At first glance, the We Are Washington rally might have looked like an early Fourth of July celebration, all bright stars-and-stripes Americana. It was a cool May morning in the state capital, Olympia, and low clouds were threatening to ruin the red, white and blue archway of balloons above the rally stage, the crepe paper behind it and the cut-out letters propped up in front that spelled “FREEDOM.” Few people wore masks. A man with a pistol on his hip meandered through the several-hundred-person crowd selling tiny yellow Gadsden flags — the “Don’t Tread on Me” rattlesnake — for $5 each to anyone who wasn’t already carrying something. A canopy of marker-drawn signs held above heads blared complaints about Covid-19 and the stay-at-home order declared by Gov. Jay Inslee, at this point in its 69th day. “0.2% Death Rate. No Muzzle”; “Inslee Is the Real Virus”; “Kim Jong Inslee.” Some took a more conspiratorial tone: “You Are Being Lied To.”
Near the back of the crowd was a social-media-ready selfie backdrop: a large Q made of squares of cardboard, lying on the grass in front of the Capitol building. Below it, a hashtag: #WWG1WGA, “Where we go one, we go all.” It’s the rallying cry for QAnon, the conspiracy theory that at its most basic centers on a Democrat-run child-sex-trafficking ring and at its most elaborate involves figures like the pope and Joe Biden having been executed in secret and replaced with holograms. It might seem, in other words, like an odd theory to float at a rally that was ostensibly about the reopening of the local economy. But around the country, events like this one had become a beacon to fringe thinkers: anti-vaxxers, internet trolls, gun nuts, Proud Boys, hate groups, antigovernment militias and any other Americans who interpreted social-distancing and face-covering regulations as an infringement of their constitutional freedoms.
These reopening rallies had become more than just rallies, allowing everyday Americans — suspecting a liberal ploy in the shutdown of the economy and misled by right-wing politicians, up to and including President Trump, about the dangers of the coronavirus — to be exposed to the ideologies of a wide variety of extremists.
As the crowd grew in Olympia, a woman in a hooded sweatshirt got up onstage to give a speech and encourage the crowd to join something called People’s Rights Washington. They could be a part of it by texting the word RIGHTS to a five-digit number, which would then enlist them in a phone tree, allowing any member to report anything they deem a violation of personal freedom. “If there is an emergency, if a contact tracer shows up at your door, if C.P.S. shows up at your door, if the Health Department comes to your work and threatens to shut you down,” she explained, “we can send a text out that says, ‘Get to this address right now.’”
Standing at the rear edge of the crowd, I took a few steps closer when I realized the voice coming from the stage sounded familiar. It was Kelli Stewart. She has been a live-streamer at several federal-court trials I’ve covered in the West — particularly of the Bundy family in both Nevada and Oregon. After Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan and several other defendants were acquitted in 2016 of charges related to occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, Stewart cheered and cried at the verdict, then paced in front of the courthouse reading from the Constitution. In the past two months, she has live-streamed from rallies and from the “underground church” she opened. For several years, she has referred to law enforcement as “Blue ISIS.”
Now she explained to the crowd in Olympia that just a few years ago, she was just like all of them. She was a mother, a Sunday-school teacher raising goats on a small farm when the news of the refuge occupation broke. But it wasn’t until Robert LaVoy Finicum, a 54-year-old Arizona rancher who served as a spokesman for the occupation, was shot and killed by the police that she became an activist. It was her wake-up call, she said: the moment when the world she had always known was forever changed.
Stewart is now a fixture at right-wing rallies like this one, and as she spoke, she got at something undeniably true about these gatherings: This is where everyday people like her can be reborn, leaving their world behind and subscribing to a new collective truth. This is where they find fellowship with other people who are upset enough about the same things, who hold the same fears and frustrations. This is where isolation ends, where communion begins.
At the back of this crowd, which was mostly mothers and grandmothers and church leaders and business owners and the like, stood a clutch of men with long guns who didn’t seem to be listening much to the speeches. They clustered together in small groups, their eyes scanning the crowd behind sunglasses. One man carried a flag bearing the logo of the Three Percenters militia: the Roman numeral III in the center of a ring of stars. There was a cardboard sign propped up with the letters “NWO” — New World Order — crossed out. And in this mix were a couple of men wearing body armor decorated with American-flag patches. One wore a blue-and-white floral Hawaiian shirt under a desert-sand-colored vest, packed with as many as 90 extra rounds of ammunition. The other man had a different patch on his vest. It read: “Boogaloo.”
