(Reuters) - Facebook Inc stepped up the battle against the amorphous anti-government “boogaloo” movement on Tuesday, banning accounts of adherents who encouraged violence during recent anti-racism protests across the United States.
The social media company for the first time designated a subset of boogaloo followers as a dangerous organization, marking them for the same sanctions Facebook applies to 250 white supremacist groups and organizations it categorizes as supporting terrorism around the world.
The move came four days after Attorney General William Barr established a Justice Department task force to counter violent anti-government extremists including boogaloo as well as the left-wing antifa movement.
The boogaloo movement’s name is inspired by the 1984 breakdancing film “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Followers suggest that, just as the movie was a sequel, any coming conflict would be the sequel to the American Civil War.
“This violent network is banned from having a presence on our platform and we will remove content praising, supporting or representing it,” Facebook said in a blog post. “It is actively promoting violence against civilians, law enforcement and government officials and institutions.”
Facebook said it its policy was a blunt instrument that included removing praise for the banned network and shared pictures, so that many who thought posts were funny will also see their material taken down. The targeted network includes 106 Facebook groups and 220 accounts, and another 400 groups were also removed for hosting similar content.
Prosecutors have linked boogaloo followers to several violent incidents during the recent wave of protests across the United States following the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Two men inspired by the boogaloo movement were charged in California in the killing of a courthouse guard during a night of nearby protests.
In Las Vegas, three people who prosecutors say are members of the boogaloo movement were arrested and charged with planning to incite violence and destruction during protests.
Evidence of U.S. law enforcement’s concern over boogaloo emerged in hacked documents published June 19 by the leaks site Distributed Denial of Secrets. Dozens of analysis documents concluded that the term is used by racially motivated and far-right actors encouraging violence against police.
The Southern Poverty Law Center advocacy group said the term boogaloo “is regularly deployed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis who want to see society descend into chaos so that they can come to power and build a new fascist state.”
Instead of using widely known symbols, boogaloo imagery evolves rapidly, even shedding the word boogaloo in favor of homonyms like big igloo and big luau — and then adopting new symbols like igloos and Hawaiian shirts.
“Members of this network seek to recruit others within the broader boogaloo movement, sharing the same content online and adopting the same offline appearance as others in the movement to do so,” Facebook said.
The company said it anticipated a complicated cycle of objections, evasions and evolutions as some of the banned account holders come back under new names.
Before Facebook’s move, Reuters spoke with two administrators of a boogaloo Facebook page called Big Igloo Bois, created about a year ago, which has nearly 37,000 followers. Both are military veterans, one in his 40s from Pennsylvania and the second in his 30s from North Carolina.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they rejected accusations that the boogaloo movement is extremist or violent.
“We’re vehemently opposed to the idea of using violence to get your point across. We get kind of shoehorned into the idea of being violent extremists because we support the Second Amendment,” one of the administrators said in reference to the U.S. Constitution’s right to bear arms.
The Justice Department in a memo to law enforcement and prosecutors said extremists including boogaloo adherents had committed acts of violence.
“Some pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction, and coercion,” Barr said.
The Big Igloo Bois Facebook account appeared to have been among those taken down on Tuesday. Last week, one of the group’s administrators said: “Everyday I’m happy that we’re still on Facebook.”
Reporting by Joe Menn in San Francisco, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman