God help us if Mark Zuckerberg’s next congressional hearing is on the subject of the Bloody Insurrection of 2020. As HuffPost first reported, a scourge of far-right extremist accounts on Facebook appear to be gearing up for a meme-inspired civil war amid the covid-19 outbreak.
The Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a research group focused on exposing large platforms’ misconduct and influence, released a report finding that 125 Facebook groups are promoting the “boogaloo,” a term far-right groups use to refer to a wishful Civil War sequel. The boogaloo appears to have mutated from a joking 4chan meme into a real-life movement of militiamen (“Boojihadeens”) late last year. But the TTP found a surge in boogaloo interest over the past few months, correlating with social distancing measures. According to the report, over 60 percent of the Facebook groups cropped up in the past three months and, as a whole, have attracted over 36,000 members in the last 30 days.
In a statement to Gizmodo Friday night, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company has “removed groups and Pages who’ve used this and related terms for violating our policies.” “We’re reviewing the content referenced in this report and will enforce against any violations,” they added. On Monday morning, dozens of boogaloo-themed pages, including ones mentioned in the TTP report, were still accessible on the platform.
Boogaloo promoters have been attending anti-quarantine protests, events with ties to pro-gun activists. The report says that the Boojahideen have been hearing dog whistles from the president lately, greeting his “LIBERATE” tweets with cheers. “TTP found that some members of private boogaloo Facebook groups reacted to the president’s rhetoric with memes of celebration,” it reads, “and traded details of anti-quarantine protests in Richmond, Virginia, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.”
In total, these Facebook groups boast 72,686 members, although the report did not verify how many members overlap between groups. One merch page, the Thicc Boog Line, admins at least 11 other boogaloo groups.
The vast majority are private, TTP notes. One post screenshot grabbed by TTP crowdsources tips on homemade explosives. It begins:
Let’s talk grenades, flash bangs, and other things you can throw at the enemy. Let’s just say that you didn’t want to get the paperwork in order to possess certain things that go boom or can act as a room clearer/stunner.
Is there anything you can buy to make your own flash bangs?
The report suggests this isn’t just casual dabbling in violent fantasies. The groups have uploaded CIA handbooks, military manuals, and the bomb assembly manual “The Anarchist Cookbook.” One 133-page-plus planning document reviewed by the TTP reportedly identifies strongholds like “national guard depots, police stations, and factories that produce munitions” as “very solid targets” and proposes taking out rail lines and ports to “sabotage shipments.” The TTP found that one Arkansas fan of several boogaloo pages was arrested earlier this month after allegedly livestreaming a hunt to kill a police officer on Facebook Live.
Boogaloo advocates reportedly include Matt Marshall, a leader of the militia group Three Percenters, named for the disputed belief that only three percent of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Marshall suggested that followers wear the Hawaiian shirt, the mark of the Boojahideen, to anti-quarantine protests.
Slides included in the report also outline a propaganda strategy proposing that boogaloo insurgents stick to Revolutionary War-related emblems such as the Gadsden flag, rather than anarchism emblems, which the media will portray as “black and scary.”
YouTube is also culpable. As of this writing, “Top 5 Boogaloo Guns”—a guide to firearms posted on April 15th by a user with 2.35 million subscribers—remains live with over 300,000 views. “The idea being that a boogaloo is something really bad happens, it’s a tyrannical government,” the narrator, in a Hawaiian shirt, explains, “and you’ve gotta take to the streets and take care of business, protect your family, protect your neighborhood, protect your citizens.” He proceeds to review a semi-automatic version of an FN SCAR assault rifle (which, he remarks, has been a popular item at recent unnamed rallies).
YouTube told Gizmodo that “we have strict policies regarding content featuring firearms, and quickly remove content that violates those policies when flagged by our users,” but added that the boogaloo video doesn’t violate their firearms content guidelines.
Facebook was made aware of the boogaloo activity in February, the report notes, after NBC reached out to the company and received the following response:
We’ve been studying trends around this and related terms on Facebook and Instagram. We don’t allow speech used to incite hate or violence, and will remove any content that violates our policies. We’ll continue to monitor this across our platform.
Updated: This story has been updated with comment from Facebook and YouTube.
Correction: 4/17/20, 8:50 a.m. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a semi-automatic weapon as an “automatic assault rifle.” It has been corrected above and we regret the error.