Just what the word “Boogaloo” means depends on whom you ask. In simple terms, it’s the newest and youngest subset of the antigovernment movement, born in the full light of the internet age — with all the peculiarities that entails. The name comes from 4chan, the lamentably prolific message board where many memes are born, and involves the 1984 breakdancing movie “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Though the movie was panned, the second half of its name had a long afterlife, eventually wending its way onto forums and social media, where it became slang for a fabled coming civil war — a sequel to the first. To some white supremacists, it means a race war. To others, it was all just a joke. But many others take it seriously, and to them it means a less well-defined cataclysm touched off, or sped up by, any number of groups who share antigovernment ideas and a deep love of firearms.
The Boogaloo is not just an event; it’s a movement of people, too. They call themselves “Boogalooers” or “Boogaloo bois.” Most seem to have extreme libertarian politics, with a heavy emphasis on Second Amendment rights. The Boogaloo is leaderless, and its goals differ depending on which Facebook or Telegram group you’re hanging out in. Some of these men claim to be antiracist, while others hold white-supremacist beliefs and warn of an impending white genocide. While some Boogaloo pages on Facebook feature periodic talk of racial justice and urgent needs to address climate change, many others are filled with memes featuring neo-Nazi black suns. If there is one thing that binds the Boogaloo together besides guns and Hawaiian shirts, it is a firm anti-authority, anti-law-enforcement stance — and a willingness, if not an outright desire, to bring about the collapse of American society.
When I spoke to Kris Hunter, a 39-year-old Boogaloo boi from Waco, Texas, he painted the movement as just wanting to help. Hunter told me he and his compatriots feel their hands have been forced. “A lot of the violence perpetrated by the government, police brutality, foreign wars, civilian casualties, no-knock raids — I guess the way we viewed it was: ‘How in the world are we supposed to stand up against this?’”
I reached Hunter through Tree of Liberty, a website that seems to be acting as a public face for a movement that, by and large, congregates on private social-media pages. He says his group — the United States Boogalier Corps, by his estimate 80 percent military veterans — doesn’t take this self-appointed duty lightly. He pointed to the Boston Massacre of 1770, when five colonists were shot by British soldiers. “That was this moment when both the British and colonists realized we have run out of all peaceful options, and now they’re literally killing us out in the open,” he said. “We want the American people to understand that they have the constitutional authority to defend themselves against unconstitutional oppression.” But he insisted the movement does not want any actual confrontation with government forces.
This is not at all an uncommon stance among right-wing militias, which the Boogaloo both resembles and diverges from. And to truly understand the Boogaloo, you must first understand the militia movement that took root in the United States in the 1990s. The standoff between the white-supremacist Weaver family and the A.T.F. and the F.B.I. at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and the siege of the Branch Davidians’ compound at Waco led to a rapid expansion in their ranks, but broader societal dislocations were in the background, too. The United Nations and NAFTA, for example, figure prominently in militia ideology, often claimed to be signs of a so-called New World Order. “People get sucked into these movements for a bunch of different reasons,” says Travis McAdam, former executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, a progressive organization that does research on the state’s extremists. “For some people it’s guns or environmental regulations, or some people don’t like people of color. You have people brought into this wide opening of the funnel cloud for various reasons.”
But Boogaloo bois “are making their way through the funnel cloud,” McAdam says. And like militias, they’re arming up for the future. But there’s a key difference. With militias, “there’s always that imminent war coming, there’s always that invasion by One World forces,” he says. “It never happened, but it was always going to happen. Whereas with the Boogaloo stuff, there is a piece of that that is like, ‘We want to make that happen.’”
The Boogaloo has thrived in an environment rife with entry points to the militia funnel cloud — the nihilistic swamps of social media and 4chan. Each Boogaloo group takes a different form, but memes are their common language — some funny, others less so. “Victory or fire. I Will Not Burn Alone,” reads one. Posts routinely call for the shooting of pedophiles. “Save the Bees. Plant More Trees. Clean the Seas. Shoot Commies,” reads another. Fears of climate change figure into the groups’ apocalyptic worldview, but they often find themselves attaching to reactionary ideas. “It’s very simple,” one meme reads, “learn to hate or die silently.” Another: “Environmentalism and nationalism go hand in hand. It is pride in your people, pride in your nation and pride in the very soil of the land.” But one common theme undergirds all these messages, regardless of which Boogaloo subset they attract: Do something about it. And do it now.
Back in November 2019, Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, issued a warning about who was using the word “Boogaloo” and why, in the form of a blog post illustrated with bizarre memes pulled from their forums: Pepe the frog firing a bazooka, a laser-eyed storm trooper with a black-sun halo, a big igloo. Though some still use “Boogaloo” as a joke, Pitcavage wrote, “an increasing number of people employ it with serious intent.” Still, he finished with a note of caution: Some people use the word “Boogaloo” to “mock some of the more fanatical or gung-ho elements of their own movement.”
“By that time it had crystallized from more than just a concept or a term,” he told me in July. “The beginnings of a movement had already started.” He went on: “It also started manifesting in the real world, with people showing up at events, self-identifying as Boogaloo.” The spring of 2020 was like a coming-out party for the movement, as men in colorful floral shirts and body armor festooned with igloo-shaped patches, semiautomatic weapons in hand, showed up at reopening rallies against Covid-19 restrictions across the country, from Lansing, Mich., to Denver, to Harrisburg, Pa. Some carried black-and-white American flags with a red stripe of floral print through the middle and an igloo in the place of stars.
In March, a Missouri white supremacist told an undercover F.B.I. agent he planned to detonate a car bomb outside a hospital treating Covid-19 patients. He called the plan “Operation Boogaloo.” When the F.B.I. tried to serve the man a probable-cause warrant, a firefight ensued, and he shot himself before he could be apprehended and succumbed to his wounds at the hospital. In April, a man in Texarkana, Texas, who identified with the movement streamed a live video on Facebook while dressed in body armor and a Hawaiian shirt, telling viewers he was “hunting the hunters”: searching for police officers to ambush. He is accused of leading several officers on a high-speed chase, continuing even after his tires were deflated by a spike strip. He was later apprehended and pleaded not guilty to attempted-murder charges.
As the movement’s profile rose, catching the attention of the media, Boogaloo bois bent the word to shield it from the eyes of content moderators. “Boogaloo” became “big igloo,” then “big luau” — hence the Hawaiian shirts. Boogaloo bois became “boojahideen.” On the forums, they would joke about a “pig roast” — code for killing police officers. In June, Facebook claimed that it deleted hundreds of accounts and pages devoted to the movement; by mid-July, the Boogaloo bois were back on Facebook talking about a “spicy fiesta.”
“The problem with the Boogaloo bois is they’re not a cohesive movement,” J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said during testimony to the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism in mid-July. “You could actually, in a really bizarre world, have two Boogaloo groups shooting at each other.” It is on the issue of law enforcement that the Boogaloo seems to greatly diverge from the militias that came before it, which in many cases collaborate with or even have members that are police officers. “They’re really anti-police,” Pitcavage says of the Boogaloo; they may say they want to find common cause with anyone protesting the police — but some want to act as agents provocateurs, accelerating street violence and furthering any conflict. For many of them, the protests following the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day looked like the perfect opportunity to create mayhem.
On May 29, according to a criminal complaint, Steven Carrillo — a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant who has served in Kuwait, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — tapped out a message on Facebook to other Boogaloo bois he had met online. Carrillo was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California and saw potential in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Oakland. “Go to the riots and support our own cause,” Carrillo instructed his friends. “Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box.”
That night in Oakland, the police clashed with protesters again and again, fogging the crowd in clouds of tear gas. Marchers blocked the freeway. Around 9 p.m., according to local reports, the police tried to disperse protesters again with crowd-control munitions. It was 9:44 p.m. when a white van with no plates and what looked like a missing hubcap rolled through the intersection of 12th and Jefferson in the middle of downtown Oakland, about nine blocks from the protests. As it rolled by the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, the side door slid open, and gunfire came out in bursts of twos and threes. Nine-millimeter rounds ripped through the courthouse’s squat guard station — a beige hut with an eggshell-blue roof dripping with rust stains.
Inside were two contracted federal security officers. One was David Patrick Underwood, a 53-year-old Black man who had recently bought an engagement ring for his girlfriend. The bullets from that white van killed Underwood and seriously wounded the other officer. The van was there one second — a flash of white on security footage — and then it was gone.
