'Boogaloo' arrests in Nevada portray extremists using protests to incite civil war

Two men charged with conspiring to incite violence and civil unrest at protests over the killing of George Floyd previously sought to do the same thing at protests against coronavirus lockdowns, in both instances seeking to promote their extremist agenda, federal prosecutors say.

Federal agents arrested the men, Stephen Parshall and Andrew Lynam, along with a third man, William Loomis, before they allegedly planned to disrupt a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas. They face federal charges of conspiracy and possession of unregistered firearms and multiple terrorism-related state charges. Prosecutors say the men had planned to use firebombs and explosives to create chaos and panic that would lead to riots. The men are being held in the Clark County jail on $1 million bond each. 

According to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Nevada, all three, who are white and have U.S. military experience, “self-identified as part of the ‘boogaloo’ movement,” a disparate yet growing collection of extremists, including far-right militias, radical gun rights activists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. As noted in the criminal complaint, “‘Boogaloo’ is a term used by extremists to signify a coming civil war and/or fall of civilization.”

The arrests and the details of the investigation leading up to it offer perhaps the most concrete evidence to date of the role extremists may be playing in some of the violence and destruction during otherwise peaceful protests over the past two weeks. And it sheds new light on how such groups or individuals have sought to exploit other events to advance their agenda of bringing down the U.S. government, leading, in some versions of the ideology, to the creation of a white “ethno-state.” 

Protesters walk past a gas station in Minneapolis on May 29 in the wake of the death of George Floyd. (Salwan Georges/Washington Post via Getty Images)

According to the complaint, the Las Vegas FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force first began investigating Lynam and Parshall in April after receiving a tip from someone, who eventually became a confidential FBI source, that the two were “potentially planning terrorist activity.”

Specifically, the would-be informant reported that he had met Lynam and Parshall at a ReOpen Nevada rally in Las Vegas, where Lynam “stated that their group was not for joking around and that it was for people who wanted to violently overthrow the United States government.” 

The ReOpen rally, and many others like it that took place in cities around the country during the same time, was ostensibly to call for bringing back jobs and reopening businesses closed under state measures taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, based on the conversation described in the complaint, “the group seemed to ... focus their attention to the disruption of economic activity.”

After attending another ReOpen Nevada protest in early May, Lynam, Parshall and the unnamed informant began discussing a plan to use some type of fireworks, smoke bombs or noisemakers “to create a chaotic and confusing scene” at the next ReOpen rally on May 16. 

“The goal would be to set the devices off and cause panic to the police and public, in hope that it causes others to take some type of action,” according to the complaint. “Whether it be by police or by the public, Lynam and Parshall wanted some type of confrontation between the police and protesters.”

The plan never materialized, but the group did attend the May 16 rally, where they were approached by Loomis. At a meeting in a park a few days later, Loomis allegedly told the group that he too “was looking to actively disrupt the United States government.”

A Black Lives Matter rally in Las Vegas on June 1. (Bridget Bennett/AFP via Getty Images)

Proponents of the boogaloo movement have previously seized on other events where they see a potential for chaos and armed confrontation with law enforcement, such as the gun rights rally in Richmond, Va., earlier this year. During the coronavirus pandemic, experts who track both radical activity and the spread of misinformation online have observed extremist figures, particularly antigovernment activists and far-right militias, using Facebook groups promoting anti-lockdown protests to circulate conspiracy theories in an effort to fuel antigovernment sentiments. 

Danny Rogers, chief technology officer of the Global Disinformation Index, which works to track and disrupt the spread of misinformation online, said the origin of the Nevada boogaloo plot “says to me that those lockdown protests are clearly serving, at least in that instance, as a breeding ground for this even more malicious and more insidious false-flag activity.” 

Rogers, who also teaches a course on disinformation and narrative warfare at the New York University Center for Global Affairs, says he and his team of analysts have been tracking boogaloo-related activity online, which he said is primarily shared through hundreds of Facebook groups.

According to the criminal complaint, Lynam, Parshall and Loomis were all part of a Nevada boogaloo Facebook group. 

A member of the far-right militia Boogaloo Bois walks next to protesters demonstrating in Charlotte, N.C., on May 29. (Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)

As Yahoo News has previously reported, the mounting protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody have generated particular interest within boogaloo circles online and, based on various social media posts, have prompted some factions of the movement to show up at protests. 

On May 27, Lynam, Parshall and Loomis allegedly met to discuss how they could “use the momentum of” Floyd’s death to “create civil unrest and rioting throughout Las Vegas.” 

On May 29, the complaint says, the foursome (including the informant) attended a protest clad in tactical gear and carrying rifles. The informant reported that Lynam taunted police by getting in their faces, while Parshall attempted to egg on other protesters by telling them, “Peaceful protests don’t accomplish anything and that they needed to be violent.”

The following day, the men were arrested by an FBI SWAT team while preparing Molotov cocktails in a parking lot near the site of another protest. Various other explosives and firearms were found in their cars. 

At a press conference Thursday, Attorney General William Barr said the federal government has made 51 arrests in relation to rioting. Barr, along with President Trump, has repeatedly asserted that anti-fascist activists, or antifa, and other “radical leftists” are to blame for violence at the recent protests. As far as is publicly known, the arrests of the three men in Las Vegas are the first ones linked to the Floyd protests that cite a specific ideological motive. Asked about the involvement of right-wing extremists, Barr acknowledged they were part of “a witches’ brew of a lot of different extremist organizations.” 

“There are some groups that don’t have a particular ideology, other than anarchy,” Barr told reporters. “There are some groups that want to bring about a civil war — the boogaloo group that has been on the margin of this as well, trying to exacerbate the violence.” 

Additional reporting by Christopher Wilson. 

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