During a week of chaos and confusion, a time when important and mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Las Vegas were marred by violence and the shooting of a Metro officer, we were given a glimpse of the clear and present danger our nation faces as it struggles to confront its greatest weakness: systemic racism.
Three suspected domestic terrorists affiliated with the far-right “boogaloo” movement, whose adherents advocate for civil war, were arrested Saturday on the way to a racial justice protest downtown after making Molotov cocktails.
Called “agitators and instigators” by Nevada U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich, the defendants should be treated as domestic terrorists and understood as the harbingers of a greater trouble ahead for civil society. Like Confederate ghosts come to life, these are the banner carriers of the fascist state masquerading as “patriots.”
Defendants Stephen Parshall, 35, Andrew Lynam Jr., 23, and William Loomis, 40, face federal charges of conspiracy to damage and destroy by fire and explosive, and possession of unregistered firearms. In state court they are charged with felony conspiracy, terrorism, and explosives possession.
Its name makes the boogaloo movement sound more docile than dangerous. Some consider it a slang version of “big luau,” while others link its origins to a 1984 dance movie “Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo.” Although some of its followers call its politics “libertarian” and say its focus is on freedom and not overthrow, on their social media pages many adherents espouse the same racial hatred and armed, right-wing extremism displayed by more traditional white supremacist groups. This band has a new name, but it’s playing the same old tunes.
Those who study extremism are very familiar with the methods and motivations as a loosely organized racist militia. Their common references to “government tyranny” notwithstanding, their conversations almost always return to race. I started hearing about the approaching “boogaloo” a couple years ago while researching Patriot armed militias and other right-wing groups of the kind that have made appearances recently at protests themed around reopening the economy during coronavirus pandemic.
It’s something that was clearly on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mind as he addressed the press Friday on the issue of racial injustice. He was joined by Attorney General Aaron Ford, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno.
Referring to the militia types who Sisolak said carried AR-15s and AK-47s and provided an air of menace to political protests in front of the Governor’s Mansion, the governor reflected, “Those militia members, whatever you want to call them, carrying AR-15s and AK-47s, if these young black men that were out here protesting would have been doing that these past few days, what do you think would have happened? They can’t carry a backpack. But it’s all right for 200 people to stand in front of my house carrying AR-15s and AK-47s. That’s not right. … Last time I had a protest, I had a 14-year-old in front of my house, 12, 14-years-old, carrying a long gun. What do you think would have happened if any of these young people would have been carrying long guns out at any of the protests we’ve had in Las Vegas? I shudder at the thought of what could have happened to any of those individuals. There’s a double standard, and the double standard is going to stop in the state of Nevada.”
The nationwide protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers merely provided an opportunity for some of the boogaloos to carry out an insidious plan intended to foment fear and stoke further racial tensions in a country already so divided. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which for decades has tracked and charted hate groups in the United States, calls the heavily armed boogaloo bois appearance at recent protests a “conspicuous presence.”
Although arrests of white supremacist agitators have been made in several cities during the racial justice protests, some will point to the boogaloos’ apparently insignificant numbers as a sign their menace is overblown. They’re known for wearing Hawaiian shirts over their body armor and concealed hardware. They don’t even have the nifty sports shirts of the Proud Boys, or the pointy hats of their not-so-distant cousins in the Ku Klux Klan.
The organizational style isn’t incidental, I believe, but part of a generation-old practice of cell-based extremism sometimes called a “leaderless” movement. From the sovereign citizens to the “neo-Confederates” and other so-called “white pride” organizations, the bottom line is the same.
The amplification of the internet may make the “boogaloo bois” appear larger than their actual numbers, and the recent arrests in Las Vegas increased their notoriety, but it’s also important to remember that armed fascism disguised as patriotism goes by many names.
When we see it, we should call it out and take its menace seriously.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith