Updated June 6, 2020 - 3:01 pm
When three suspected members of the “boogaloo” movement were arrested in Las Vegas a week ago, it confirmed suspicions that extremists are looking for opportunities to trigger violence in Nevada communities.
The boogaloo arrests are the first in the country of far-right extremists accused of planning to disrupt and cause harm to Black Lives Matter protests, according to Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the Center on Extremism for the Anti-Defamation League.
“Extremists see the civil unrest as an opportunity to incite terror and distract from the critical messages of the protesters,” she said. “The alleged plot of this trio illustrates our concerns about extremists using the momentum and societal turmoil to bring their agendas to fruition.”
Experts believe national protests after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd have provided a big opportunity for the movement to expand.
“They see themselves as trying to become involved in a more larger political conversation,” said Cassie Miller, a senior analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She said there are more than 100 boogaloo groups on Facebook.
The boogaloo movement, which believes in an impending civil war and ultimate societal collapse, is decentralized with no national leaders and largely organizes and recruits on social media. The name has its roots in decades of jokes about the 1984 break-dancing film “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
“While boogaloo supporters hail from a variety of movements, and include some white supremacists who advocate for race war, preliminary findings show the three arrested in Las Vegas embraced the anti-government version of the boogaloo,” Mendelson explained.
“This strain champions the notion that the American people are willing to respond with violence — even if it means sparking a civil war — to perceived government efforts to curtail their freedom.”
In a news release, Nevada U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich expressed his concerns about the recent wave of unrest on the streets.
“Violent instigators have hijacked peaceful protests and demonstrations across the country, including Nevada, exploiting the real and legitimate outrage over Mr. Floyd’s death for their own radical agendas,” Trutanich said.
Devin Burghart, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, said the arrests heighten the level of concern at the protests about the Boogaloo Boys, another name for the nationwide movement.
“Once you have reached the step of plotting to commit acts of terrorism, you move beyond your average far-right protester and into the deep end,” Burghart said.
He said his organization, which tracks far-right extremism, has found boogaloo members at more than 20 protests in Las Vegas and across the country using a variety of methods, including sources on the street and within the far right, social media activity, and news reports.
Boogaloo Boys are usually easy to spot in a demonstration because they are known for wearing Hawaiian shirts, sometimes covered by armored vests, and carrying firearms, Burghart said. The practice, he added, is an “act of stolen valor” borrowed from special forces in the military.
Members of another right-wing group, the Proud Boys, also have been tracked to recent ReOpen Nevada and Black Lives Matter protests in the valley and Reno, with no reported violence attributed to the group.
Burghart said the Proud Boys, which have chapters in most states, showed up at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Las Vegas and Reno on May 31. The Review-Journal photographed members of the group April 18 at the Sawyer Building protesting the state shutdown.
The group has a Las Vegas chapter and helped stage a Proud Boys national gathering called “WestFest” here in September 2017, Burghart said.
He described the members as the “racist reactionary street fighters” of the far-right, known for engaging in brawls with left-wing groups.
The ADL calls the Proud Boys an “unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism.” Some members espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies, but the group represents a range of ethnic backgrounds. Its founder described the Proud Boys as a “drinking club” dedicated to male bonding and celebrating western culture. But group members have taken part in numerous acts of violence and intimidation over the past several years, according to the ADL.
The three suspected boogaloo members taken into custody May 30 — Stephen T. Parshall, 35, Andrew Lynam, 23, and William L. Loomis, 40 — are facing local terrorism charges and federal explosive and firearms charges. All three, who have military backgrounds, first caught the attention of FBI agents during rallies in April and May against the state’s COVID-19 business shutdown.
Lynam is currently an Army reservist, while Parshall and Loomis were formerly enlisted in the Navy and Air Force, respectively.
Before his arrest, Parshall displayed the fictional national “flag of Kekistan,” a symbol of the extreme alt right movement, on his Facebook Page. The page now appears to have been taken down. The flag mimics the German Nazi war flag with the Kek logo replacing the swastika, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The alt right rejects mainstream conservatism in favor of forms that embrace racism or white supremacy, the center says.
