Steven Carrillo's life was full of contradictions. The California native from Ben Lomond enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2009 when he was 19. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and oversaw a force protection unit in the 60th Security Force Squadron that was charged with safeguarding aerial resupply missions. On the exterior, Carrillo's service length and history conveyed an image of patriotism and loyalty. Out of uniform, Carrillo's personal affairs were a mess. He was left to raise two young children alone after the suicide of his wife Monika in 2018. She killed herself while they were stationed together in South Carolina. Their marriage was tumultuous—Monika's family claim Carrillo's narcissism, domineering attitude, and abusive behavior drove her to kill herself.
"He was a wannabe and I don't think he measured up the way he wanted himself to be, so he was the type of person who took it out on other people," Charlotte Tolliver-Lopes, Monika's grandmother told a Northern California newspaper earlier this summer. "He did a lot of damage to our family just by destroying my niece. It devastated my family."
The couple's two children have been living predominantly with their grandparents in Colorado since Monika's suicide.
As destructive as Carrillo had been in his personal life, his move back to California in 2018 set in motion a chain of events that would result in his involvement with a violent extremist ideology and a series of bloody ambushes that left two law enforcement officers dead earlier this summer.
Carrillo's path to radicalisation remains murky, but the catalyst that spurred him to action was the police killing of George Floyd.
While stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California's Sacramento Delta, Carrillo watched on television and social media as the George Floyd protests rapidly spread throughout the whole country.
By this point, Carillo had drifted into Libertarian politics and gun culture, training with an obscure California militia called the 1st Detachment California Grizzly Scouts.
Carrillo's Facebook page was littered with posts on firearms and selfies modified with the glowing-eyes-meme popularised by edgy political extremists on the intertnet.
Carrillo was also active in a number of Facebook groups associated with the boogaloo bois (boys)—an amorphous anti-government, pro-firearms ideology, that properly coalesced outside of the internet at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. "Boogaloo" refers to a 1980's film that became an internet meme on the anarchic message boards of 4chan. Now, in the current context, the boogaloo refers to a supposdely incoming second civil war in the United States. The movement, according to researcher Alex Newhouse at the Center of Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, is a "radically anti-authoritarian" umbrella movement, which confusingly encompasses a white supremacist fringe, as well as anti-authoritarians that have aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matters movement.
The boogaloo bois (often shortened to "boogs") have adopted Hawaiian shirts with open carry firearms as part of a makeshift uniform that identitfies other boogs at protests.
In late May, Hawaiian-shirted, rifle-toting men began showing up at the fiery clashes between Minneapolis Police and demonstrators furious at the murder of George Floyd. This is when the media first really began to focus on them.
Since then, booglaoo adherents have been implicated in a number of crimes, including a case where three Nevada men plotted to firebomb a US Forest Service facility. They also wanted to attack a peaceful demonstration with the intent of sparking a violent reaction.
From afar, Carrillo's excitement grew as he watched the chaos escalate. He revelled at the willingness of demonstrators to torch police precincts and engage in running street battles with the cops.
On May 28th, as confrontations between law enforcement and protesters sprouted up in cities from New York to the Bay Area, Carrillo began reaching out online to other boogaloo adherents in Facebook groups.
That morning, Carrillo posted a series of messages in response to reports of intense protests in the East Bay city of Oakland. Oakland is a dynamic, diverse port city with a long history of radical politics and violent clashes with police dating back to the mid-Twentieth Century heyday of the Black Panther Party.
"It's on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It's a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois," Carrillo posted in a Facebook group around 7:20AM, using a slang term for federal law enforcement. "Keep that energy going."
Another post accompanied by two flame emojis depicted a crowd vandalising two California Highway Patrol cars.
The following morning, Carrillo reiterated his willingness to target law enforcement: "If it kicks off? It's kicking off now and if it's not kicking off in your hood then start it. Show them the targets."
Minutes later, Carillo, an Air Force sergeant, urged fellow boogaloo boys to hit the streets and use the cover of mass demonstrations to touch off direct conflict.
"Go to the riots and support our own cause," he wrote. "Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage."
In one of his final posts on Facebook, Carrillo shared a video of Buffalo police officers shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground in a group called "A Gun Page for Poors Who Know They Are Poors".
Carrillo's posts found a receptive ear in Robert Justus, another member of the boogaloo Facebook group from the East Bay city of Hayward. On May 29th, Justus replied "Lets boogie" to Carrillo's initial post about targeting federal agents.
