Once again, a disturbing corner of the internet has popped into mainstream headlines by way of two men who were convinced a civil war is looming, and that members of law enforcement need to be killed. They found each other on Facebook, and now they stand accused of killing a federal officer and wounding another outside Oakland's Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building — and one of them is already accused of killing a Santa Cruz Sheriff's deputy a week later.
32-year-old Air Force Sergeant Steven Carrillo was charged in federal court on Tuesday with murder and attempted murder connected with the shooting death of 53-year-old federal security officer David Patrick Underwood on May 29, and the shooting of his partner in Oakland. Also charged alongside Carrillo was 30-year-old Robert Alvin Justus Jr. of Millbrae, a fellow follower of the loosely defined Boogaloo movement who allegedly drove the white van.
Justus turned himself in to federal authorities last week, as the Mercury News reports, in the days following the fatal June 6 shooting in Santa Cruz County for which Carrillo was arrested that day. Federal agents were reportedly already surveilling Justus, having found the social media ties between him and Carrillo.
Messages between the two on Facebook spell out their intentions remarkably clearly, as the federal complaint now shows us. "Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets," Carrillo allegedly wrote in one post prior to the May 29 protests in Oakland, which he and Justus apparently used as cover for their own motives to kill federal officers. "Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage."
Earlier statements from a friend of Carrillo's suggested that he may have been pushed over the edge by images of law enforcement using force against civilian protesters around the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
In one exchange between Carrillo and Justus in a Facebook group on the morning of May 28, just after one of the first nights of chaos in Minneapolis, Carrillo allegedly said, "It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It’s a great opportunity to target the specialty group soup bois." Justus reportedly replied, "Let's boogie."
Per the Mercury News, the term "soup bois" is "commonly used by Boogaloo followers to refer to federal agents."
As the New York Times reports, like too much of what dribbles out of the world of 4chan and Reddit and the spaces where disaffected straight men (mostly) foment racism and revolution, "boogaloo does not represent a cohesive or singular ideology." It seems partly based on jokey memes, misplaced rage, and half-baked ideologies. And yet some of its so-called adherents have been taking disturbing and violent action offline in recent months, taking the tension of the pandemic, forced lockdowns, and various protests — including those to reopen the country — as signs that their predicted second civil war is upon us.
The nonprofit called the Network Contagion Research Institute, which studies online misinformation, recently released a report about how the pandemic had inflamed the "militia-sphere" online at the same time as it inflamed QAnon conspiracy obsessives and others.
Per the Times:
The [Boogaloo] movement attracts both far-right white supremacists and some armed men who joined the Black Lives Matter protests because of their anger at the police and other symbols of government authority. The 1992 siege by federal law enforcement agents over firearms charges at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, which left two people dead, has long been a rallying cry.
And per the Mercury News:
Earlier this month, the FBI arrested three adherents to the Boogaloo movement in Nevada, charging them with inciting violence with Molotov cocktails and other explosives at protests over the death of George Floyd. In April, a Texarkana, Texas man with alleged ties to Boogaloo was arrested on suspicion of capital attempted murder of a peace officer. He had two pistols and was wearing a ballistic vest when he was arrested, authorities said.
CBS News has picked up the story of the federal charges against Carrillo, and what appears to be a disturbing trend of lone gunman emerging from the shadowy chatrooms of this so-called movement, targeting law enforcement for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter or anti-police-brutality causes.
As FBI special agent in charge Jack Bennett said in a Tuesday press conference, "To be clear, Carrillo elected to travel to Oakland to conduct this murder and take advantage of a time when this nation was mourning the killing of George Floyd. There is no evidence that these men had any intention to join the demonstration in Oakland as some as the media have asked. They came to Oakland to kill cops."
Justus allegedly did some "surveillance" on foot when the pair arrived in Oakland on May 29, and then took the wheel as they did a drive-by of the federal building, targeting a guard station while loud and lively protest activity was going on just a few blocks away. Carrillo is accused of the actual shooting, using a homemade "ghost weapon" that lacked serial numbers — the same AR-15 style gun used in the Santa Cruz shooting.
In the Santa Cruz shooting, he was found carrying the rifle, and multiple other weapons and makeshift explosives were reportedly found in his vehicle and on his person.
Scrawled in blood on one vehicle the day of that killed were the phrases "I became unreasonable" — a reference to libertarian/Boogaloo/anti-government hero Marvin Heemeyer, who destroyed 13 buildings in Colorado in 2004 over a zoning dispute with the government — and "stop the duopoly," another popular meme phrase referring to the failure of the two-party system.
As the Times explains, the Boogaloo movement got its name from a joke reference to the 1984 cult-classic breakdancing film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. and like all things on the internet it's lost connection to that reference and morphs into other phrases like "Big Igloo" and "Big Luau" — giving birth to visual references used by members, like Hawaiian shirts and the black and white American flag with an igloo replacing the stars that was reportedly found in Carrillo's possession.
Devin Burghart, a researcher who follows far-right groups, tells the LA Times that there's been a very recent uptick in Boogaloo "bois" showing up — sometimes armed — at Black Lives Matter protests, particularly after Trump's "MAGA Night."
"We only saw a handful of instances [prior to that],” Burghart says. "[Then] We saw more boogaloo boys showing up at rallies with their Hawaiian shirts."
An eight-day manhunt for Carrillo did not succeed in locating him before a call came in to the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Department from a neighbor who'd noticed a suspicious amount of fire power amassed in Carrillo's van. The two deputies could not have known they were in for an ambush by an anti-government activist with all intention of killing them, but that is allegedly what occurred. 38-year-old Sheriff's Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller.
Justus told his story after showing up at the federal building on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco five days after Carrillo's arrest, accompanied by his mother. After meeting online, Justus went to meet Carrillo at the San Leandro BART station the evening of May 29, and according to statements he gave to federal authorities, it sounds like he was quickly in over his head. The pair removed the van's license plates. Justus claims that he tried to talk Carrillo out of killing anyone, and says he convinced Carrillo not to shoot any civilians, or to shoot at a helicopter.
As the Mercury News reports, following the Santa Cruz shooting, federal authorities linked Carrillo's van to the Oakland shooting, and quickly found cellphone pings that connected Carrillo to Oakland — he had turned his phone off between 8 and 10 p.m. that night, but he drove home down along the Bay rather than take any bridges where his van might be clocked by a camera. His phone apparently pinged on a tower near the Oakland Zoo as he turned it back on.
Justus, like Carrillo, has been charged with murder and attempted murder of a federal officer.