RICHMOND, VA - JANUARY 20: Gun rights advocates attend a rally near the state capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. During elections last year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam promised to enact sweeping gun control laws in 2020, including limiting handgun purchase to one per month, banning military-style weapons and silencers, allowing localities to ban guns in public spaces and enacting a 'red flag' law so authorities can temporarily seize weapons from someone deemed a threat. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is nervous about new pro-Second Amendment movements gaining members and traction online, they’ve made it clear. The Baltimore, Maryland ATF office on Friday issued a Safety Bulletin to their agents and Baltimore police which was later leaked online via Snapchat.

The text of the bulletin reads, “ATF Baltimore in conjunction with the Baltimore Police department, has observed social media postings on private social networking sites associated with the ‘boogaloo movement’ that mention violence against federal and local law enforcement officials. The ‘boogaloo movement’ consists of individuals that identify with extreme pro-second amendment rights, believe a second Civil War is imminent and frequently speak of using violence to overthrow the government.

In alignment with their Second Amendment views, members of this movement are likely to possess multiple types of weapons. It has been observed that some individuals associated with this group may wear clothing that mirror military style apparel, which can also closely resemble that of a law enforcement uniform.”

The bulletin goes on to identify certain descriptors that law enforcement can use to identify the supposed “Boogaloo members,” like Hawaiian-pattern shirts and variations of a black-and-white American flag with an igloo replacing the fifty states’ stars. We’re not kidding. Perhaps as a self-aware nod to the ATF’s lack of discretion, the bulletin ends with a conspicuous warning in large red text for personnel: “THIS INFORMATION ALONE SHOULD NOT CONSTITUTE PROBABLE CAUSE AND IS BEING SENT FOR OFFICER AWARENESS ONLY.” We certainly hope wearing a Hawaiian shirt as a gun owner or belonging to a social media group would not result in your front door being kicked in while ATF agents put rounds into your puppy.

There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with the basics. What, exactly, is the Boogaloo movement? If you scour social media it won’t take long to find dozens of groups on sites like Facebook that promote Second Amendment rights. “BOOGALOO NATION”, “Boogaloo Crue”, “Thicc Boog Line”, and the “P A T R I O T Wave” all boast a few thousand members in private groups. Running a search for “boogaloo” under Facebook Groups yields at least 50 to 60 pages with 10 to 20 posts per day. The term Boogaloo is being used by the groups as a play on the 1984 film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The implication of the phrasing is that Americans will eventually be thrust into a second civil war, or the “boogaloo,” over further restrictions placed on the Constitution. Many allegedly fear an outright gun ban could be enacted in the U.S at the federal level.

Mainstream media and the ATF are quick to take advantage of these fears and frame these groups as extremists intent actually starting a civil war or otherwise carrying out violence against government entities. The Contagion Network, a left-leaning research group sponsored by Rutgers, even fear-mongers that such groups are developing into domestic terrorist cells. The group released a dramatic white paper titled Cyber Swarming, Memetic Warfare and Viral Insurgency: How Domestic Militants Organize on Memes to Incite Violent Insurrection and Terror Against Government and Law Enforcement, and cited various “Boogaloo” movements. Yet when we dove into these groups’ social media pages, we found little more than memes and discussions about government agencies’ violations of Constitutional rights. One group focused on the various red flag laws being used across the country to confiscate firearms.

Another group discussed the recent shooting of Breonna Taylor, a former EMT who on March 13 was killed in her Kentucky home by plainclothes narcotics officers. Taylor was shot eight times while she slept as police conducted a no-knock raid on her apartment around 1:00 A.M. Taylor’s family alleges officers went to the wrong house to serve their warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, alleges officers did not announce themselves. Walker said he thought the couple was being robbed and returned fire with a legally-owned firearm in self-defense. Walker wounded an officer and was charged with attempted murder before public outcry and a lawsuit from Taylor’s family swayed the case’s prosecutor to drop his charges. Neither Walker nor Taylor have any criminal history or past drug convictions. No drugs were found in the home.

And in scouring the various “Boogaloo-esque” pages listed in the Contagion Network’s report, we found no instances of any members promoting violence against government agencies or law enforcement personnel like the Baltimore ATF’s bulletin also claims. Various groups and their members were seen selling stickers and T-shirts with pro-Second Amendment slogans. Many were seen attempting to organize pro-Second Amendment rallies, much like the peaceful protests recently seen in Virginia in response to Gov. Northam’s recent gun control legislation. Some members of the groups expressed frustration and fear over existing and new gun control, which is in no way an indicator of violence to come. No threats, explicit or implied, were seen being made.

There appears to be a stark disconnect between what the ATF interprets as potential terroristic violence, and the simple exercising of one’s First and Second Amendment rights with like-minded individuals on social media. The bulletin betrays the ATF’s mentality. As the text reads, there is no such thing as “extreme pro-second amendment rights.” An individual either has the right to keep and bear arms, or he or she does not because that right has been infringed or eliminated. If the ATF is implying that certain Americans are extremists because they want to prevent, reduce, or remove gun control, then the agency needs to reconcile with the truth: Americans merely once had much greater access to their Second Amendment rights, and those rights are now less whole in 2020 than decades past.

The last sentence of the bulletin is particularly troubling: “In alignment with their Second Amendment views, members of this movement are likely to possess multiple types of weapons.” Yet there are no special views of the Second Amendment. There are those who want it repealed, and those who do not want it infringed upon further. There is nothing wrong with any American owning various types of firearms. Most gun owners do. In fact, the Washington Post reported the average U.S. gun owner owns eight firearms. And according to the Small Arms Survey, Americans collectively own nearly half the world’s 857 million circulated firearms. That did not happen overnight, nor was it spurred by social media groups falling under the alleged “Boogaloo” banner.

We reached out to one protest-organizing member of a Boogaloo social media group, who shall remain anonymous, and asked for his comment on the ATF’s bulletin. ‘John’ says, “The [ATF] is trying to paint us as terrorists because we’re making a difference and the gun rallies make politicians nervous even though nothing bad or violent happens at them. They’re peaceful protests. A lot of us were at the [Virginia] rallies and we’re getting more gun owners to protest in other states.”

A request for comment from the ATF’s Baltimore Field Division was not immediately returned.

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