At a news conference in Washington the day after the shooting, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf of the Department of Homeland Security stood behind a wooden lectern and called the shooting part of “an outright assault on our law-enforcement community.” Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary, was more firm. “Let me be clear,” he said. “When someone targets a police officer or a police station with an intention to do harm and intimidate, that is an act of domestic terrorism.” Cuccinelli suggested it was related to the growing Black Lives Matter protests. Reporters asked if it could have been the work of white supremacists. Wolf said it was too early to say. But as reporters kept pressing, he mentioned only one group by name: Antifa.
Antifa — shorthand for antifascist — can be used to classify anyone who opposes fascism. But there also exist loosely organized antifascist groups that have made their presence known at the street protests of the last few years, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Media exposure has fueled the creation of an absurd caricature on cable news and in the minds of Republican politicians, of a well-funded nationwide organization of combatants.
Wolf’s comments that day at the news conference were, perhaps, one point of origin for an Antifa panic that then began rippling out across the country. Soon, rumors were proliferating on social media: Vans filled with destructive antifascists were coming to small-town America, spreading looting and chaos. That evening, President Trump tweeted that he would be classifying Antifa as a terrorist group (something he does not have the authority to do). The next afternoon, Trump spoke at the White House Rose Garden as the sounds of tear gas and flash grenades echoed, scattering peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square. “Our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa and others,” he said. He vowed to send federal troops to “stop the rioting and looting” and “to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”
But numerous reports in the past year asserted that violence from right-wing “homegrown terrorists” was now an equal or greater threat than attacks from foreign jihadist groups. Christopher Wray, director of the F.B.I., told the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing on F.B.I. oversight in July 2019 that his agency had recently arrested just as many domestic terrorists as it had foreign terrorists, and that a majority of the domestic terrorists investigated were white supremacists. And by this February, Wray said the F.B.I. had placed “racially motivated violent extremism” at the highest threat level and that “lone actor” terrorists were of top concern to the agency. He said that 2019 had been the deadliest year for domestic violent extremism since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Amid the hysteria about nonexistent vans full of Antifa supersoldiers, actual heavily armed militia groups around the country stepped in to provide what they saw as protection to communities, often with the encouragement of lawmakers. In Montana, State Senator Jennifer Fielder took to Facebook on the night of June 1, warning her followers to be on the lookout for Antifa. “There were multiple reports from credible witnesses of five white panel vans filled with people believed to be Antifa,” she wrote. They had been spotted in a grocery-store parking lot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, she wrote. No one got a photo. Her post went viral.
Soon mobs of armed and angry people came out in force in towns across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. In Snohomish, Wash., Representative Robert Sutherland posed with a semiautomatic weapon among other armed men. In Spokane, groups of armed men roamed downtown, telling business owners they had been hired to be there — but wouldn’t say who hired them. The tiny town of Forks, Wash., along the Pacific coastline, made national headlines when a mixed-race family driving a bus through town on the way to a camping trip was surrounded by people who believed them to be Antifa. Local reports said they later trapped the family in their campsite with felled trees. The campers escaped only when concerned residents brought chain saws to let them go.
In Idaho, in the first week of June, armed men and women lined Coeur d’Alene, standing guard outside restaurants and slugging liquor at crowded bars. Some wore Hawaiian shirts. Most wore tactical gear. Farther north, in Sandpoint, a county commissioner warned on Facebook of a looming threat. “We are hearing from other sources of protesters coming to the county courthouse,” he wrote. “It would be great to have some of the Bonner County folks come out to counter anything that might get out of hand.” A small group of white, teenage Black Lives Matter protesters found themselves being followed and outnumbered by armed men in full tactical gear. A concerned resident shared a video with me of an interaction between the two groups. “Don’t wreck anything in this town,” a white man barked toward a protester’s car. Another said: “We ain’t gonna have it — not in North Idaho.” In Missoula, Mont., a Black teenager who attended a Black Lives Matter protest was followed and questioned by an armed man who had heard that Antifa was coming to town.
Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, a progressive social-justice nonprofit group, has been researching white-nationalist groups and militias since the early 1990s, and he says it is common for extremist groups to position themselves as a helping hand to their communities. “There are places where libraries aren’t even open, or they don’t want to deliver the mail every day, or maybe the state police don’t get through that part of the community but once a month,” he says. Hospitals are far away. Emergencies are handled by neighbors. It “opens up a space for others to step in, suggesting they will bring solutions,” he says. Ward was disheartened when communities around the country embraced the presence of armed militias in their towns. America has spent the past two decades trying to root out terrorism around the world, he told me. Surely we should recognize the tactics of a rogue paramilitary inside our own country.
On an overcast April day in Las Vegas, outside a brick government building circled with palm trees, a group of men from a Facebook group called Battle Born Igloo met in person at a reopening rally. Stephen Parshall, a bearded 35-year-old, and Andrew Lynam, a 23-year-old Army reservist, recognized each other and their online friends by their body armor. Lynam was an administrator for the group, which formed earlier that month.
Parshall, who went by the nickname Kiwi, had served in the Navy, and his Facebook profile suggests he didn’t much care for it. (“This isn’t China, and I can say whatever I feel,” he wrote in 2010. “Don’t join the navy!!”) In 2015, just days after Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people inside a church in Charleston, S.C., Parshall changed his profile picture to a Confederate flag. Lynam, a Nevada native 12 years his junior, was a former altar boy who went to join the Army Reserve. But their Facebook pages showed an interest in similar topics: Lynam liked the page for “Being Libertarian” and was a member of a group called “BoojieBastards: Intelligence and Surveillance.”
Now, in Las Vegas, as all around them people honked their horns and waved signs during a “drive-thru protest,” the men talked of making plans to overthrow the United States government. Lynam said that he didn’t see the Boogaloo as “just another militia group to sit around and be friends with.” Parshall had taken out a life-insurance policy, he told the others, and he accepted that their actions — whatever they ended up being — might get him killed. They didn’t know that someone in their midst would soon become a paid F.B.I. informant.
The group planned a series of long hiking trips around the red Nevada desert. During each, the men — paranoid about surveillance — would leave their firearms and phones in a car, before hiking on trails in body armor. They discussed their desire to differentiate their group from antigovernment militia groups, which were, according to the informant, “old-style” groups that are “mostly populated by older individuals and individuals who had antigovernment leanings without being prepared to take violent action.”
During a late-April hike through the desert with other members of Battle Born Igloo, Parshall floated a plan to destroy a National Park Service fee station at Lake Mead with a firebomb. The target had a deeper significance: Six years earlier, the rancher Cliven Bundy called for the fee station’s destruction during his April 2014 standoff with federal Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service agents. Bundy, aided by militias from around the country who offered their support, took up arms against government officers over two decades of unpaid grazing fees he owed, which Bundy believed the government had no right to levy on ranchers. And when those outnumbered officers backed down and the family declared it a victory, it inspired others to go even further. Two months later, a married couple named Jerad and Amanda Miller, who had been present at the standoff, killed two Las Vegas police officers as they ate their lunch, draping a Gadsden flag and a swastika over one victim and pinning a note to the other’s uniform that read: “This is the beginning of the revolution.” Battle Born Igloo thought that in targeting that specific fee station, their own group might inspire copycat groups.
Though the Nevada Boogaloo group was clearly taking inspiration from the same old guard of right-wing militias they claimed to resent, their differences became more evident in late May, as the Black Lives Matter protests grew. While militias flocked to certain cities claiming to protect them from rioting and looting, the Nevada men, according to the paid informant, saw an opportunity in Black Lives Matter, which they perceived to be anti-law-enforcement. To a grand jury, the F.B.I.’s paid informant confirmed that Battle Born Igloo was not just antigovernment but also anarchist — in Lynam’s words, “antiracist, anti-tyrant, 100 percent pro-individual liberty.” In late May, Lynam, Parshall and the others shifted their focus to twisting the protests for racial justice into a tool for their own nihilistic ends. They considered throwing Molotov cocktails at police cars, hoping that might cause protesters to attack officers and cause a riot. They eventually discussed a new idea: destroying a power substation, again in the hope of starting a riot.
On the night of May 30, according to prosecutors, Lynam, Parshall and another military veteran, William Loomis, readied an arsenal of Molotovs, fireworks, guns and ammunition to bring to a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Las Vegas. But before they could get there, they were swarmed by F.B.I. agents and arrested. In June, all three men pleaded not guilty to state and federal charges including possession of unregistered firearms and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. (Through a lawyer, Parshall denied all charges against him. Requests for comment from Lynam’s and Loomis’s lawyers went unanswered.)
