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VERIFY: What do 'antifa' and 'boogaloo' mean?

Lots of groups have gained increased attention since protests around the country began last week. Who are these groups and what do they stand for?

Since protests began following George Floyd’s deaths, politicians and observers have attached numerous groups to the protests beyond Black Lives Matter protesters.

The names attached to these groups may be fairly new to the broader American lexicon as they have no official structure. Some even claim that they do not exist -- at least in the way they are portrayed in the news. Because of that, many Americans may not understand who they are or what their goals are.

The VERIFY team set out to find some answers on antifa and boogaloo. 


Boogaloo and antifa are hard to define for several reasons, mainly because they can be more accurately described as decentralized movements rather than singular groups. A Congressional Research Service report from early 2018 says so about antifa and the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute says the same about boogaloo. 

Simply put, there is no national antifa organization that people can join, nor is there a national boogaloo organization.

As a result, the definitions of the movements can change from person to person. Someone may describe themselves as antifa but hold different beliefs and act differently than another person who describes themselves as antifa. The same is true to an even greater extent for boogaloo.

However, some smaller organizations and communities exist for both movements. There are also some broader principles -- different for either movement -- that can be used to create some perspective as to what these movements are.

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Mark Bray defined who he believes antifa are in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. He’s the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.

The first thing he says is that antifa is “short for anti-fascist in many languages," which could be one way people define it. Antifa could be as loosely defined as people who do not agree with fascism. Some describe themselves as antifa just for holding the belief that fascism is wrong.

But that broad definition is not the one most people use. Bray adds later “there is a significant difference between belonging to an organized antifa group and supporting their actions online.” Bray defines antifa as “militant antifascism” and says it’s a “politics of social revolutionary self-defense applied to fighting the far right.”

The Congressional Research Service report mentioned earlier says much antifa activity involves nonviolent protest such as hanging posters, marching and making speeches. They also track and react to people and groups they see as advocating fascist views.

The CRS report says that there’s not a singular list of enemies antifa groups all target. They say it’s partially because of the decentralized nature of the broader movement. They also say it’s because individual groups may have different ideas on who or what is fascist.

Antifa’s goals are to track and take direct action against these far-right threats, whoever they deem these threats to be. The CRS says they may do this by trying to deny these threats public platforms, exposing their information publicly to “out” them as far-right and in some cases, direct physical action.

Members of antifa often claim physical actions are defensive reactions to the aggression of their enemies or are part of the need to defend society from fascism, according to the CRS report.

Bray’s language in the Washington Post opinion piece reflects that as he refers to protesters’ self-defense against white supremacy and police brutality.

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The word boogaloo in this context comes from the 1984 movie "Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo," according to the Rutgers’ Network Contagion Research Institute. The phrase electric boogaloo became a common online meme to refer to the sequel of anything.

Before long, it was used on 4chan to refer to “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo” which was shortened to just the "boogaloo" to refer to a second Civil War.

For some, according to the earlier mentioned Middlebury Institute article, this second Civil War refers to a revolution against the government. For others, it refers to a race war.

This is the reason why J.J. MacNab, an expert on U.S. paramilitary militia groups and related anti-government extremist organizations at George Washington University, said in a tweet that the boogaloo movement is not a cohesive one with a specific ideology. 

“While there are pockets of white supremacist Boogaloos, the younger and bigger groups are generally not,” she said. “While there are Boogaloos that strongly support Trump, the younger and bigger groups hate him.”

So it would be inaccurate to refer to "boogaloo bois," as they like to call themselves, one particular movement. It’s multiple movements, one with anti-government and anti-police beliefs and another with white supremacist beliefs, using the same word.

All of these movements are linked by their shared usage of the word boogaloo and are generally pro-gun and right-wing in their beliefs. But their stances beyond that can differ wildly.

This is why when they have been seen at protests for George Floyd, usually carrying a gun, they have been the subject of concern for some protesters. Nonetheless, many in the boogaloo movement have professed their support for protesters. CNN interviewed one person from North Carolina, who identified with the boogaloo movement, who took his gun to Minneapolis “to protect protesters from police abuse and white supremacists.”

However, it’s important to note that not everyone who identifies with the boogaloo movement claims to be allies of the protesters and some even explicitly oppose them.

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