Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
June 01, 2020
American cities are reeling after another night of clashes between protesters and law enforcement. Since Thursday, daily, peaceful demonstrations against police brutality, spurred in part by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, have descended into overnight eruptions of violence and destruction.
In some cases, peaceful protests have been met with excessive police force. There have also been widespread incidents of violence and property destruction. And while some of this chaos may be an expression of protesters’ despair and anger against America’s long history of racism and inequality, it is important to note that antiracists are not the only – or even primary – cause of these incidents.
While the majority of protests around the country have been peaceful and focused on opposing police brutality and systemic racism, some individuals and groups, including a scattering of extremists, are taking full advantage of a national crisis to advance their own violent agendas.
Not everyone who is committing violence, it should be noted, is an extremist or connected to a formal group or organization, and not every extremist participating in protests or acts of violence is immediately identifiable.
ADL’s Center on Extremism has been closely monitoring the protests nationwide, and it is our initial assessment that while a number of extremists – including anti-government agitators, anarchists and a handful of white supremacists – are taking an active role, these protests should not be categorized as “extremist” events at this point.
Claims that extremists are taking the lead in these demonstrations diminish the message protesters are trying to convey. It is, of course, easier to believe that white supremacists or anarchists are leading the charge than it is to accept that Americans are so angry, so fundamentally outraged at the state of their country, that they are willing to take to the streets, push back against a militarized police force, risking serious injury or arrest.
We have laid out (below) a representative sampling of what we know about each extremist group believed to be participating in or commenting on these clashes. It is important to note that we are not drawing comparisons between groups; anarchists and white supremacists have very different stated missions, and we do not equate the two in this analysis.
In this time of national unrest, it has never been more important to understand the extremist landscape in America.
A handful of white supremacists have shown up at Black Lives Matter rallies around the country.
At least one member of small neo-Nazi Nationalist Social Club (aka 131 Crew) distributed the group’s stickers around Boston during unrest there over the weekend. Meanwhile, members of the group’s Tennessee chapter hung a sign that read “JOGGER” on the Alex Haley statue in Knoxville, Tennessee, “amid BLM riots nearby,” according to their Telegram channel. The word “jogger” is a newly coined, derogatory white supremacist term for a Black man, and references Ahmaud Arbery, who was murdered while jogging in his Georgia neighborhood.
On May 29, in Denver, Colorado, an apparent neo-Nazi was photographed giving a Hitler Salute, and allegedly shouted “Heil Hitler” from a vehicle after threatening peaceful protesters near the 16th Street Mall.
Some white supremacists are using violent images and videos as recruitment tools. 131 Crew members posted a video of a white person being assaulted in Dallas, Texas, purportedly during the protests, accompanied by the words, “This could be you – join a local crew #131.”
White supremacist Nick Fuentes, who runs the American First podcast, chanted “Groyper” during an ABC news video report of protests in Tampa, Florida. The so-called “Groyper army” is a white supremacist group that presents its ideology as more nuanced than other groups in the white supremacist sphere.
Online, white supremacists are reacting to the ongoing chaos with a mixture of glee and anger. What follows is a small sampling of what we’ve observed online.
Some, especially those in the accelerationist camp, are celebrating the prospect of increased violence, which they hope will lead to a long-promised “race war.” They are extremely active online, urging other white supremacists to take full advantage of the moment:
This accelerationist Telegram channel suggests murdering protesters, then spreading rumors that law enforcement snipers are doing the killing: “It's Friday and if you live in the west it's even still early. Consider crimemaxing [sic] tonight if you have nothing to do. I'm far from Minneapolis but the first thing I want to do when I see footage of those areas is sit far back with a suppressed subsonic round and drop some joggers while also using social media to spread rumors of police snipers taking out specific rioters….”
Others want to further exacerbate racial tensions. “Good time to stroke race relations” and “post black live’s don’t matter stickers,” a user posted to Reformthestates’ Telegram channel.
Meanwhile, a poster on Vorherrschaft Division’s Telegram channel referenced Siege, a white supremacist term for race war: “The time to get started is now white man. Prepare yourself for what is to come. When the black militias come to your door and start knocking you'd best be prepared to deal with it. Siege is coming, it's right around the corner.”
A user on ThirdPosition’s Telegram channel appears to be reveling in the chaos: “The chimps are doing our work for us. When the ashes settle we will be there to rebuild the world in our favor. Hail Final Victory!”
Other white supremacists are angry that white people are being blamed for violence and property destruction: “…No matter what we do, they will scapegoat us regardless. Why should we sit idly by if it’s going to happen anyway?”
One Telegram user offers this advice to fellow white supremacists:
"Boogaloo” and Militia Groups
Right-wing anti-government extremists have also reacted to the protests and violence following the killing of George Floyd. In particular, strong reactions have come from adherents of the embryonic “boogaloo” movement and from extremists associated with the militia movement.
Boogaloo and militia reactions have generally been quite different in nature, though neither faction is unanimous in its opinions. Boogalooers in particular have embraced and supported the protests, with many even participating in them, especially the protests of May 30.
“Boogaloo” is a slang term for a future civil war; boogalooers (or “boogaloo bois, as they are sometimes called) variously anticipate, prepare for, or embrace such a violent struggle. Some white supremacists have also adopted the boogaloo concept, but most boogalooers are not white supremacist. Rather, their orientation is anti-government and vehemently anti-police, a fact that has largely shaped their reactions to the protests against George Floyd’s killing.
Many boogalooers have seen the protests as an opportunity to further their anti-police crusade and make common cause with others angry at police. One boogalooer on Instagram explained, “Even if some of the demonstrators don’t support our movement, they will learn in time our intention is pure and…we are all in the same sinking boat.”
In sharp contrast to the boogalooers, members of the militia movement and allied groups (including the III%ers and Oath Keepers) have expressed very little empathy with the protesters. Their reaction has been far more hostile, in part because the militia movement views the protests as organized by the extreme left for nefarious purposes, but also because (unlike the boogalooers), the militia movement strongly supports President Trump.
Rather than making common cause with protesters, the militia movement has issued calls against them. “These organized protests are not about any issue other than promoting hate by socialists,” claimed a West Virginia participant in the My Militia forums. “These are hired domestic terrorists bought and paid for by the socialist conglomerates in America.”
Boogalooers and militia groups’ on the ground activity in cities nationwide underscores their divergent positions on the protests.
On May 30, people wearing shirts bearing the logo for the III% movement were photographed standing outside the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina.
On May 30, self-described “Boogaloo Boy” Paul Miller posted an Instagram video of himself “reporting” from the protests in Brooklyn, New York. During the video Miller wore an igloo facemask, a reference to the “Big Igloo,” one of the phrases Boogaloo adherents use.
Boogalooers were also photographed joining protests in Norfolk, Virginia and Dallas, Texas.
In Richmond, Virginia, a small, armed group of individuals dressed in militia-style garb joined protesters on May 30. One member of the group told protesters, “We are here to help you guys. We need to come together as one.”
Some anarchists are opportunists and view societal unrest as a chance to destroy a “corrupt” system. They are less attached to any particular cause (antiracism, etc.) than they are to the fundamental dismantling of the state.
Brooklyn anarchist group The Base (not to be confused with the white supremacist group) tweeted its endorsement of continued “rebellion,” and threatened action against both “peace policing” and “liberal counterinsurgency” efforts.
There are also reports that antifa (anti-fascists) have shown up at the protests. Focused on social justice issues, antifa are a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, sometimes aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements. They have been especially active since the 2016 presidential election.