Defense lawyer Robert Draskovich, who represents Parshall, said: “My client denies the allegations in the federal and local complaints and states that he has no affiliation with any right wing extremists.”
Undercover FBI agents learned the Las Vegas defendants were planning to firebomb a Nevada Energy substation on May 28 to create unrest in Las Vegas, according to the federal complaint.
But the men instead sought to disrupt the Black Lives Matter protests. Agents arrested the trio before a May 30 demonstration downtown after they learned the men were prepared to toss Molotov cocktails at police, the complaint alleges.
Crackdown on violence
The case is the result of an intense campaign by federal and local authorities to curb the violence that led to the June 1 shooting of a Las Vegas police officer and the police shooting of an armed man wearing an armored vest who was spotted at several protests.
Trutanich has said that his office is pushing hard to charge instigators who commit violence during the protests and that the investigation involves the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI nationwide has asked the public for tips and digital media depicting violent encounters at the protests.
— FBI (@FBI) June 1, 2020
The U.S. attorney, who would not discuss the boogaloo case or any specific extremist groups, said in an interview with the Review-Journal that stopping the violence, not ideology, is the focus of the investigation.
He praised the work of the Metropolitan Police Department and other local and state law enforcement agencies in the collaborative effort, and said authorities are dedicated to ensuring that everyone has equal protection under the law.
“Within days, we were able to send a strong message that we were supporting the protesters and that violence in these peaceful protests would not be tolerated,” Trutanich said. “We are going to bring cases based on what the attorney general characterized as a ‘witch’s brew’ of extremists that are among these peaceful protests.”
Nevada U.S. Marshal Gary Schofield, a retired Metro deputy chief, said there clearly has been an organized effort to cause violence in downtown Las Vegas near the two federal courthouses. Protesters broke windows and sprayed graffiti.
“I am highly concerned because we keep seeing these groups of heavily armed individuals coming around during these protests,” he said. “It’s noticeable that the groups concentrating on the violent activity do not appear to be part of any true community effort.”
Republican Las Vegas Assemblyman Tom Roberts shares that view.
“It’s deeply troubling that we have worked as a community very hard to build a safe environment for families and our visitors that come here,” said Roberts, a retired assistant sheriff who oversaw local homeland security. “This undermines all of the work of the community for years.”
During the past week of protests, rumors of another extremist ideological group in Las Vegas, Antifa, were shared on Twitter. Antifa, short for “antifascist,” is a term for loosely organized far-left activists who are known to show up at white supremacist rallies.
Social media has pointed to Antifa’s involvement in the protests. But like the Proud Boys on the right, Antifa so far has escaped prosecution in Las Vegas.
On May 31, President Donald Trump tweeted he sought to have the movement declared a terrorist organization. Antifa rallied against white supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and sometimes has supported Black Lives Matter.
The ADL’s Mendelson said danger lies ahead across the spectrum of extremism in the country.
“This is a dangerous concoction of opportunists who are seeking to take advantage of the current crisis and insert themselves into the violence,” she said.
Right-wing activity rises
Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, said the criminal case against boogaloos is an indication that right-wing groups are likely to become even more active in the coming months.
But he added: “We expect to see more criminal charges filed against partisans from both the far-right and the hard-left across the country in the future.”
Mendelson said she doesn’t blame the protest violence solely on extremist groups.
“Some of the chaos is an expression of the protesters’ despair and anger against what they perceive as institutionalized racism and inequality,” she said. “There is a genuine outrage and pain that’s being expressed at these demonstrations.”
Roxann McCoy, president of the Las Vegas branch of the NAACP, agreed that the anger is real.
“I do not condone the violence,” she said. “But we are tired of just standing by and waiting for someone to do the right thing for the African-American community. Justice should matter for all people.”
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter. German is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Support our journalism.