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'Boogaloo' Is The New Far-Right Slang For Civil War

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now the story about the strange journey of a word that's popular in far-right corners of the internet. The word? Boogaloo. NPR's Hannah Allam tells us more.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOO-GA-LOO")

TOM AND JERRIO: (Singing) Hey, hey, boogaloo.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: In 1965, this song by Tom and Jerrio was a hit. It sold a million records. It also introduced America to a new word - boogaloo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOO-GA-LOO")

TOM AND JERRIO: (Singing) Papa choo (ph). Let's do the boogaloo.

ALLAM: Boogaloo emerged as a mash-up of black and Latin American influences. Some 50 years later, the word is still part of American pop culture but with a very different meaning. It once represented a fusion of people and cultures. Now it refers to their coming apart, civil war - in some quarters, a race war.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right, so we're hot. We're live. We're talking boogaloo tactics right now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Boogaloo.

ALLAM: How did the word end up on the YouTube channels of armed and angry white guys?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIKE IT LIKE THAT")

PETE RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) I like it like that. Yeah, baby. I said I like it like that.

ALLAM: Boogaloo began as a sound and a dance. It bounced around from New York's Spanish Harlem to R&B artists in Chicago and other cities. James Brown brought it to new audiences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES BROWN: The boogaloo is probably one of the hardest dances in the world. I used to get dizzy doing it.

ALLAM: Over the decades, the word came in and out of use. But it wasn't until 1984 that boogaloo, or at least the way we think of it now, had its defining moment thanks to a movie - actually, the sequel to a movie about breakdancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Rapping) Electric boogaloo, the ultimate show with Kelly, Ozone and Turbo. Electric Boogaloo is Breakdance 2.

ALLAM: "Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo" was a dud. It was so bad it became a cult classic. The title has evolved into a meme, a sarcastic way to describe any unwanted sequel, and not just for movies. You now hear it in politics and sports. Most importantly for the spread of the meme, it took root among gamers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Welcome back to Aspirant Gaming, and welcome back to Patrol Memes 2: Electric Boogaloo.

ALLAM: Today, boogaloo has seeped out of the gaming community and found fertile ground in militant fringe movements. That includes anarchists and others on the far left. But it's especially popular among right-wing militias and self-described patriot groups. In dozens of YouTube videos, they promise armed rebellion if the government tries to take their guns - a civil war, or Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: So many people are saying that the boogaloo is about to kick off in Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: When the boogaloo happens, these are the people that you're going to have to watch out for.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Do not think for one second that there aren't people that would love to see this thing to get started, that would love to see this boogaloo start rolling. Personally, I do not want to see that. I don't want it to come to that.

ALLAM: The same fun word, a chilling new context.

OREN SEGAL: And that's what makes it, I think, particularly insidious, is the use and co-opting of, you know, pop culture in order to make extremist points.

ALLAM: That's Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL just released a report about the spread of boogaloo. With far-right violence on the rise, Siegel says, it's time to look closer at how extremists use pop culture to communicate.

SEGAL: It helps the message spread. It helps people maybe who are sort of on the margins want to explore. And so it's really weaponizing language as a way to try to reach and recruit people into the movement.

ALLAM: YouTube videos with snarky boogaloo titles often include advice on firearms and tactics. For a subset of the far-right, the fringe of the fringe, civil war isn't enough. They're spoiling for a race war.

Decades later, boogaloo is no longer about music, but about menace - a word coined by black and brown people now used by some who envision a country without them.

Hannah Allam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TUATARA'S "LOVE IS A CALCULATED RISK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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