About a month before the planned attack, Lynam did an interview with the Las Vegas talk-radio hosts Brian Shapiro and JD Sharp, whom he met at a reopening rally.
“I appreciate you joining us,” Shapiro said. “How are you?”
On the recording, Lynam sounds young and unsure of himself: “Uh, good. Thank you for having me.”
For most of the interview, the chatty hosts argue with Lynam about gun rights, but they also want him to explain why Battle Born Igloo came to an otherwise small, peaceful reopening rally armed to the teeth. Were they a new militia?
“Absolutely not,” Lynam insisted. “We’re aware there’s those that might be a little terrified of it,” he told the hosts at one point. “The point isn’t to make people afraid, it’s to show people and to bring up a dialogue.”
If that sounded like a lie, it wasn’t the only one he told. He had also given the hosts an alias.
He told them his name was Duncan Lemp.
Around 4:30 in the morning on March 12, a SWAT team in Montgomery County, Md., raided the home of a 21-year-old computer programmer named Duncan Socrates Lemp. They had received an anonymous tip that he was in illegal possession of a firearm, and they were issued a no-knock warrant, allowing them to enter unannounced. A SWAT unit approached Lemp’s home, where he lived with his parents, brother and girlfriend, and, according to Rene Sandler, the family’s lawyer, shattered his bedroom window, tossing flash-bang grenades inside, and then began shooting through the window, fatally wounding Lemp before they even entered the home. (The Montgomery County Police Department, which declined to comment, has given a different account of events, saying that Lemp was armed and refused to comply with their commands.) Lemp’s pregnant girlfriend, who had been sleeping in his bed, was forced to stay put with his lifeless body for over an hour.
On Facebook, Lemp called himself a Boogaloo boi. The Boogaloo has since taken him up as a cause celebre, comparing his death to that of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman who was shot by Louisville police officers executing a no-knock warrant. At a protest over Lemp’s death in April at the Montgomery police headquarters, men in Hawaiian shirts thrust the Boogaloo flag in the air. People around the world raised over $17,000 for his funeral and the family’s legal fees in a GoFundMe campaign. In three days, they cleared out all 125 items in a baby registry for his unborn child. And then they began to invoke his name as their own.
In a YouTube video posted in June, which a man recorded after Virginia police officers pulled him over, he tells them his name is Duncan Lemp. Stephen Parshall, of Battle Born Igloo, used a logo from one of Lemp’s companies as his profile photo on Facebook. By late July, five Boogaloo bois who showed up to a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Ore., told a reporter that they were there in support of the protesters, adding that the police had killed some of “our own people.” “Never forget Duncan Lemp,” one said. “Never forget,” his colleagues echoed. On Lemp’s girlfriend’s Instagram page, Boogaloo bois have promised her that they will one day avenge his death.
In stickers slapped to street signs, in Boogaloo groups and in YouTube comments, members repeat the words “we are Duncan Lemp” or “his name was Duncan Lemp” like mantras. In the last few months of his life, Lemp used social media to show off antigovernment slogans and Boogaloo memes. His mother remembers asking him what it meant. “For him it was about Second Amendment rights,” she told me. In one Instagram photo, captioned simply “III%,” Lemp holds a rifle and grins from the back of a group of armed, camouflaged men. In another post, which appears to be a screenshot from a website, hands thrust rifles in the air. Below are the words of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, “sic semper tyrannis” — thus always to tyrants — the same words that adorned Timothy McVeigh’s T-shirt the morning in 1995 that he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
In the three-decade life span of modern right-wing militias, they have amassed something of a canon of martyrs. There’s the story of Gordon Kahl, a highly decorated World War II veteran and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who refused to pay his taxes. When law enforcement tried to serve him a warrant in 1983, he and his son killed two U.S. Marshals, before Kahl went on the run for four months and was killed in a shootout in Arkansas — but not before killing another law-enforcement officer. There’s Robert LaVoy Finicum, a leader at the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur wildlife reserve in Oregon, who died after speeding away from the police, hopping out of his vehicle and repeatedly yelling “Go ahead and shoot me!” while, according to law enforcement, reaching for a loaded pistol. At the May reopening rally in Olympia, Kelli Stewart told the crowd to read the stories of Finicum and Kahl when they got home.
