Vice President Mike Pence, pausing in his address at the recent Republican convention to discuss the nationwide protests against police killings, said a startling thing. He praised a federal officer who was “shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California.”
To understand why that statement was so remarkable, let’s first take a brief detour into movie history. The most important film of 1984, it could be argued, was not “Ghostbusters” or “Indiana Jones” or the Oscar-laden “Amadeus.” It was “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” That low-budget stinker made no careers and won no prizes. But, its legacy lives on, and not in a good way.
A right-wing militia group was somehow inspired by the movie to call itself the Boogaloo Bois (or boys). For equally obscure reasons, their favored uniforms are, yes, Hawaiian shirts. They arrive, dressed in floral prints and body armor, to confront Black Lives Matter protesters.
And sometimes kill them.
Armed militiamen (and a few women) have shown up at more than 500 such protests. Usually, they just stand around and heckle. But, they have also driven cars into crowds at least 38 times, assaulted 64 people, shot nine and killed five. Only one militia type has died, Aaron Danielson, 39, shot by an unspecified assailant the other night while taunting a crowd in Portland, Ore.
The officer whom Mike Pence mentioned? Murdered not by a demonstrator, but by a Boogaloo Boy.
The Boogaloos are one of many right-wing militias. (I hesitate to sully a word that harks back to America’s revolutionary origins, but they call themselves “militias” expressly to assert that connection.) The Southern Poverty Law Center, the country’s leading hate-group tracker, counted at least 165 armed white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. last year. New ones pop up all the time.
Besides the guys in the funny shirts, you’ve got your Proud Boys, your Atomwaffen, your Oath Keepers, your Three Percenters. Also, scores of state and local armed groups (apparently none in Massachusetts), plus countless lone-wolf wannabes.
Among the latter is Kyle Rittenhouse, age 17. On Aug. 25, his mom drove him from his home in Antioch, Ill., to nearby Kenosha, Wis., to assist a local militia, the Kenosha Guard, at ongoing protests over a police shooting. Before the night was over, he had boogalooed three demonstrators with his assault rifle, killing two.
The scary thing is that militias are going mainstream. They’re not just marching openly in cities and towns. They’re all over social media, spreading conspiracy theories and fomenting hostility toward government, gun control and mandatory pandemic measures.
The cammo-clad warriors also talk up what many insist is the coming civil war, sometimes referred to as RaHoWa (for “racial holy war”) or just “the boogaloo.” A Rasmussen poll earlier this year showed that 34 percent of likely U.S. voters believe such a conflict is likely in the next five years.
Meanwhile, the FBI reports that right-wing militias have infiltrated police departments around the country. That may explain why members are rarely arrested and are sometimes treated as comrades by local cops.
The really scary thing is how militias have essentially become an arm of the Republican Party. The president famously included them among the “fine people” at that fatal rally in Charlottesville three years ago. Lately, he has not only defended the militias, but also repeated their warnings of “a second Civil War,” along with their conspiracy theories about “dark shadows” orchestrating the racial protests.
Other Republicans are now referring to militia members as patriots, defenders of freedom and keepers of public order. GOP stalwarts, along with the conservative media, are working hard to paint Rittenhouse and Danielson as heroes.
Why would a major political party embrace armed extremists? Perhaps to inflame passions and help refocus the election, as President Donald Trump would prefer, around “law and order,” rather than the economy and the pandemic.
Or maybe there’s a darker agenda. Indulge me for a moment in a scenario that suddenly seems all too plausible.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently cleared up a bit of confusion over the coming election by vowing that the military will in no way be involved. That declaration may prompt the president to look elsewhere for muscle to assure his victory. Just imagine what would happen if he had a loyal armed force that, along with its police sympathizers, could disrupt the ballot, prevent opponents from voting and — if he loses, or the tally is delayed — create chaos.
Trump gets four more years. The militias get their civil war. Win-win. That’s one boogaloo you don’t want to see.
Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and advisory board member. Follow him on Twitter @DonaldMMorrison. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.