Far-right activists with rifles gathered outside of Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh on May 1. (photo by Tony Crider)
Armed militia activists who promote the idea of a second civil war through coded “boogaloo” themes plan to show up at the General Assembly in Raleigh today carrying firearms, in direct violation of state law.
One day after armed protesters stormed the Michigan state capitol in Lansing, a militant offshoot of the Reopen NC movement is mobilizing supporters from out of state to show up “fully armed as a show of force” at the North Carolina General Assembly.
The May 1 action was organized in response to an arrest made by Raleigh police at the first Reopen NC protest on April 14. The police arrested four other protesters, including Reopen NC cofounder Ashley Smith, at the third weekly protest on April 28.
“This is a call to arms,” the Facebook account Blue Igloo posted on the open page for the “Protect the 1st Amendment” event on April 14. “I’m going to need every able-bodied man to pack up your gear and plan for peaceful assembly at this very spot on May 1st. Call your brothers from other states.”
The Facebook page for the event, which is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon, currently says 56 people plan to attend. WRAL reports that a separate group, American Revolution 2.0, is also hosting rally in Raleigh to call for reopening the state.
Following the arrest by Capitol Police on Tuesday of Reopen NC leader Ashley Smith, the Blue Igloo account posted: “Are we just going to let this happen? Or is everyone going to show up on May 1st?”
One supporter responded: “They’re called guns. Show up ready to use them. I’m tired of this shit. I’m not going to any more protests unless serious men come and are ready to defend our lives and liberties. I’m ready and willing; are the rest of you?”
The Blue Igloo user took a rhetorical jab at Gov. Roy Cooper, whose stay-at-home order has been the target of the weekly protests.
“Let’s find out if King Cooper’s goons are willing to murder and attempt to murder citizens who happen to be keeping and bearing arms,” they said.
North Carolina law prohibits people from carrying firearms during a demonstration.
Asked if the Raleigh police intend to arrest people who carry guns at the event today, police spokesperson Donna-maria Harris responded with the text of NCGS § 14-277.2, entitled “Weapons at parades, etc., prohibited,” which reads, in part: “It shall be unlawful for any person participating in, affiliated with, or present as a spectator at any parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration upon any private health care facility or any public place owned or under the control of the state or any of its political subdivisions to willfully or intentionally possess or have immediate access to any dangerous weapons. Violation of this subsection shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
On Thursday, when a similar group stormed the Michigan capitol, Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a Democrat who represents the Detroit suburbs, tweeted: “Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet-proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our sergeants-at-arms more than today.”
Kathleen Belew, a history professor at the University of Chicago who is the author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, tweeted: “Heavily armed people storming a government building is an attack, not a protest. It is at the very least an act of intimidation, if not terrorism.”
Today’s action in Raleigh self-consciously references “boogaloo,” an elaborate internet meme that emerged in the summer of 2019 on social media platforms shared by gun activists and white supremacists. The term is derived from the 1984 movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, denoting a sequel, and serves as code for a potential second civil war.
“‘Boogaloo’ is the term that the gun guys use when they do the overthrow of the government,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who researches far-right extremist activity on social media. “Last summer — May, June, July — white supremacists started also using the word.”
Squire started a folder of screengrabs documenting usages of “boogaloo” in July 2019. By August, the word started gaining wide usage on social media platforms used by white supremacists, and by the following month media and journalists were reporting about it. Around that time, adherents began modifying the term to throw off outsiders, with variants like “big igloo” and “big luau.”
Squire said she ran a Google trend search for the term “big luau” on Reddit, and discovered the first usage made by a poster on the “Weekend Gunnit” forum on April 19, 2019, displaying a photo of a man with a snorkel and T-shirt. The “big luau” modification gave rise to gun enthusiasts wearing Hawaiian-style shirts to signal their identification.
“Blue Igloo” is itself an unsubtle nod, and the administrator immediately reached out to other militia activists by tagging more than a dozen other boogaloo-themed Facebook accounts such as “Big Igloo Bois,” “Boojahideen of Occupied Appalachistan” and “Boogaloo 2020.”
Promoters of today’s event have been actively recruiting on the more mainstream Reopen NC Facebook group, which is set to private.
“I have perfectly legal, constitutionally protected liberty sticks with plenty of freedom seeds,” wrote one user who has indicated he plans to be in Raleigh today.
Another user chimed in: “You beat me to it. Bring the boog sticks.” Then, in another comment: “Don’t forget your Hawaiian shirt!” The same commenter spelled out his intentions for the benefit of an uninitiated person on the thread: “The boogaloo. The big igloo. The big luau. The show. Etc. Americans’ second revolution.”
A Facebook user who has been active in the planning for today’s event posted a photo of himself on April 6 wearing a black and white shirt with palm tree silhouettes and a pink boa while holding a black pistol.
“Grow out your mustache and go full Boognum PI,” a friend — also involved in the planning for the Raleigh event — advised.
The Facebook page for today’s event includes a disclaimer that all people, regardless of “skin color, creed, disability, ethnicity, sexual preference” and “age” are welcome.
Squire said that it’s common, even on social media pages that explicitly celebrate “white power,” to include disclaimers against racism, but that it should be regarded with skepticism. Considering the lengths that far-right groups go to camouflage racial ideology, Squire said any potential linkages between the individuals who are mobilizing in Raleigh with guns and white supremacist ideology has to be considered “murky.”
“If a person of color shows up, that person will be put front and center,” Squire predicted. “It’s a tokenizing thing.”
Like the Proud Boys, another violent, far-right group that disavows racism, Squire said the boogaloo activists use iconography to deflect from the fact that their behavior is terrifying.
“These men are parading around in a street without masks and heavily armed — are you serious?” she said. “They’re using the Hawaiian shirt and making it funny. The Proud Boys are doing the same thing with the breakfast cereal [initiation rite] and their absurd hero worship of Roger Stone.”
The organizers and participants in today’s actions are well aware that they are violating the law and that they’re daring the police to take enforcement action.
Johnston County Reopen President Stephen Wagner, using the name “Pat Riot,” posted on the Reopen Wake County Facebook page, saying he was authorized to share a statement on behalf of “Blue Igloo.”
Wagner acknowledged that what the armed demonstrators plan to do is a misdemeanor under North Carolina law, adding that he intends to be there carrying a copy of the Bible and the Constitution.
He admonished fellow activists: “If for any reason you plan on joining us, I encourage you to leave any and all #reopen paraphernalia at home, so as not to put any more bad PR on the group than we currently have had here recently. While I believe that Blue Igloo are well within their constitutional rights to do this, and while I do believe their multiple statements about having peaceful intentions, I can guarantee you that the more liberal news outlets will spin this in a negative manner.”
And posting on the private Reopen NC Facebook page, the same user who urged people to bring “boog sticks” and wear Hawaiian shirts, acknowledged that North Carolina law “states you cannot be armed during protest.” He added, “Precisely why you should be.”
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