By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Supporters of the extremist “Boogaloo” movement were present at a protest Sunday in Athens amid ongoing demonstrations throughout Georgia against police brutality and racial injustice, according to Athens authorities.
State authorities warned Tuesday extremist groups and out-of-state agitators have infiltrated crowds during protests from Atlanta to Savannah since last Friday that at times devolved into scenes of property damage and confrontations with police, who in turn have fired tear gas cannisters and made hundreds of arrests.
Boogaloo supporters mark the first extremist group to be publicly identified by law enforcement officials in Georgia after days of intense protesting, including on Sunday night in Athens during which 32 people were arrested.
Their presence was noted in a memo sent by Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill, who called the Boogaloo movement an “extremist organization” that aims in part “to instigate race wars across America.”
So far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has declined to identify which extremist groups have participated in recent protests. An agency spokeswoman said Wednesday more details should be released soon.
On Tuesday, GBI Director Vic Reynolds said during a news conference that state investigators had identified members of “various groups around the country, a lot of which are bent primarily on destruction and violence.”
The term “Boogaloo” is associated largely with some far-right militia groups in favor of armed opposition to government-led attempts at constraining gun ownership, as well as some white supremacists who view the phrase as code for a future race war, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Meanwhile, many prominent officials across the country including President Donald Trump have attributed violence seen at protests to the influence of “Antifa” supporters, signifying the far-left, anarchist element of the “anti-fascist” movement seen often at protests on police violence and at the removal of Confederate monuments in recent years.
Spruill’s memo, dated June 1, notes Boogaloo supporters “armed with rifles and handguns” were spotted in the protesting crowd Sunday in downtown Athens. Those persons “self-identified” as Boogaloo supporters, Spruill wrote, and were later seen in a smaller crowd that continued protesting after the city’s 9 p.m. curfew expired.
“This was troubling because the organization is known for their involvement in destructive and violent behavior at other protests across America,” Spruill wrote.
Spruill, who in his memo linked to the Anti-Defamation League’s webpage on the Boogaloo movement, also said the late-night crowd that prompted several arrests was “primarily made up of” Boogaloo supporters.
However, other accounts of the protest dispute that characterization, noting the presence of Boogaloo supporters was minimal and did not inspire violence on the part of protesters.
Tim Denson, an Athens-Clarke County commissioner who attended Sunday’s protest, said he witnessed that “a handful of armed instigators did arrive from out of town and unsuccessfully tried to escalate the situation.”
Denson and others have criticized local authorities and Georgia National Guard members for using crowd-control methods including tear gas and rubber bullets on largely peaceful demonstrators who had blocked streets and lingered past curfew.
“In my opinion it was absolutely unnecessary and unacceptable to move in on peaceful protesters with violent, dangerous, unpredictable weapons such as tear gas,” Denson said in a statement Monday.
Gov. Brian Kemp defended the approach Tuesday as needed to protect city property and residents from outside agitators, arguing illegal acts seen in protests “put us in a bad spot” as law enforcement seeks to preserve public order.
“Those are not people here to peacefully protest,” Kemp said. “They are here to disrupt, to injure the men and women that are on the streets trying to keep the peaceful protesters safe.”