It didn't take long for Carrillo and Justus to connect. They made plans to meet later that day at the San Leandro BART station and to attend a demonstration in downtown Oakland. Carrillo drove down from Travis Air Force Base in a white 1997 Ford Econoline van to the East Bay and picked Justus up.x
When Justus got into the van, Carrillo offered him a pistol and body armor. He took a look, but did not accept. At this point, the Airman told Justus to get behind the wheel and drive north towards downtown Oakland. As they circled downtown Oakland that night, while hundreds of protesters took to the streets near city hall, Carrillo fantasised about shooting cops, civilians, and even downing a helicopter like the Symbionese Liberation Army claimed in 1973, killing two Oakland cops.
At 9:27PM, Justus wheeled the Econoline van—headlights off—into a parking spot on Jefferson right by the intersection of 12th Street. They'd parked themselves across from the Oakland federal courthouse. Outside there was a small white guardpost occupied by two armed Federal Protective Service agents.
Security footage shows Justus get out of the van and walk around the area for 11 minutes before getting back into the vehicle. At some point prior, Justus had removed the vehicle's license plates on Carrillo's instructions to make the van hard to identify.
At 9:43PM, Justus flipped on the van's headlights and drove slowly down the street, pulling in parallel with the guard post. As the van rolled towards the intersection, Carrillo slid open the side door and let loose a barrage of gunfire from a home-built, heavily modified rifle fitted with a supressor. Nine millimeter rounds tore into the guard post, striking the two guards inside.
David Patrick Underwood, 53, was killed immeditaly in the drive-by shooting. The other guard, who hasn't been named, was criticially wounded but lived.
"Did you see how they fucking fell," Carrillo said to Justus as they drove away. Justus would later describe Carrillo as being "excited and thrilled after the shooting."
For eight days, rumours swirled around the US about the nature of the fatal drive-by shooting. Conservative commentators and politicians intimated that the BLM demonstrators in downtown Oakland had been to blame for the shooting, despite the absence of any evidence.
Then, on June 6th, law enforcement received a tip from someone in the heavily forested Santa Cruz Mountains to the southwest of Oakland. A passerby noticed an abandoned white Ford van with no license plates on a remote road just east of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The van, the tipster told law enforcement, was loaded with ammunitions, bomb-making equipment, and guns. The vehicle's registration came back to Carrillo's family address in the nearby town of Ben Lomond. FBI agents were able to use surveillance footage from the shooting to identify the van as the same vehicle involved in the Oakland courthouse attack.
Later that afternoon, Santa Cruz County Sheriff's deputies assigned to check out Carrillo's house spotted a different white van pulling into his property's driveway. As they approached the house, Carrillo allegedly opened fire on them with an assault rifle and threw homemade explosives towards the deputies. The hail of bullets fatally struck Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller, wounded another Santa Cruz Sheriff's deputy, as well as a California Highway Patrol officer. After the ambush, Carrillo turned and ran. He vanished into the woods. He's was bleeding from a gunshot wound to his hip.
An hour later, Carrillo stole a car at gunpoint in an unsuccessful attempt to flee. The roads in the mountain town were blocked off by police, however, and he soon ditched the vehicle. After another unsuccessful attempt to carjack two more vehicles near Highway 9, Carrillo was wrestled to the ground and pinned by a Ben Lomond resident while another called authorities. The Good Samaritan—a former high school wrestler—risked his life: Carrillo had demanded his car at gunpoint, and after the man swatted away his rifle, the Air Force Sergeant tried to set off another one of his homemade grenades.
Carrillo's remarks right before and during his arrest reveal the depth of his immersion in Libertarian and extreme anti-authoritarian boogaloo ideology.
In a video taken shortly before he was restrained, Carrillo told a local shopkeeper: "I'm not a bad guy, I'm just sick of all the duality bullshit", using a common Libertarian term for the dominance of America's two main political parties.
During his arrest, Steven Carrillo shouted at officers, "This is what I came here to fight. I'm sick of these goddamn police!"