There’s the Weaver family, the white separatists at the center of 1992’s Ruby Ridge standoff, which ended with three dead: Vicki and Samuel Weaver and one U.S. Marshal. And, of course, the botched assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in 1993, which ended in the deaths of at least 80 civilians (including 20 minors) and four A.T.F. agents — an event Kris Hunter, the Texas Boogaloo boi, says he recalls seeing unfold when he was 12. “I saw the tanks rolling down the freeway,” he told me. Maybe the Branch Davidians had broken the law, he conceded. “Does that mean that people need to burn alive in their homes and they need to be sieged for weeks at a time? That’s something that is alarming and should be alarming to all Americans.”
Timothy McVeigh was in Waco during the siege — he had driven there from Florida to see it — and it was the event that finally pushed him over the edge, the reason he went on to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh’s story demonstrates how powerful even the most absurd ideas can be to disaffected men with dreams of violence. A wayward young gulf war veteran, he drove in looping circles around the United States in the early 1990s, befriending other people at gun shows who shared his passion for firearms, which survivalists like McVeigh believed would one day become more valuable than American currency. At those events, he met other people who also believed in antigovernment conspiracies, and who found solace and inspiration in a book he sold copies of at those gun shows: “The Turner Diaries,” a 1978 novel written under a pseudonym by the white supremacist William Luther Pierce. To McVeigh, it was more than just a novel. It was a battle plan.
“The Turner Diaries” is a neo-Nazi hero’s tale: a book that tells the fictional story of Earl Turner, a character so aggrieved at the state of the world that he joins an underground terrorist cell. In the story, after the American government has taken guns away from civilians and begun systematically subordinating white people to other racial groups, Turner and his compatriots wage a campaign of terror in an effort to eliminate all other races from the planet. It is a pornographically violent fantasy that finds glory in ethnic cleansing, where judges, politicians, actors and journalists — among others deemed “race traitors” — are killed in mass hangings on what comes to be known as the Day of the Rope. At one point, Turner’s accomplices park a truck with a fertilizer bomb under a federal building and detonate it — crippling the government at a key moment.
McVeigh was hoping to deliver a blow to the government so forceful that it would bring it to its knees and ensure another Waco would never happen. In the days leading up to the bombing, McVeigh was said to have warned his sister of a coming revolution against the federal government. When he was arrested, the F.B.I. found a photocopied page from the book in his car with the following passage highlighted: “The real value of all our attacks today lies in the psychological impact. … [The politicians and bureaucrats] learned this afternoon that not one of them is beyond our reach. They can huddle behind barbed wire and tanks in the city, and they can hide behind the concrete walls of their country estates, but we can still find them and kill them.”
This fantasy about a cataclysmic end of America as we know it is the thing that binds the Boogaloo to a long legacy of violent homegrown terrorists in this country. The similarities between McVeigh and the Boogaloo are countless if you look for them. He was a veteran. He wasn’t part of an established group. He didn’t subscribe to one ideology or follow some charismatic leader. He was a guy whose beliefs about the government were informed by what happened at Waco and conspiracy theories and a badly written book. And yet, the Oklahoma City bombing remains the largest act of domestic terrorism the United States has ever seen.
Boogaloo bois might not be driving the country selling books at gun shows, but through memes, they share the shorthand version of the ideas that inspired McVeigh. Guns are currency. Martyrs are never forgotten. Even the Day of the Rope is having a second life as a hashtag shared by members of a movement that some try to insist is not racist. There is no Boogaloo manifesto — not yet, at least. But there is a version of the Boogaloo flag that has been going around the internet more and more lately. It’s that same black-and-white flag with the red strip of flowers, but this time, on all the stripes, there are names:
His name was Eric Garner.
Her name was Vicki Weaver.
His name was Robert LaVoy Finicum.
Her name was Breonna Taylor.
His name was Duncan Lemp.
After the late-May shooting of Officer Underwood in Oakland, it would take eight more days for the authorities to receive a tip about a white van with no plates and a mismatched hubcap abandoned on the side of a curving, wooded road deep in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, 75 miles to the south. Guns, ammunition and bomb-making supplies could be seen through the windows. Authorities tracked the van’s owner to a house in Ben Lomond, 20 minutes outside Santa Cruz — the home of Steven Carrillo.
