Exclusive: FBI warns of potential boogaloo violence during Jan. 17 rallies

Caitlin Dickson
·Reporter

Federal authorities are warning state and local law enforcement about threats of possible violence by right-wing extremists at a series of protests planned for later this month in Washington and in state capitols, according to an FBI document obtained by Yahoo News.

The situational information report, produced by the Minneapolis field office of the FBI, is based on information provided by what it describes as “collaborative sources,” and was issued the week before a mob of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol. It addresses concerns about rallies that the far-right boogaloo movement plans to hold in cities across the country on Jan. 17.

A group tied to the Boogaloo Bois holds a rally as they carry firearms at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on October 17, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)
A group tied to the boogaloo bois carries firearms at the Michigan state Capitol in October. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

The Dec. 29, 2020, report warns that “some followers indicated willingness to commit violence in support of their ideology, created contingency plans in the event violence occurred at the events, and identified law enforcement security measures and possible countermeasures.” Specifically, the report describes evidence of credible threats related to events planned for Jan. 17 at the state Capitol buildings in Michigan and Minnesota.

Those rallies are part of what members of the violent far-right and libertarian boogaloo movement are hoping will be a nationwide “armed march” on Capitol Hill and all 50 state capitols next Sunday. Though it’s not totally clear how many people are expected to participate in the boogaloo-backed protests, the Jan. 17 events appear to be the next major organizing effort by extremist groups following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.

The FBI’s warnings about possible violence at Jan. 17 protests carry new weight in light of the apparent failures by federal law enforcement to adequately prepare for the violence in Washington last week. The FBI and an intelligence unit within the Department of Homeland Security did not issue a threat assessment for the Jan. 6 protest, despite an abundance of evidence on social media in the weeks leading up to it showing that pro-Trump rioters planned to storm the Capitol, according to the Wall Street Journal.

ABC News also reported Monday that the FBI has issued an internal bulletin about plans for armed protests at the U.S. capitol and in all 50 states starting this week and lasting through Inauguration Day. According to ABC News, the bulletin also described information the FBI has received about “an identified armed group intending to travel to Washington, D.C.” and calling for the “storming” of various state, local and federal buildings if President Trump is removed from office before Jan. 20.

According to the Dec. 29 FBI report, some Minnesota-based followers of the boogaloo movement attended protests earlier in December at the state Capitol in Saint Paul “to perform reconnaissance to identify escape points and defensible positions in the event violence occurred” at the Jan. 17 rally. These individuals reportedly “scouted general law enforcement presence” at the earlier rallies and “also identified law enforcement sniper locations and considered breaking into federal buildings for use as firing locations, if fighting occurred.”

“One Boogaloo movement follower indicated the building with the snipers would need to be blown up in order to protect Boogaloo fighters in the event of a gun battle during the event,” the report states. Another planned to “put colored duct tape on the back of his body armor to appear as law enforcement and cause confusion.”

Though the report notes that these Minnesota-based boogaloo movement supporters did not mention any specific plots for an attack on Jan. 17, it says they planned to use violence if fighting occurred at the rally, and “at least one follower expressed his willingness to die for the Boogaloo movement.”

Meanwhile, in Michigan, another follower of the boogaloo movement “suggested the idea of using a gasoline-based device with a tripwire in Lansing, Michigan to cause a distraction while other individuals ‘take’ the capitol,” according to the same FBI alert. This individual “considered himself at war with the government, particularly with politicians and federal agents, and wanted to make a statement with the actions.”

Public affairs officers for the FBI’s Minneapolis field office and the FBI’s national headquarters did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the U.S. Capitol Police.

A group tied to the Boogaloo Bois holds a rally at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on October 17, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)
A group tied to the boogaloo bois holds a rally at the Michigan state Capitol on Oct. 17. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

At a press conference on Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser outlined several requests she said she’s made to federal agencies regarding additional security measures in light of last week’s attack on the Capitol and additional threats ahead of the inauguration. Bowser said that over the weekend she sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf asking to extend the national security event period for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration to run from Monday, Jan. 11 through Sunday, Jan. 24. She said she also asked the acting attorney general to direct the FBI to provide daily intelligence and threat briefings during that time period, and she called on the secretary of the Interior to deny applications for public gathering permits between now and Jan. 24 and cancel any existing public gathering permits that have already been issued for that time period.

On Monday afternoon, acting DHS Secretary Wolf announced that he instructed the U.S. Secret Service to begin the National Special Security Event operations for the 2021 Inauguration effective Wednesday, Jan. 13, instead of Jan. 19.