In a search of his van, authorities recovered a boogaloo boi morale patch affixed to a flak jacket with an igloo and a Hawaiian print stripe integrated into an American flag. Right before his arrest, Carrillo used his own blood to scrawl boogaloo phrases on the hood of a car he'd hijacked:
I became unreasonable
Stop the duopoly
Over the next week, FBI investigators used Carrillo's digital footprint and cellphone records to trace his associations and movements to the Oakland demonstrations. By June 11th, they had placed Robert Justus under observation at his home in the suburban Peninsula town of Millbrae. The FBI surveillance team that morning watched Justus and his mother drive to the FBI's San Francisco headquarters, where Justus asked to make a voluntary statement. Inside the building, Justus recounted his involvement in the Oakland shooting, including attempts to conceal his role by destroying the clothes he wore on May 29th and wiping his phone of all communications with Carrillo.
Justus' statement allowed federal prosecutors to connect the dots and bring charges against Carrillo for the courthouse attack.
Carrillo now potentially faces the death penalty in both his federal and state cases, which the United States Attorney of Northern California will almost certainly pursue given the Air Force sergeant's alleged role in killing two law enforcement officers.
In a recent court appearance in Santa Cruz, for the murder of Deputy Gutzwiller, Carrillo appeared in cuffs, wearing a red jailhouse uniform and a surgical mask scrawled with the words "BLM" and "We the People".
In statements to the media, his friends have claimed that Carrillo's main enemy was law enforcement. There are no indications that his personal ideology aligned with the far-right or white supremacist views held by some facets of the boogaloo movement. In fact, on May 31st, Carrillo reposted a meme to Facebook reading "I'll never let racist white people make me forget about the dope white people I know exist. I love y'all." The post includes fist emojis of different skin tones, and both of the "whites" in the meme were crossed out. Carrillo wrote, "The only race that matters, the human race."
Carillo is currently held without bail, and is next set for a hearing on December 11th for his state charges. Preliminary hearings will not commence before the New Year.
In federal court, prosecutors are waiting for a determination from the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC, for guidance on whether or not to pursue the death penalty for the murder of FPS Officer Underwood.
The two fatal ambushes Carillo allegedly carried out did not surprise the family of his deceased ex-wife, who believe Carrillo drove her to suicide.
"Sneak up behind you—that’s the way he would behave," said Charlotte Tolliver-Lopes, the grandmother of Carrillo's children. "I don’t think he has the guts to face you. He's the type who would do it around the corner. He wouldn’t confront anyone dead on. A woman? Yeah, he feels superior to them. But a man? No."
On a broader level, Carrillo's shortlived killing spree propelled the boogaloo movement to the top of the priority list for federal law enforcement's anti-terrorism efforts, which have significantly increased over the past three years following dozens of fatal right wing mass shootings and attacks.
However, the decentralised, diffuse, atomised nature of the boogaloo ideology presents a challenging target for authorities. The booglaoo bois are not a cohesive militant organisation, which might prove to be much harder to keep track of for the authorities.
Since Carrillo's deadly assault, federal and state authorities have leveled charges against a number of boogaloo-connected individuals. Texas bodybuilder Phillip Archibald (who is accused of running an illegal steroid dealing ring) also stands accused of menacing law enforcement by social media posts by advocating for "guerilla warfare" against National Guard troops deployed at protests. He also accused of threatening to kill "looters" and "hunting" certain left-wing activists.
In early September, two boogaloo bois were charged with conspiring to provide firearms to federal agents posing as members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Michael Robert Solomon of North Carolina and Benjamin Ryan Teeter of Minnesota both swore allegiance to a meme-like subset of the accelerationist ideology known tongue-in-cheek as the "Boojahideen". They were frequent attendees at the George Floyd demonstrations in Minneapolis earlier this summer.
In California's Santa Clara County, just east of where Carrillo's rampage took place, Alan Vierengo faces criminal charges for sending threatening letters, emails, and phone calls to the head county health official shortly after she issued mandatory stay-at-home orders last Spring in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The communications, according to charging documents, were replete with booagloo rhetoric and messaging about an impending second civil war. As many as 138 guns, explosive materials, and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized by police when Vierengo was taken into custody.
To date though, Steven Carrillo's attack is the still deadliest incident of boogaloo violence in the United States. Two law enforcement officers killed. While there hasn't been a subsequent fatality linked to the movement, the explicit targeting of police and the willingness of adherents to turn quickly to violent means has many on edge. With the pandemic still raging and the most hotly contested election in modern history rapidly approaching this November, there is ample fear that these hard to categorise extremists will seek to further rend America's social fabric.