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Extremist groups getting attention and the significance of April 19

Far-right extremist groups have gained prominence as opponents of pandemic measures, Black Lives Matter, and immigrants over the past year

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Far-right extremist groups have gained prominence as opponents of pandemic measures, Black Lives Matter, and immigrants over the past year

Published Updated

The Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism tracks the activities of extremist groups. The following summarizes their materials on some of the more prominent groups: the overall militia movement, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, and Three Percenters.

Militia movement 

The militia movement overall has its roots in the anti-tax movements of the 1960s, the sovereign citizens' movement of the 1970s and Cold War-era anti-communist conspiracy theories.  

Hate groups decline, migrate online
During one of the most politically divisive years in recent memory, far-right extremists migrated further to online networks, leading to a decline in active hate groups last year. (Feb. 1)
AP
The militia movement overall has its roots in the anti-tax movements of the 1960s, the sovereign citizens' movement of the 1970s and Cold War-era anti-communist conspiracy theories.

The movement coalesced and gained strength after the election in 1992 of President Bill Clinton, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1993 Brady Act requiring background checks for handgun purchases, a 1994 federal ban (which expired in 2004) on military-style weapons and large-capacity magazines, the standoffs in 1992 at Ruby Ridge and in 1993 at Waco that left civilians, including women and children, dead at least in part due to the actions of federal agents; and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. 

April 19 bears special significance to militia groups as it marks the anniversaries of both the Waco, Texas, fatal confrontation between the Branch Davidian group and the FBI, and the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168. According to the Library of Congress, it also marks the anniversary of April 19, 1775, when Americans at Lexington and Concord, forewarned by Paul Revere, fended off British troops sent by the royal governor to seize their military supplies. 

The militia movement believes a “New World Order” is conspiring to impose martial law and confiscate guns. The militia movement is anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-gun control, and they have adopted anti-leftist, anti-Marxist postures toward Antifa and Black Lives Matter.  

Oath Keepers 

The Oath Keepers, formed in 2009, are a far-right, anti-government militia group led nationally by founder E. Stewart Rhodes, a Yale-educated former lawyer. There are numerous chapters across the country. Oath Keepers target active and retired military and law enforcement officers as well as first responders for membership, but accept others as “associate members.” The group’s core belief is that police and the military have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and to keep that oath they must refuse to enforce unconstitutional edicts from government, such as taking guns or making warrantless seizures. Along those lines, Oath Keepers has a list of 10 orders they refuse to obey.  

A President Trump supporter carries a Don't Tread On Me flag during a rally at the Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
A President Trump supporter carries a Don't Tread On Me flag during a rally at the Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya, AP

While the group claims membership as high as 35,000, the ADL estimates that the number is more likely between 1,000-3,000, although with a somewhat broader influence. 

In 2020, Oath Keepers participated in anti-lockdown rallies and protests, showed up claiming to provide security during Black Lives Matters rallies and protests, and warned of a potential takeover by the “Marxist” left after then-President Donald Trump lost the November election. 

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Proud Boys 

The ADL characterizes the Proud Boys as a right-wing group that is “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration.” They have organized chapters and consider themselves a “Western chauvinist” fraternal group. The group was formed in 2016 by Gavin McInnes of Larchmont. In October 2018, a group of Proud Boys and associates instigated a brawl with Antifa after a McInnes speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City; two members were convicted of felony attempted gang assault and riot charges. Others pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including a Warwick man who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation.

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A self-described leader of the Proud Boys was charged for his role in the Capitol riots; authorities said Joseph Biggs encouraged other extremists.
Staff Video, USA TODAY

McInnes left the organization in early 2019.

The group has now developed a reputation for showing up to support anti-lockdown protests and to counter Black Lives Matter rallies and protests, often inciting violence.  

The Proud Boys embraced then-President Donald Trump, rallying twice for him in Washington, D.C., after the 2020 election loss.  

Although Proud Boys have tried to brand themselves as a lawful counter to Black Lives Matter and Antifa, they have used violence and intimidation against protesters, often showing up at events with clubs, pepper spray and the like.  

Boogaloo Bois 

Boogaloo Bois, or Boogaloos, are loosely organized antigovernment, anti-police extremists that coalesced in 2019, largely online. In 2020, they moved into the real world, showing up at anti-police, anti-lockdown and gun rights rallies. They are influenced in part by the philosophies of libertarianism and anarchocapitalism.  

The name is derived from a joke, a play on the 1984 sequel “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” which morphed in online slang into boogaloo, “Big Igloo” and “big luau;” hence, the group’s penchant for Hawaiian shirts. 

Armed members of the Boogaloo Bois are seen outside of the Capitol building in Lansing on Sunday, January 17, 2021.
Armed members of the Boogaloo Bois are seen outside of the Capitol building in Lansing on Sunday, January 17, 2021.
Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

One Boogaloo member has been charged with killing a police officer and a Federal Protective Service guard in California, and another member faces charges of aiding him. Another member was charged in the May 28 shooting into the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. Members of the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over pandemic restrictions also appeared to be involved with the Boogaloos, according to the ADL. 

Three Percenters 

Eric Kirtland waves a "Three Percenters Flag" at a protest held by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement at the Courthouse Plaza in Prescott, Ariz. on Sept. 4, 2020. Kirtland attended the event with more than 100 other people counter protesting the Black Lives Matter supporters, many of whom said they were concerned antifa would come to Prescott to destroy businesses.
Eric Kirtland waves a "Three Percenters Flag" at a protest held by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement at the Courthouse Plaza in Prescott,... Eric Kirtland waves a "Three Percenters Flag" at a protest held by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement at the Courthouse Plaza in Prescott, Ariz. on Sept. 4, 2020. Kirtland attended the event with more than 100 other people counter protesting the Black Lives Matter supporters, many of whom said they were concerned antifa would come to Prescott to destroy businesses.
Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

Three Percenters, or “threepers,” are part of the militia movement, started in that movement’s 2008 resurgence. The name comes from the erroneous claim that just 3% of Americans fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.  

Like much of the militia movement in recent years, Three Percenters generally supported President Trump, and were less anti-government and more anti-leftist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim.  

Their activities in the past two years have focused on gun rights, anti-lockdown and anti-pandemic matters, and Black Lives Matter protests and rallies. 

Three Percenters don’t have much in the way of formal groups; joining requires only calling yourself a Three Percenter, although some do form groups or associations. According to the ADL, Three Percenters generally believe the government is conspiring with a shadowy cabal to strip Americans of their rights, especially the right to bear arms. They use the Roman numeral III, sometime surrounded by a field of 13 stars, as a symbol. 

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