On Telegram, the Paramilitary Far Right Looks to Radicalize New Recruits Ahead of Inauguration Day

The boogaloo movement’s most extreme white supremacist element is ratcheting up calls for civil war.

Armed anti-government extremists who call themselves “boogaloo bois” hold a rally at Michigan State Capitol on Oct. 17, 2020, in Lansing, Mich. Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images

In the wake of last week’s deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol Building, a publicly accessible chat group devoted to sparking a civil war is telling its thousands of subscribers that the moment they have all been waiting for is here.

Since the events last week, “Boogaloo Intel Drop,” a channel on the Telegram messaging app with more than 6,600 subscribers, including some self-described active-duty U.S. military personnel, has pushed its followers to usher in a new epoch of political violence in the United States. Subscribers and administrators have called for the murder of police officers with increased fervor and elevated Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran killed by Capitol Police during the riot, to the status of a martyr.

The channel is a mid-sized player in a larger, established network devoted to the spread of right-wing terror, a race war, and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Within this so-called Terrorgram network, which appears to have grown in the past week, the assault on the Capitol and its political fallout is being treated as an opportunity to enlist and radicalize new recruits.

Alex Newhouse, research lead at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said “Boogaloo Intel Drop” appears to be the “most active” channel in the Terrorgram network currently looking to peel off individuals booted from other social media networks and recruit them into militant extremism. It has also been the most open in calling for violence in the days ahead. “They have been talking in the most specifics that I’ve seen yet,” Newhouse told The Intercept. “But their rhetoric does reflect what’s happening in the other white supremacist accelerationist channels.”

The boogaloo movement is part of a broader ecosystem of far-right groups committed to pushing the country into civil war. The boogaloo itself is the desired civil conflict and its proponents, who sometimes refers to themselves as “boogaloo bois,” have been known to pair tactical gear with Hawaiian shirts.

“They have been talking in the most specifics that I’ve seen yet. But their rhetoric does reflect what’s happening in the other white supremacist accelerationist channels.”

Newhouse said the “Intel Drop” channel represents the most openly white supremacist wing of the boogaloo movement. “My personal feeling is that the entire boogaloo movement has white supremacy at its core, but there are obviously varying levels of explicitness with how they talk about things like the Jewish question and how they refer to Black people and how they refer to the Black Lives Matter protests,” he said. While “the boogaloo movement broadly is composed of some people who call themselves libertarian,” Newhouse explained, “Boogaloo Intel Drop’s network is not — they fully believe in totalitarian, white, Aryan government.”

On Monday, the FBI issued a bulletin warning of armed protests planned in all 50 states in the coming days. HuffPost reported that Capitol Police have briefed House Democrats on three plots targeting the Capitol, and that the police and National Guard “were preparing for potentially tens of thousands of armed protesters coming to Washington and were establishing rules of engagement for warfare.” The FBI’s Minneapolis field office has zeroed in on boogaloo adherents in particular as potential perpetrators of political violence, according to a situational report obtained by Yahoo News.

“I don’t think it’s a mistake that the FBI is warning specifically about the boogaloo bois,” Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, a research organization focused on the far-right, told The Intercept, noting that in the span of a year, the movement has been linked to multiple acts of violence and terror plots.

Despite its memes and millennial bent, the movement is awash in classic American racism, anti-Semitism, and gun worship, all filtered through the usual conspiracy theories that have consumed the far right for generations. “They’re dressed up in these ironic things like their Hawaiian T-shirts and very savvy in the world of memes and spreading internet viral communications,” she said. “But at the end of the day, they’re no different, really, than many paramilitary movements we’ve had in the United States.”

The boogaloo Telegram channel has been active since at least October 2019. Initially, much of the media it shared focused on survivalism and the “tacti-cool” gear popular with a particular set of post-9/11 American men. In keeping with the boogaloo movement more broadly, it catered to an internet-conversant crowd, with activity picking up during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns. Chatter on the channel intensified over the summer with the police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed. Early on, Newhouse said, Telegram channels in the wider “Terrorgram” network — which according to an analysis by the Daily Beast caters to an estimated 120,000 subscribers — would recommend the Boogaloo Intel Drop channel as a place to find information on tactics and gear, but in time it too became a source of extreme hard-right propaganda. “At this point, it’s one of the bigger accelerationist propaganda channels out there,” he said.

The “boogaloo bois” cast the summer’s racial justice protests as a useful cover to kill law enforcement, and according to federal prosecutors in California, that was exactly what Steven Carrillo did. In late May, Carrillo, a sergeant in an elite Air Force security unit, allegedly assassinated a federal court security guard in Oakland before going on the run and killing a sheriff’s deputy days later. The FBI claims the airman was taken into custody with a ballistics vest bearing a boogaloo patch and that he scrawled phrases popular with the movement on a vehicle in his own blood. The alleged assassination was followed by the arrest of three suspected boogaloo bois in Nevada, all military veterans, who were accused of plotting to bomb a Black Lives Matter protest. According to federal law enforcement, members of the paramilitary group accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October are tied to the boogaloo movement.

