By Political Research Associates and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR)
Additional research support provided by Alexander Reid Ross
We have been tracking reports of paramilitary and other far-right actors who are showing up at or adjacent to protests demanding an end to racist policing and a transformation of our carceral state. This map seeks to right-size the threat of paramilitaries to our social justice movements, neither exaggerating nor minimizing. We have confirmed 136 reported incidents since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, and with new reports daily there are dozens more as of yet unconfirmed incidents to review. Given the variety of groups and factions involved and types of incidents, we have divided the data into a few broad categories of actors/ideologies on the one hand and actions and tactics on the other. In most cases, the underlying data preserves more nuance and can be used to make finer distinctions.
Although most people may not remember, if they ever knew, far-right paramilitaries did turn up at previous rounds of protests over police violence. For example, during the second wave of Ferguson protests, after a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown, members of the paramilitary group the Oathkeepers patrolled rooftops claiming to be there to protect people and property. The heavily armed militia—which reports drawing its membership primarily from military veterans, police officers, and other first responders—was greeted with mixed reactions by protesters. Mostly they were a distraction from demands for justice and police accountability.
Now in 2020, far-right paramilitaries are once again making the scene at racial justice protests. Particularly in the last days of May, rumors circulated that large numbers of armed militia members and/or outright White Nationalists were infiltrating, disrupting protests and threatening activists. Some of the armed militias were claiming to be there to support the protestors—or at least to speak against police violence and overreach. President Trump continues to try to divert attention to an invented threat from “antifa,” tweeting that he will have them declared a terrorist group and the Attorney General of the United States has threatened to point the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) at “Antifa and similar groups.” Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has run over 2,000 advertisements on social media since June 2, warning about “Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups,” some versions of which featured a point-down red triangle, an image used to identify political enemies in Nazi concentration camps. Even as police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors, activists and organizers were left wondering how seriously to take the threat of violence from right-wing paramilitaries.
- The absolute number of far-right and paramilitary actors at racial justice and police accountability protests has been relatively small, typically no more than a dozen people, and often only one or two men in Hawaiian shirts and tactical gear in a sea of racial justice protestors. The exceptions have been where less organized groups of people with guns have turned up to confront an imaginary “antifa” menace, usually in smaller towns in the West.
- In spite of the low numbers involved, there are reasons to be concerned. Some of the paramilitary actors are proving to be willing not just to talk about using violence to stir up chaos and provoke confrontation between protestors and the state, but to take violent action.
- Steven Carillo, an active-duty staff sergeant in the Air Force, has been arrested and charged with killing a guard at the federal courthouse in Oakland. In a Facebook post before the attack, Carillo allegedly wrote: “Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.” Wounded in a firefight with Santa Cruz deputy sheriffs, Carillo apparently highjacked a car and scrawled “Boog” on the hood in his own blood.
- Three men also connected to the Boogaloo movement were arrested in Nevada on charges of possessing explosives and conspiring to incite violence.
- Other rightwing violence has been less intentionally directed toward fomenting chaos and confrontation with the state. For example in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a one-time city council candidate shot and critically wounded a racial justice protestor and assaulted several others in an attempt to defend a conquistador monument. He was subsequently defended from the crowd by members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a militia group, though they subsequently disavowed any connection to the shooter.
Incidents are grouped into four categories:
- Harassment/counterprotest is the largest category, with 106 instances, and includes a variety of activities including verbal harassment, intimidation, those claiming to be there to protect property, prevent looting, or defend the First Amendment or engaged in the doxxing of protestors.
- Violence/threat, which includes only actual or attempted violence in or around the protest space or direct menacing, such as pointing a gun or other weapon at someone.
- Attended protest claiming support, includes mostly members of the Boogaloo faction, and only when they have shown through words, spoken or written, or through their actions, that they intend their presence to be in support of racial justice and police accountability, for example by carrying signs that say Black Lives Matter or Justice for George Floyd.
- Law enforcement complicity is a small category in the data with large implications and refers to law enforcement officials who indicate alignment with paramilitary or far-right groups, for example by wearing a III% insignia.
The main actors that show up in our data include:
- The Boogaloo, or Boogaloo Bois, is a very loose network of actors that originated online, but who have begun to show up at in-person protest actions in recent months. They are often recognizable by wearing tactical military-style gear and Hawaiian shirts. The “Boogaloo” is a code word for a new civil war, which they tend to see as inevitable, if not desirable. They have shown up in a variety of ways, including claiming support for police accountability and violence/threat.
- The Oathkeepers and the III% (Three Percenters) are closely allied paramilitary or militia factions that typically claim a constitutionalist orientation—that is, that they exist to defend the Constitution from threats. Many are or claim to be military veterans or first responders of one sort or another.
- Proud Boys, who define themselves as “Western chauvinists” defending U.S. institutions from leftists and outside influences. In practice, they are best known for their street brawls with anti-fascists, anarchists, anti-racists, and others. They have shown up mostly in the counterprotest/harassment category.
- Other categories include armed mobs of mostly white men who have appeared after online calls to defend their communities from mostly imaginary threats of left-wing looters being bused into town. They are, as far as we can tell, not part of any organized or recognizable group. There are also a small number of explicit White nationalists, including some neonazis, who have shown up in the counterprotest/harassment lane.
The map presented here is our joint attempt to create a resource for organizers and activists, journalists and researchers, to place the threat of the far-right showing up at racial justice protests in context, more-or-less at a glance.