Murder exposes Facebook's Boogaloo problem

On May 29, at 9:27 PM, two men in a white Ford Econoline-style van parked across the street from a federal building in Oakland, California, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Department of Justice. Sixteen minutes later, the van started moving toward two federal officers who were guarding the building. The passenger-side door slid open and, authorities allege, that Steven Carrillo opened fire. One of the officers, David Patrick Underwood, was killed, and the other sustained serious injuries. Carrillo has been charged with murder and attempted murder.  The driver, Robert Justus Jr., has been charged with aiding and abetting. 

Carrillo and Justus were apprehended after "an eight-day manhunt that came to a crescendo after a witness reported an abandoned white Ford van in Ben Lomond, Calif." The van "contained what appeared to be ammunition, firearms, and bomb-making equipment." The evidence in the van led authorities to "Carrillo’s residence in Ben Lomond." When they arrived, "Carrillo allegedly opened fire...killing one deputy and injuring a second."

Republican politicians, including Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), had linked Underwood's murder to the Black Lives Matter movement. In a Congressional hearing that featured Underwood's sister, Jordan claimed that Underwood was killed by "the rioters in Oakland" who were demonstrating in the wake of George Floyd's murder. 

But Carrillo is not an extremist in the Black Lives Matter movement and was not "rioting" in Oakland in protest of George Floyd's murder. Carrillo is, according to the criminal complaint, associated with the right-wing "Boogaloo" movement. Boogaloo is a term that is "regularly deployed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis who want to see society descend into chaos so that they can come to power and build a new fascist state."

In the white van, investigators found a tactical vest with a patch featuring "an igloo and a Hawaiian-style print," which is associated with the Boogaloo movement.

Carrillo and Justus, according to the criminal complaint, met and communicated through a Facebook group affiliated with the Boogaloo movement.

I have reviewed a Facebook exchange between CARRILLO, Justus, and another individual that occurred on May 28, 2020, at approximately 7:20 AM. At that time, CARRILLO posted in a Facebook group, “It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It’s a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois. Keep that energy going.”...At approximately 7:37 AM, Justus responded, “Lets boogie.” 

"Soup bois" is a term used in Boogaloo circles that refers to the "alphabet soup" of federal law enforcement officers (FBI, ATF, CIA, etc.). 

On Tuesday, Facebook said it removed the specific groups where Carrillo and Justus posted. But the Boogaloo movement has been using Facebook to encourage violence and grow its ranks for months. The company has been slow to react. 

Facebook fuels the Boogaloo

In January, Popular Information reported that a Facebook page called "Boogaloo Crüe" was using the platform to encourage violence at a gun-rights rally in Virginia. One post indicated that armed gun-rights extremists ("Boog Boiz") could overwhelm the Virginia National Guard.

In response to a request for comment at the time, Facebook said it was investigating but took no action. It wasn't until May 1 that Facebook updated its policies to prohibit the use of Boogaloo-related terms when accompanied by statements or images depicting armed violence. 

The Boogaloo Crüe page has now been taken down. But a new page, "Boogaloo Crüe: First Blood Part 2, The Final Chapter, A New Beginning," which also posts violent memes, has taken its place. 

Another issue is Facebook's recommendation engine. When you visit a Facebook page, Facebook will recommend "related" pages that you might also like. In the context of Boogaloo pages, this quickly radicalizes users but exposing them to a flood of violent and incendiary content. 

On June 2, shortly after Underwood's murder, Facebook announced it would exclude Boogaloo pages from its recommendation engine. "We continue to remove content using boogaloo and related terms when accompanied by statements and images depicting armed violence. We are also preventing these Pages and groups from being recommended on Facebook," a company spokesperson told Popular Information.

That doesn't appear to be true. Boogaloo content continues to thrive on Facebook — and many Boogaloo-related pages continue to be included in Facebook's recommendation engine. 

Facebook still recommends the Boogaloo

Popular Information visited Boogaloo Side Quest, a popular Boogaloo page with more than 11,000 followers. Facebook then recommended two other Boogaloo pages: Boog Memes About Living The Dream (23,000 followers) and Rhett E. Boogie 2020 (13,700 followers). 

Facebook says that as new groups are created, the company needs to review them before they are excluded from the recommendation engine. But the two Boogaloo pages recommended to Popular Information were created in October 2019 and February 2020, respectively. So neither are new. 

Despite Facebook's stated policy, Popular Information was repeatedly directed to various "related" Boogaloo pages on Facebook. 

It's also unclear why pages like Boogaloo Side Quest are permitted on Facebook at all. Facebook says it does not allow Boogaloo-related terms to be used alongside violence. But Boogaloo Side Quest features precisely those kinds of violent memes, including one that encourages violence against "alphabet bois." 

Carillo allegedly used similar rhetoric ("soup bois") before committing murder. 

Facebook tells Popular Information that it is monitoring the Boogaloo movement on Facebook and is considering further action.

Facebook's standards

Facebook's community standards prohibit "any organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on Facebook." This includes groups involved in "terrorist activity," "multiple murder," or "criminal activity." The Boogaloo movement, which is comprised of various factions that advocate for a violent overthrow of the government, seems to fit squarely within this definition. 

Carrillo's alleged crimes are part of a pattern. The Southern Poverty Law Center detailed the recent activities of the Boogaloo movement:

Over roughly the last month, at least seven men associated with the boogaloo movement have been arrested for possession of weapons and plotting violent attacks. Three were arrested [May 30] in Las Vegas after plotting to terrorize protesters and attack other targets, including a power substation. According to a criminal complaint, they wanted to “create a chaotic and confusing scene for the upcoming protest” in order to force “the government to show its hand.” Other men who associate with the boogaloo movement have been arrested in Texas, Colorado and Ohio.

One of the suspects in the Las Vegas plot was allegedly "a moderator of a 'boogaloo' Facebook group." 

Nevertheless, Boogaloo groups are allowed to proliferate on Facebook. This may be a result of the Boogaloo's loose organization and connection to meme culture, which couches violent rhetoric in "jokes." But the Boogaloo movement's structure does not make it any less dangerous.

In April, the Tech Transparency Project identified 125 public and private Boogaloo-related groups. Many of those groups have simply changed their names to avoid enforcement of Facebook's policies. Popular Information identified several additional public Boogaloo pages with more than 10,000 followers including, "Boogaloo bois," "Kato's Lost Bois," and "Boog Memes About Living The Dream."

Even Boogaloo groups that are banned by Facebook for explicitly advocating violence quickly reemerge. Facebook recently banned a popular Boogaloo page called "Thicc Boog Line." The page operates a website that sells Boogaloo-themed merchandise. But two of the administrators of Thicc Boog Line have already created new Facebook pages, with the same content, linking to the same online store. 

Among the items for sale: the patch found on Carrillo's tactical vest.

Support Accountability Journalism

Give a gift subscription

Thanks for reading!