Protesters are being menaced and shot by heavily-armed right-wing militias over the removal of racist statues across the country. Where does this eruption of violence stem from?
The answer lies in the rise of far right groups that are armed to the teeth — this is the U.S. after all, where we love our guns more than we love our children, so of course they are. These groups seem increasingly prepared to take their fight against liberal democracy (small “l,” small “d,” in the classic sense) to a new and far more violent level even as a large majority of the people move toward finally confronting the nation’s blood-soaked racism, both past and present.
Earlier this week, racial justice activists in Albuquerque were looking to deliver a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate to the same fate as the statues of Confederate “heroes” that have recently been felled like old, rotten trees.
Oñate was another in a long line of European butchers who sailed the Atlantic seeking fortune and glory, and upon arrival here laid waste to Indigenous populations that fell under his rapacious gaze.
The scion of a wealthy family who made its fortune with silver mines in Mexico, Oñate claimed a portion of northern New Mexico for Spain and demanded the Indigenous people there pay taxes and pledge homage not just to his country, but to the Pope. The Acoma people properly refused to kneel to this brazen demand and fought back, killing 13 Spaniards, including Oñate’s nephew.
In response, Oñate all but wiped out a large Acoma village, leaving around 200 survivors from a community of 2,000. Acoma men of fighting age had their right feet amputated and were sentenced to 20 years of forced labor. In an ugly echo of the present situation at the U.S./Mexico border, the surviving Acoma children were taken from their families and sent to live with Christian missionaries. History rhymes.
In every respect, the statue of Oñate deserves to be hauled down and shattered for driveway gravel right alongside the statues of all those Confederate warlords who fought their own countrymen for the right to keep human beings in permanent bondage. This was the thinking of the activists who gathered around the Oñate statue in Albuquerque on the evening of June 15.
Yet they were not alone that night. Heavily armed members of a group calling itself the New Mexico Civil Guard appeared, intent on “defending” the statue of a Spanish conquistador whose name appears in the history books written in the blood of children. A scuffle ensued, and a “Civil Guard” member pulled a handgun. When the shooting stopped, a protester lay critically wounded.
The New Mexico Civil Guard sprang into existence in the middle of March and began making its presence known at “Reopen Now” protests, where they joined with right-wing protesters who called the COVID-19 pandemic an overblown hoax.
After the police murder of George Floyd, they shifted their rhetoric toward the idea of being a bulwark against alleged “antifa” chaos as calls increased to defund police departments. The group’s Facebook page features posts such as “Basic Fundamentals and Principles for Ambushing.” They do not appear to be all bluster, and the bloodshed in Albuquerque serves to underscore their intentions.
The New Mexico Civil Guard is one of several extreme-right groups that have made their presence known in recent months. A number of these groups are made up of hardcore libertarians who despise government in virtually all its forms — including the police. Others, however, have taken advantage of the popular uprising across the country to sow violence and discord in the streets, hoping to spark a new civil war.
Turn on Fox News for a few minutes, and like as not you will see weeks-old footage of unrest in the streets. “Antifa” has been named the culprit for this violence by the likes of Donald Trump and GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the latter of whom blamed antifa for the murder of a federal officer in Oakland, California, earlier this month.
In point of fact, some violence was actually instigated by far-right counterprotesters seeking to spark their new civil war. “The numbers are overwhelming,” former FBI agent and extremism scholar Clint Watts told The Washington Post. “Most of the violence is coming from the extreme right wing.”
The murder of federal officer Dave Patrick Underwood during the Oakland protests was not the act of antifa, as alleged by Jordan. Underwood was gunned down by an active-duty Air Force sergeant named Steven Carrillo, and a second officer was wounded in the attack. Carrillo, along with accomplice Robert Justus, shot Underwood outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building before fleeing to Carrillo’s home.
Eight days later, when law enforcement arrived at the home to make an arrest, Carrillo ambushed them and killed Santa Cruz County Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, critically injuring a second officer in the exchange of fire. Before his arrest, Carrillo scrawled “boog” and “I became unreasonable” in his own blood on the hood of the vehicle he had had carjacked while in flight.
“Federal authorities said an AR-15 was recovered at the scene where Carrillo was arrested and linked to the Oakland federal courthouse shooting,” reports NBC News. “The assault rifle used by Carrillo was privately made, had no markings and had a silencer attached to the barrel of the weapon, authorities said. Investigators found inside Carrillo’s vehicle a ballistic vest with a patch on it that featured an igloo and a Hawaiian-style print — symbols associated with the far right extremist ‘Boogaloo’ movement, according to his federal complaint.”
