propaganda, and TTP found a variety of new memes, often with veiled threats, circulating across boogaloo Facebook groups in recent weeks. One meme posted on Aug. 8 featured images of masked men armed with military-style rifles that read, “THERE IS NO POLITICAL SOLUTION.” Another meme posted on Aug. 15 post showed the U.S. Capitol dome in flames, with the message, “1/6.”

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In addition to Facebook groups, Facebook pages are also pushing boogaloo content. One page called “AveragelyAmerican,” which was created on April 15 and includes a boogaloo-themed “big igloo” flag in its profile image, posted a video of masked men armed with rifles hanging out the sides and back of a U-Haul. (U-Hauls have evidently become popular in extremist circles. In June, police in Idaho arrested dozens of members of the white nationalist Patriot Front group crammed in the back of a U-Haul; authorities said they had a military-style plan to disrupt a pride parade in Coeur d’Alene.)

Another page called “Radical Liberty,” which features known boogaloo iconography as its profile photo, ran two ads on Facebook in June, including one that read, “We are dedicated to fighting for and celebrating individual liberty, no matter how radical we have to be about it.” Facebook allowed the advertising despite the page’s boogaloo affiliation.

These pages and groups have been operating openly on Facebook despite the platform’s more than two-year-old crackdown on the boogaloo. The company announced in June 2020 it would ban a “violent” boogaloo network, and a leaked version of Facebook’s internal list of banned “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which was published by The Intercept in October 2021, included the “boogaloo movement” minus an unspecified “designated subset.”

The movement’s use of Facebook and its connection to real-world violence and criminal activity have been well-established—and shouldn’t be a surprise to Meta. Boogaloo supporters who coordinated on Facebook have been charged with crimes ranging from conspiracy to cause destruction during protests to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors said the two men recently convicted of trying to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer followed boogaloo ideology. (Whitmer has been a frequent target of the boogaloo movement; in May 2020, TTP identified a post in a boogaloo Facebook group that threatened to hang the governor.)

Meanwhile, Carrillo, the boogaloo adherent charged with killing a federal security officer, was recently sentenced to 41 years in prison, and the family of Carrillo’s victim is suing Facebook for radicalizing his killer. A total of 49 individuals have been charged with offenses related to the boogaloo since 2020, according to The George Washington University Program on Extremism.

Infrastructure still in place

If the boogaloo movement moves to ramp up its presence on Facebook again, it already has a significant amount of infrastructure on the platform to build on.

TTP found a number of Facebook boogaloo groups that were launched in the spring around the time the Biden administration announced new steps to curb gun violence, including restrictions on homemade “ghost guns” that lack serial numbers. (One of the boogaloo movement’s core beliefs holds that any form of gun control is an infringement of Second Amendment rights.)

One example is the “Bigaloo Bogaloo” group, which was launched in April 2022 and had more than 3,300 members as of Aug. 25. (In a sign of the group’s recent growth, it amassed over 500 new followers during the week of Aug. 22 alone). The group’s description makes a series of well-known coded references to the boogaloo, including “igloo” and “redacted,” and posts in the group refer to members as “goons” and “bois,” using established boogaloo terminology. On Aug. 21, a group member posted “The bois are back in town,” with a Trump-like message that read, “BOOGALOO MAKE AMERICA FREE AGAIN!”

TTP identified another Facebook group called “The Ice House,” which was created on May 21. The group’s about section notes, “This group is for the silenced Inuit population of 2020”—using another well-known bit of coded boogaloo language that refers to followers as Inuits.

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Posts in these groups highlight the importance of Facebook to the movement. On July 10, a member of The Ice House group posted a meme about promising not to be a “snitch.” One person commented, “people rather do blood oaths than move to Gab,” underscoring how Facebook—with its unparalleled reach—continues to be the preferred platform for the boogaloo movement, despite the availability of far-right fringe alternatives. TTP has previously found boogaloo supporters explicitly citing Facebook’s reach as a way to build influence.

On Aug. 22, a member of the Bigaloo Bogaloo Facebook group posted a link to a group chat on encrypted messaging app Signal, but some members said they wanted to stay on Facebook: “Nothing is safe. Might as well use the Facebook group as long as it exists.”

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Alarmingly, some members of these boogaloo groups still openly share instructions for making bombs and homemade napalm. TTP first identified this kind of information swapping about explosives in Facebook boogaloo groups back in 2020, but the platform is evidently allowing it to continue, despite the obvious risks to public safety.

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TTP also found several boogaloo-affiliated pages that were auto-generated by Facebook itself. Facebook automatically creates pages like these when a user lists a job, interest, or business in their profile that does not have an existing page. Facebook created these pages despite its policies about the boogaloo movement.

The pages were generated in late 2019 and early 2020, when boogaloo bois were first establishing a heavy presence on Facebook. One auto-generated page is called “Big Igloo Minutemen,” which alludes to the militia aspect of the boogaloo movement. Another page is called “Content Creator for BoojieBastards,” referring to a network of boogaloo Facebook groups previously identified by TTP. Steven Carrillo was a member of at least one BoojieBastards group in the network.

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TTP’s findings suggest that the boogaloo movement is experiencing something of a resurgence on Facebook—and that Facebook isn’t doing much, if anything, about it. That’s a worrisome trend, given the movement’s militant anti-government ideology and established links to real-world violence and criminal activity.

It also raises questions about Facebook’s priorities. Recent reports indicate that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg no longer considers safeguarding elections as a top concern as he turns his attention to his plans for the metaverse. If Facebook under Zuckerberg is pulling back from policing extremist groups on its platform as well, that could have dire consequences for public safety—especially given the boogaloo bois’ overt talk of civil war and violent uprisings.