In photographs, Carrillo has doughy cheeks and a weightlifter’s build. He married his high school sweetheart, who was also in the Air Force, and they had two children. Carrillo’s wife committed suicide in 2018, and friends of his have speculated in the media that the experience changed him. In the spring of 2020, prosecutors say, Carrillo met another Northern California man in a Boogaloo group on Facebook: 30-year-old Robert Justus. Carrillo would eventually recruit Justus to drive his van in Oakland on May 29. Prosecutors believe Carrillo was the shooter. (Justus, escorted by his parents, turned himself in to the F.B.I. on June 11. He is currently in custody, charged with aiding and abetting murder and aiding and abetting attempted murder; he pleaded not guilty.)
The Carrillo house in Ben Lomond is off a gravelly, shaded road. That day in June, a group of Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies approached the property, and as they did, a hail of nine-millimeter bullets ripped through two of their uniforms — killing Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, and seriously wounding another officer. There was an explosion, and then Carrillo — in a royal blue shirt and khaki pants, bleeding from a wound in his right leg — sprinted from the property and down the road. He carjacked an approaching white Toyota Camry at gunpoint. He sped away but abandoned the car minutes later.
Erik Thom was driving home to Santa Cruz through Ben Lomond when he saw signs on the highway about a roadblock and an active shooter. He pulled off at a marijuana dispensary and asked a woman in the parking lot what was going on.
“All of a sudden I hear this ‘Help! Help! Help!’” he told me. He grabbed his dog, Brown, and sprinted around the corner toward a house. The woman followed him, recording video on her smartphone.
Two men were wrestling on the ground. One was the man everyone was looking for: Steven Carrillo. Brown sank his teeth into Carrillo’s arm, and Thom aided the other man — the resident of the home, where Carrillo had tried to take another car — in restraining him. In the struggle, Carrillo dropped a pistol. Only when it hit the ground, Thom says, did he notice what else was already there: an AR-15 and a pipe bomb.
“This is what the roadblock was about,” he recalls thinking. “This is the active shooter.”
“I was putting a little bit of pressure on his arm, and he said, ‘Hey, dude, lay off my arm,’ and I said, ‘[expletive] you,’” Thom says. “And he said, ‘I’m done fighting the fight.’ He said it twice.” Then he uttered something about Afghanistan. Thom’s still not sure what, but he says in that moment, not knowing anything about what had happened in the minutes and days before, he felt bad for him. Thom told me he was sympathetic to those with P.T.S.D., and he had a cousin who had died during a confrontation with the police.
The men held Carrillo down until the police arrived and cuffed him. As the officers grasped Carrillo’s arms, leading him away, he taunted them. “I’m sick of these goddamn police,” he yelled at the stone-faced officers. “Listen! Are you listening?”
Later, investigators found that Carrillo’s home, too, was filled with improvised explosives, and sources told local reporters they think they “interrupted something big.” (Carrillo has pleaded not guilty to federal charges and is being held without bail; his attorney declined to comment for this article.) When they found the white Toyota Camry Carrillo had carjacked, they discovered something more Carrillo wanted them to hear.
Before abandoning the car, Carrillo seems to have dipped his fingers in his open leg wound and painted three messages across the hood of the car. None of them were his own ideas.
He wrote “stop the duopoly” — a reference to the dominance of the Republican and Democratic Parties in the American political system, a fixation of many Boogaloo bois.
He wrote “I became unreasonable” — yet another Boogaloo meme, the words of a welder named Marvin Heemeyer, who in 2004 fabricated a nearly indestructible “killdozer,” a modified earth mover outfitted with a .50-caliber rifle, and plowed it through 13 buildings in the town of Granby, Colo. It was an act of revenge over a land dispute. When he was finished, he shot himself. He is considered a martyr by antigovernment extremists.
And Carrillo wrote one more thing. He wanted the whole world to know what this was, to send a message that the killing of two law-enforcement officers was, perhaps, the first shot of a new kind of war — one that may have started on the internet, but one that is already starting to play out in real life. It was, in a way, his manifesto, his confession that conspiracy theories and memes found in him the perfect host. This was what he was willing to risk his life for.
In his blood, he wrote: “BOOG.”