Who are those gun-toting dudes in Hawaiian shirts at protests? Depends on who you ask

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A man armed with a long gun and wearing a Hawaiian shirt was among the protesters on Elm Street near Auburn Street during the June 2 protest that spilled over to South Willow Street resulting in 16 arrests. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

MANCHESTER, NH – The men with long guns, tactical gear, and wearing Hawaiian shirts at last week’s Black Lives Matter rally in Manchester are part of a loose collective known as Boogaloo Bois.

“The Boogaloo is just an alternative name for societal breakdown,” said Duncan Lemp.

Heather Hamel, public information officer for the Manchester Police Department, said police took note of individuals with long guns out that night, but they were not identified as being part of any movement.

“We don’t know specifically who they were, but there were people with long guns protecting businesses,” Hamel said.

During the June 3 Police Commissioners meeting Chief Carlo Capano noted the presence of people who were armed and positioned all around his officers.

“We do know for a fact after the [Stark Park] vigil ended a faction of anywhere from 60-100 marched from Stark and joined those at South Willow. In that bigger group there were other outside groups, I’m told citizens that armed themselves in front of the stores on South Willow. For the most part that wasn’t an issue but it plays a role for law enforcement. We can’t have people 360 all around us, we don’t know who’s behind us, or who’s friendly around us – it heightens everything that’s happening,” Capano said.

Lemp was out that night, saying he was protecting the property of a friend, but they never got close to the protestors.

Lemp, a New Hampshire resident and adherent of the Boogaloo movement, did not give his real name but instead used the name of Duncan Lemp, 21-year-old Maryland man killed by police during a March incident. Police said Lemp confronted officers when they executed a search warrant at his parent’s home, his family however have said Lemp was sleeping. Lemp’s death has inspired many in the Boogaloo movement and members often use his name. According to news reports about his death, Lemp associated himself with the 3 Percenters, described by some as a far-right paramilitary militia group, although the Boogaloo denounce this characterization on its website.

However they also have an active Facebook page, with more than 200,000 followers and a mixed bag of posts and commentary by followers.

Men associating themselves with the movement have been making news as the country has erupted into protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, and African American with arrests of armed Boogaloo adherents in Las Vegas and in Colorado in recent days. Boogaloo Bois, as they are called, have even been spotted at the State House during the protests over Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay at home orders to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice Hawkins said people who espouse the Boogaloo beliefs are taking part in the Black Lives Matters protests as well as the ReOpenNH protests in an effort to push their own agenda.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is an urgent and critical call to address systematic racism and police brutality in our country, but unfortunately Boogaloo militia groups and white supremacists are trying to use these events to purposely incite violence and chaos in pursuit of their ultimate mission, which is a national civil war,” Rice Hawkins said. “That extends to New Hampshire as well, where local Boogaloo members have made it clear they are willing to co-opt the Black Lives Matter rallies to wreak havoc and pursue their own agenda. The New Hampshire group has been growing by using the ReOpen NH rallies to recruit and organize, with broad encouragement from ReOpen organizers.”

Lemp said the movement is not really a movement, but a loose affiliation of like-minded people who are partly making a joke about the collapse of civilization, and partly getting ready for that collapse at the same time.

“It’s a mistake to call it a movement, it’s more of a fashion statement,” Lemp said.

The Hawaiian shirts many Boogaloo Bois wear is one of the jokes, Lemp said.

“It’s the official camouflage of the Boogaloo,” he said.

Though Boogaloo Bois have jokes about the movement, Lemp said it is part of an effort to make their ideas palatable.

“The meme/joke part of it is meant to soften the stark reality of it,” Lemp said.

Lemp pointed to the numerous instances of police brutality caught on video in recent days, like Thursday’s video from Buffalo, New York, showing a police officer shoving an elderly man to the ground. He said police are acting as violent agents of the state and killing people, like George Floyd.

“They are literally killing people in the streets,” Lemp said.

The Boogaloo is the name members of the group have for what they see as an inevitable societal breakdown that comes with oppression. Lemp said when societies collapse you will see authoritarian governments, oppressions, food and resource shortages, and eventually chaos.

“You do the math, you’ve seen it a hundred times throughout history,” Lemp said.

Some Boogaloo Bois are looking to hasten the confrontation between people and the government, Lemp said, and others are trying to be prepared for the fall of civilization in order to protect themselves. Lemp was in Manchester Tuesday night to help protect the property of a friend, but said he did not get to any of the protests.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks anti-government groups, states that the Boogaloo Bois have generally been aligning with Black Lives Matters and Antifa in recent years. However, the SPLC notes that the Boogaloo term is often co-opted by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

“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,” according to an SPLC article on the movement.

Lemp denied there was any white supremacist ideology part of the Boogaloo.

“That’s a bunch of bullshit,” Lemp said. “I have never met a white supremacist in the Boogaloo Bois movement, they would not be allowed around me.”

Lemp said Boogaloo Bois are not to be feared if encountered out in the street.

“Hell no, you should go talk to them, they’re just people,” Lemp said.