The so-called “Boogaloo Movement” emerged from the fetid swamps of far right internet abscesses like 4chan, and the in-your-face absurdity of the group’s rhetoric and behavior serves to mask its violent potential. The name itself — “Boogaloo” — is derived from a 1980s dance movie, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Why? Because “Breakin’ 2” the sequel is basically the same movie as the original “Breakin’,” and since Boogaloo adherents apparently expect the next civil war to be like the first one, they nicked the name of that sequel to use as code for their ultimate intentions.
Boogaloo Bois, as they call themselves, wear Hawaiian shirts to protests in order to spot each other. The igloo patch on Carrillo’s tactical vest is a common Boogaloo avatar, as “igloo” and “boogaloo” sound somewhat the same. Boogaloo Facebook pages contain posts filled with memes that describe “yeeting tannerite filled lunch boxes with talking fish clock timers” at Virginia National Guard members. Absurd, and deeply unsettling: Tannerite is a firearm target that explodes when hit. A lunch box filled with them is the equivalent of a homemade Claymore mine.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and domestic terrorist organizations, “The boogaloo meme itself emerged concurrently in antigovernment and white power online spaces in the early 2010s. In both of these communities, ‘boogaloo’ was frequently associated with racist violence and, in many cases, was an explicit call for race war. Today the term 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.”
Now, not every Boogaloo Boi can be lumped together in a mob of violent racist fascists; in some cases, they even see themselves as antiracists who are siding with the protesters.
However, Air Force sergeant Steven Carrillo, along with the Albuquerque shooter, fit the violent racist fascist description seamlessly. There are more than just a few of them, and they are both organized and weaponized.
These people did not spring up from the ground like mushrooms. They are products of a long-standing cultivation project undertaken by the Republican Party and its media allies to agitate and radicalize its political base. The so-called “militia movement” that bloomed during the Clinton years was further racially radicalized during the eight-year tenure of a Black president, all the while eagerly fed by a GOP seeking shock troops to defend the status quo.
That such people are able to amass huge arsenals of war weapons speaks to the Republican Party’s decades-old love affair with extremist gun rights organizations like the National Rifle Association. It has all come together in a fearsome cocktail of racism and deliberately stoked anti-government grievance, and some within those ranks are clearly all too ready to start pulling the trigger.
Donald Trump, of course, is their leader, the chosen one who will smash the “deep state” and “save” white people. Trump has made it clear to them time and again that he stands with them, the “fine people” who easily translate the coded racist messages he sends them with terrifying regularity.
Trump’s refusal to denounce the murderous racist violence in Charlottesville, along with his more recent decision to hold a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth, have given these violent far right “militia” members permission to act out their wildest, most lethal fantasies. No lesser light than the president of the United States let these violent racists off the leash, with deliberation and tactical intent.
The Trump campaign recently sent a fundraising email to the GOP base asking them to join the “Trump Army.” The email read in part, “The President wants YOU and every other member of our exclusive Trump Army to have something to identify yourselves with, and to let everyone now that YOU are the President’s first line of defense when it comes to fighting off the Liberal MOB.”
For Trump supporters accustomed to watching Fox News from the comfort of their couch, this was a fundraising pitch. For militia members who bring AR-15s to peaceful protests, it was a call to arms. “Something to identify yourselves with” falls right in line with the igloos and Hawaiian shirts enjoyed by the Bois. None of this appears to be accidental.
Trump and the Republican Party own this violent phenomenon bag and baggage. Erroneously blaming “antifa” for the violence of their most devoted supporters will not wash away the stain of it. Their silence after the right-wing assassinations of the same law enforcement officers they shamelessly champion reeks like the very corpse of hypocrisy left to rot in the noonday sun.
The comparison between those louts and the courageous activists seeking to scourge racist propaganda statues of men like Juan de Oñate and various Confederate slavers from the landscape could not be more vivid. There are not two sides to the argument. One side is right, and a portion of the other side is resorting to violence in order to preserve and maintain white supremacy.
Now would be an appropriate moment for Trump and his allies to publicly call off their dogs before more people get killed.
This, of course, is highly unlikely, because it is an election year and Trump is going to need every gun-loving racist vote he can scrounge from the bottom of his well-worn barrel. Even if he does make noises in the direction of calming these waters, public violence like this tends to have its own inertia. Trump and the GOP have uncorked a monster.