In an email to Yahoo News on Monday, a spokesperson for the Michigan State Police wrote, “In general, we don’t discuss security measures, but I can confirm that we will be increasing our visible presence at the Capitol for the next couple of weeks starting this morning.”

A spokesperson for the Minnesota State Patrol referred Yahoo News to a statement issued within hours of last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol announcing that there would be “an increased presence of State Patrol troopers at the Minnesota Capitol in light of recent protests here and in Washington, D.C.”

Over the last two years, the term “boogaloo” has evolved from a fringe internet joke referring to a second civil war to an extremist rallying cry that has been linked to a growing number of violent incidents and plots. Though the term has also been appropriated by some “accelerationist” factions of the white supremacist movement, it is most closely associated with a disparate network of antigovernment extremists and paramilitary groups united by a fervent opposition to gun control and desire to bring about the violent overthrow of what they view to be a tyrannical government.

“Boogaloo movement supporters believe an impending insurgency against the government is forthcoming and some believe they should accelerate the timeline with armed, anti-government actions leading to a civil war,” said the December FBI alert.

Since the beginning of 2019, proponents of the more accelerationist wing of the boogaloo movement have seized on moments of civil unrest as an opportunity to incite violence and fuel chaos. Often heavily armed and sporting Hawaiian shirts and igloo patches, so-called boogaloo bois have been easily spotted at gun rights rallies, protests against lockdown measures aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May of last year. A number of them have also been arrested for violent acts or plots related to those protests, including an Air Force sergeant who was charged with fatally shooting a Santa Cruz County, Calif., deputy and a federal security officer during a protest in Oakland over Floyd’s death, and three men who were arrested in June for allegedly plotting to use firebombs and explosives to incite riots at a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas.

The antigovernment militia members arrested in October for allegedly plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are also believed to have been tied to the boogaloo movement.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer talks as Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) takes part in a campaign stop at IBEW Local 58 on October 25, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot in October of last year. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Recently, members of the boogaloo movement have begun organizing their own events.

Jared Holt, a visiting research fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, through which he tracks extremist online activity, said he started seeing chatter in late November about a nationwide pro-gun rally in the boogaloo forums he monitors.

“The idea behind it was to have a huge showing of firearms and ... for it to take place all across the U.S.,” Holt told Yahoo News, adding that “this is among the first major national events that has come out of the boogaloo movement.”

Around the middle of December, Holt said that boogaloo organizers seemed to be trying to generate interest in the Jan. 17 protests from Trump supporters and other far-right groups by using hashtags like #StoptheSteal to promote the events on platforms like Parler. This effort has only escalated since the attack on the Capitol.

“This is a boogaloo-movement-organized call to arms that’s been spreading with increasing velocity outside of its usual communities,” said Holt, noting that he’s recently observed fliers for the Jan. 17 rallies circulating among many militia groups online, as well as “some run-of-the-mill Trump-supporting groups” and others protesting coronavirus lockdown measures.

Still, while the events certainly appear to have caught the attention of broader extremist movements, Holt noted that, so far, he and his colleagues have not seen the same kind of logistical planning for the Jan. 17 rallies, such as discussions about transportation and hotel accommodations, that raised red flags ahead of the pro-Trump gathering in Washington on Jan. 6.

“I definitely think that if it continues the way that we’ve been seeing, it could potentially and very quickly become an active threat,” said Holt.

Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and the former longtime director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said she was encouraged to hear about the alert from the FBI’s Minneapolis division in light of the apparent failure by federal law enforcement to prepare for the violence that took place at the Capitol.

Heidi Beirich, co-founder and chief strategy officer for the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow in the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism and Lecia Brooks, chief workplace transformation officer at the Southern Poverty Law Centerspeaks during the House Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing On White Supremacy Incidents In Military on February 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing in February 2020 on white supremacy incidents in the military. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

“I feel like the FBI and DHS completely fell down on the job before the 6th … which was embarrassing, frankly, given all the stuff that was on the web,” she said. “So I’m glad that they’re taking this seriously, because they need to.”

The fact that followers of the boogaloo movement are involved in the upcoming Jan. 17 rallies “is scary,” Beirich said.

“I think sometimes people look at them and think they’re some kind of jokey thing, with their Hawaiian T-shirts and all that. There is no joke about this group,” she said. “The boogaloo bois are very dangerous.”

Jana Winter contributed reporting to this story.

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