Boogaloo Extremists Took the Hawaiian Shirt. What Now?

This interpretation is shared by Patrick Blanchfield, an associate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, who regularly writes about the far right. He views the use of the Hawaiian shirt as yet another attempt by far-right groups to create an “undefinable space” with “in-your-face absurdity.”

“It’s by design,” Mr. Blanchfield said. “That confusion is what they’re trying to exploit, which means it’s important to keep an eye on the big picture, or what’s right in front of you. If you see an image of a man wearing tactical gear with a gun and a Hawaiian shirt, the most salient thing there is that the guy has a gun and tactical gear.”

ULTIMATELY, A SYMBOL like the Hawaiian shirt shifts focus from the obvious — armed men asserting dominance in public spaces — to expert-led discussions of the boogaloo’s movement’s coded symbols and language games, which are absurd to the point of meaninglessness, Mr. Blanchfield thinks. He, and other experts on white nationalist extremism in the United States, have stressed that such in-jokes are a longstanding practice of extremist movements born out of online message boards like 4chan and Reddit and, more recently, in the case of the boogaloo, Facebook.

Joshua Citarella, a researcher of extremist behaviors on the internet, has followed the boogaloo movement, sometimes referred to as “Hawaiian shirt nationalism” by those in far-right corners of the internet, from its earliest manifestation as a meme on social media. Its earliest expressions, Mr. Citarella said, were mostly about civil libertarianism and drew on internet aesthetics like Vaporwave.

The “boogaloo kit” post on social media is another recent example of the meme bridging the gap with real life. In late 2018, Mr. Citarella began to notice that users had begun sharing images of their own “skins,” or outfits, laid out on the ground. They were usually a combination of tactical gear, assault weapons, bottles of liquor and street wear like Supreme hoodies, all tied together in some way by the floral print of the Hawaiian shirt.

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