We’ve had evidence for some time that right-wing extremists have been lurking at anti-police protests around the nation, amplifying the violence by engaging in vandalism, assaults, and attacks on police—often while pretending to be there to support Black Lives Matter and antifascists leading the protests.
This weekend in Richmond, Virginia, police arrested several such saboteurs during a Black Lives Matter protest, according to city Mayor Levar Stoney. “White supremacists” were carrying pro-BLM signs and breaking windows at downtown businesses, Stoney said, but were stopped when BLM protesters pointed them out to police.
"We've spoken on many occasions about those who've chosen a more violent route to express their discontent, and what that does for the overall movement towards social justice," Stoney told reporters Sunday. "Last night that reared its ugly head right here in the City of Richmond ... We saw some violent actions, violent protests, spearheaded by white supremacists. And frankly, it was disgusting. Disgusting. As they held plywood shields that read, BLM, these folks toured areas of damage downtown, The Fan, breaking windows, tagging private property with hateful language."
Stoney thanked the protesters who called it out. "As I began with, I want to send a thanks to the BLM protesters on the ground who decried the white supremacists once they were identified. I'm thankful to you for drawing the line and sticking up not just for the sanctity of your movement, but also the safety of your fellow Richmonders that you marched alongside as well," the mayor said.
Six people were arrested at the protest, but their identities have not been released.
The city’s police chief, Gerald Smith, described the situation in somewhat more confusing terms, telling reporters that he believed “antifa-influenced” protesters were involved: "We have identified some individuals who have been seen with the Boogaloo boys and some Antifa groups around the area. The majority of those individuals who were there last night were Caucasian," Smith said.
In reality, “antifa” is definitively opposed to white supremacism, while the “Boogaloo boys” are primarily a far-right movement (including some white supremacists) that have been using the protests to widen their recruitment base by marching on the anti-police side.
Not only are white supremacists involved in the violence and property damage at the protests, but it’s clear that they are working multiple strategies to leverage the chaos into what they hope will be a democracy-destroying race and civil war. The tactics so far include:
- Dressing up in clothing typically worn by antifascist demonstrators, mainly the all-black clothing and masks worn by so-called “black bloc” activists. This has been observed both in Portland and in Seattle, where well-known far-right “Proud Boy” street brawlers have been spotted and reported on social media.
- Turning up at protest demonstrations fully armed with body armor, often wearing the Hawaiian shirts that signify participation in the “Boogaloo” civil-war movement, and claiming to be sympathetic to the anti-police protesters (many “Boogaloo” enthusiasts are indeed violently disposed toward law-enforcement officers). This has occurred in a variety of places, including in North Minneapolis, in Salisbury, North Carolina, in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as in Seattle and Los Angeles. The most notorious case occurred in Denver, Colorado, where a “Boogaloo Boi” was arrested by police at a protest with a large arsenal in the trunk of his car.
- Pretending to be antifascists or anarchists on the Internet, primarily with the purpose of duping the public into believing that antifascists were on the verge of attacking communities. One fake flier, spread around Olympia, Washington, offered people $200 to act as “paid protesters,” all of it ostensibly paid for by George Soros and the Open Society Foundation. The most glaring hoax was when a Twitter account calling itself “ANTIFA US” began posting wildly incendiary exhortations: “Tonight’s the night, Comrades. Tonight we say 'F--- The City' and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours …” The account was taken down after Twitter ascertained it was associated with activists involved in the white-nationalist Identity Evropa organization. Despite being a fairly obvious hoax, it nonetheless duped Donald Trump Jr. into repeating the post on Instagram with a message supporting his father’s attempts to blame antifascists for the violence.
Police forces appear to be susceptible to these deceptive tactics. On Sunday, Portland Police tweeted out a photo of what it claimed were Molotov cocktails and gun magazines (with peculiarly fresh red paint on them), saying they found after someone at that evening’s anti-police protest in Portland pointed out a black bag them. The police bureau that had earlier succumbed to the “concrete milkshake” hoax did not appear to consider that these dubious devices may have been planted with the intention of framing the anti-police protesters.
Ironically, much of the violence generated by the “Boogaloo” cult has so far been directed primarily at police, who seem slow to recognize any kind of violent threat from the extremist right. Recent incidents are making clear that men swept up in the movement are increasingly intent on making it a reality:
- An Air Force sergeant in California who was a “Boogaloo” fan shot two federal officers at an anti-police protest in Oakland, one fatally. Two days later, after being tracked to Santa Cruz County, he shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy while being arrested. During the rampage, he scrawled the word “Boog” in blood on the hood of the car he was driving.
- The three Las Vegas-area “Boogaloo Bois” arrested for building Molotov cocktails as part of a larger campaign to wreak havoc around the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests over police brutality did not plan to attack BLM—as most “Patriot” and “Proud Boy” groups have done over the past three years—but instead sought to use the BLM protests to target police officers and power infrastructure, as a way of ramping up the violence around the protests.
- A Texarkana, Texas, man who intended to spark the “Boogaloo” by ambushing police officers, was caught by officers who were alerted by his attempt to livestream his planned killing spree. They went to his location and arrested him shortly thereafter.
- A “Boogaloo” enthusiast who posted comments on Facebook about bringing his rifle to an anti-stay-at-home-orders protest in Denver attracted the interest of FBI agents, who upon visiting him at his home discovered a cache of homemade pipe bombs. The man openly expressed his intent to use them to kill any federal agents who tried to invade his home.
- Another “Boogaloo Boi” planned to livestream his ambush on police officers at an Ohio national park, but was arrested by FBI agents before he could pull off the plan.