As the boogaloo movement garnered increased national attention, the Telegram channel grew in subscribers — a dynamic that seems to be playing out yet again.

In the wake of last week’s siege, Amazon Web Services shut down Parler, a right-wing social media platform catering to Trump supporters. The shutdown appears to be fueling a migration to Telegram. Over the weekend, Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University focused on far-right extremism and hate groups, noted that a single Telegram channel devoted to the Proud Boys — a neo-fascist paramilitary group loyal to the president — had attracted nearly 6,000 users in four hours. On Monday, The Guardian noted that a Telegram channel dubbed “Parler Lifeboat” had pulled in more than 15,000 members. “There’s definitely a Parler exodus,” Newhouse said.

“At this point, it’s one of the bigger accelerationist propaganda channels out there.”

On the boogaloo channel, conversations have swung from outrage to opportunity. Responding to Monday’s FBI bulletin regarding the planning of nationwide armed protests, one user replied, “Um yes they are FBI, your kind of slow to pick that up,” while others advocated for creating small cells of trusted fellow extremists committed to a long-haul violent struggle. “While you guys have been sitting on your asses we’ve been preparing for such an event for years,” one user boasted. Another added: “Speak for somebody else. I’m enlisted and I hate all of this shit but prep has been made on my end.”

For much of the country, the president’s video message to the mob he directed was abhorrent, and his milquetoast tweets calling for peace were seen as shameful and inadequate. On the Boogaloo channel, they were received as an unforgivable disappointment from a man who was supposed to be one of their own. “Aaaaaaand he betrays the white race again,” an administrator wrote on the afternoon of January 6, citing a tweet by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that asked the mob to “remain peaceful” and claimed the National Guard would soon arrive on the president’s orders. “At least his betrayal will be met in full,” said another subscriber.

Across the channel, eagerness for continued violence, particularly the killing of lawmakers and law enforcement, is everywhere. “If you don’t leave the politicians alive, you cant get charged as a terrorist,” wrote a user whose avatar is an image of a rioter carrying a Confederate flag through the Capitol building and whose screen name is “Gas (((Them)))” — the parentheses signal Jews. “The right learned what the left already knows. Mask up. Be unidentifiable to the pig system,” said another subscriber. “The only rule now is: Don’t get caught.”

Much of the conversation on the channel over the last week has focused on converting so-called normies — Trump supporters booted from platforms like Parler — to the accelerationist cause. “Time to press on. Deplatforming ‘normies’ will only drive them to alt-right platforms,” said one user. Another said they were advertising the Telegram channel on their Twitter page to pull in new recruits. “Some people need converting, don’t ban moderate commenters from chats, it will take time to enlighten them,” they said. An admin praised users for their radicalization efforts: “Thank you to those as well spreading this channel and others to normie platforms.”

While Trump cast himself as the ultimate law enforcement supporter, the boogaloo movement is expressly committed to killing law enforcement officials.

Channel users see the killing of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by a police officer during the Capitol attack, as “good optics” and a chance to pull in new recruits. One popular Babbitt tribute graphic — an increasingly popular Telegram subgenre as she becomes something like a far-right martyr — depicts the pro-police “thin blue line” motif as a bullet’s path entering Babbitt’s neck and turning red on the other side.

“These are normies. … They haven’t been trampled on for years like us,” an admin wrote, arguing that Babbitt’s death should be used as a potent radicalization tool. “Wtf is a normie,” replied a user whose avatar was a selfie of a police officer in uniform. “I guess I’m behind on this.”

The question of the role police can or should play in a right-wing insurgency appears again and again in the channel. While Trump cast himself as the ultimate law enforcement supporter with rallies consistently featuring “back the blue” imagery and rhetoric, the boogaloo movement is expressly committed to killing law enforcement officials, especially federal law enforcement officials. For many in the Telegram channel, the events of last week present an opportunity to bring others around to that worldview.

“Police are traitors always were,” wrote one member. “Fuck macing the pigs,” wrote another member beneath a video of rioters appearing to spray a chemical agent at Capitol Police. “Use lead.” Some saw the riots as a turning point in the American right’s relationship to law and order: “Whatever happens, today was a success. … Because today the Blue Lives Matter ideology died,” wrote another Telegram user.

Newhouse said while some of the channel’s subscribers will “see opportunity in the authoritarian impulses of the Proud Boys, the QAnon movement and other sorts of movements like that,” thus creating opportunities for collaboration and recruitment of law enforcement, others believe that it is “antithetical to their mission.” “The reason why this network in particular hates the police is because they’re seen as guardians of the Zionist-occupied government — a government of degeneracy that allows for multiculturalism and Jewish influence,” he said.

Newhouse was careful to note that while the channel’s subscriber number could be seen as an army of right-wing insurgents in waiting, the number of individuals who actually see and engage with the content on channels like Boogaloo Intel Drop remains small. At the same time, he added, “the lesson of the boogaloo movement is you only need one or two people to take it seriously.”

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