"It’s undeniable that right-wing extremists are the largest terror threat facing the United States," said Howard Graves, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
As of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, Graves said, right-wing extremists had killed more people on U.S. soil since 1911 than any other ideological cohort.
The question of right-wing extremism and its ties to Nevada has come up in the wake of the arrest of three Clark County men — alleged subscribers of the boogaloo ideology — who now face federal charges of plotting to firebomb a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas.
Graves told KNPR's State of Nevada the case mirrors one in Oakland, California where two men were also arrested for plotting to use a protest as cover for their own plans.
“That is a similar dynamic to what we saw unfolding in Las Vegas where these individuals planned to hijack peaceful protests against police brutality and actually use them to bring about the larger ambition of the boogaloo movement,” he said.
The larger boogaloo movement centers around the idea that not only is another civil war imminent but patriots should do what they can to bring it about, Graves said.
Leah Sottile is a freelance reporter, who has been covering extremism - especially in the West - for a number of years.
"The boogaloo is something a lot of people are still learning about," she said.
Sottile has read the grand jury transcript from the case of the Las Vegas men charged in the plot, identified as Stephen T. Parshall, Andrew Lynam, and William L. Loomis.
She said their exact plan isn't completely outlined in court documents, but, according to an FBI informant, they wanted to take an action that would speed up their revolution.
According to Sottile, boogaloo believers were drawn to reopen rallies held in the spring. She said it gave them a chance to connect offline and begin talking about how to advance their plans.
When the anti-police brutality protests started at the end of May, the extremists saw another chance.
“And at the core of the boogaloo ideology is really an anti-law enforcement perspective,” she said.
Lynam told the informant they were ‘anarcho-capitalist,’ which is the idea of eliminating centralized governments in favor of individual ownership, free markets and private property.
Sottile said she believes the men wanted to cause a disturbance big enough to start a riot, but that most of the protesters on the streets of Las Vegas weren't interested.
Samantha Kutner is an independent researcher and a fellow with the Khalifa Ihler Institute.
She has been studying another right-wing extremist group known as the Proud Boys. The group has a similar ideology to the boogaloo. She agreed that groups like these use the Black Lives Matter protests with one thing in mind - raising awareness of their own causes.
“It is important to understand that racist, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, ethno-nationalists, civic nationalists – they don’t start caring about Black lives overnight. They see a conflict to exploit so they can surf the Kali Yuga, more or less,” she said.
The Kali Yuga is a Hindi phrase for the final dark stage of the world in which it collapses into the apocalypse and is reborn. Some right-wing groups use the phrase ‘surf the Kali Yuga’ as a way to refer to the predicted end of the world.
Kutner noted that the Proud Boys and other right-wing groups have lost strength since the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and the New York Ten incident in 2018, which sent two Proud Boy members to jail for an attack on left-wing protesters.
She said they are now using the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests to ramp up recruiting.
“They’re really attempting to increase visibility and that’s kind of the connection between how they adopt the boogaloo aesthetic," she said of the Proud Boys, "It is less about how they identify, because their views on Black Lives Matter differ from many self-identified boogaloo boys, but they will adopt the boogaloo aesthetic if it helps them maximize their visibility.”
The Proud Boys and boogaloo are not, of course, the first anti-federal government extremists to emerge from Nevada. That movement goes back to the 1970s and the sagebrush rebellion, which bred current protesters such as the Bundys of Bunkerville.
Sottile thinks much of the anti-government sentiment in Nevada, and around the West, is tied in some ways to the amount of land the federal government manages.
“Sometimes that feels like they’ve got their hands in the pockets of the people who are trying to live off the land or even just be a little bit further away from the establishment and the government,” she said.
She also points to the alleged safety of nuclear testing in Nevada during the 50s and 60s as a deception that fostered general distrust of the government.
While it seems as if there are more extremist groups now than in years past, Graves said there is actually an ebb and flow to extremism. He said the sagebrush rebellion cooled off when Ronald Reagan, who seemed to be an ally to the cause, was elected. The same thing happened in the late 90s and early 2000s when militia groups dissipated when George W. Bush was elected.
Howard Graves, senior research fellow, Southern Poverty Law Center; Samantha Kutner, independent researcher, Khalifa Ihler Institute fellow; Leah Sottile, freelance journalist
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