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Suspect in killing of 2 Bay Area officers tied to right-wing ‘boogaloo’ group, prosecutors allege

Steven Carrillo, shown in a booking photo, is a leader in an elite military security force.
(Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office)
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When sheriff’s deputies searched a white van on June 6 in a wooded hamlet in Santa Cruz County, they found ammunition, firearms, bomb-making equipment — and a ballistic vest with a curious patch.

The patch contained an igloo and Hawaiian-style print, markings associated with a growing, extremist, anti-government movement aimed at fomenting unrest and civil war.

On Tuesday, federal law enforcement officials announced that they were charging Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo, 32, the alleged owner of that vest, and suspected accomplice Robert A. Justus Jr., 30, of Millbrae in the May 29 shooting death of a federal security officer in Oakland.

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Officials said Carrillo, who also faces state charges in the June 6 killing of a Santa Cruz sheriff’s deputy, was a follower of the “boogaloo” movement, which a federal complaint said is not a fixed group but includes people who identify themselves as militia and target perceived government tyranny.

Justus’ social media posts also show support for boogaloo memes. One post reviewed by the Times names people who have been killed by law enforcement, including Oscar Grant, shot by transit police at Oakland’s Fruitvale station in 2009, and Vicki Weaver, wife of white supremacist Randy Weaver, killed by an FBI sniper during the 1992 Ruby Ridge siege in Idaho.

The federal government charged Carrillo with killing federal security officer David Patrick Underwood, 53, a resident of the small East Bay city of Pinole, and the attempted murder of Underwood’s partner. The charges qualify for the death penalty, but officials said no decision has yet been made on whether to seek it. Justus is charged with aiding Carrillo in the killing and attempted killing.

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The security officers were shot while guarding a federal building in downtown Oakland during a protest over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The pair used the protest as a cover for their plans to attack law enforcement, said FBI Special Agent In Charge Jack Bennett.

“There is no evidence that these men had any intention to join the demonstration in Oakland,” Bennett said at a Tuesday news conference. “They came to Oakland to kill cops.”

Federal officials said Carrillo fired the shots and Justus drove him around in a white van. Surveilance video showed that Carrillo slid open the van’s side door to fire his weapon, officials said, and Justus acted at the getaway driver.

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The two men were linked through cellphone records, officials said. Carrillo used a privately made, unmarked machine gun — a so-called ghost gun — with a silencer to kill Underwood, Bennett said. The federal complaint against Carrillo said law enforcement found similarities in fired cartridge cases at the shootings in both Oakland and Santa Cruz.

The Oakland killing sparked an eight-day manhunt that led to Carrillo’s arrest after someone reported a white van containing firearms and bomb-making equipment in the small, mountainous Santa Cruz County community of Ben Lomond.

Evidence in the van led authorities to Carrillo’s Ben Lomond home. There, in the early afternoon, Carrillo allegedly opened fire on the deputies, killing Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and injuring another deputy. An explosion rocked the property, the Sheriff’s Office said.

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Carrillo was shot during the gunfire, ran away and then hijacked a car on a nearby highway, according to the federal complaint against him. When he was arrested, he was bleeding from his hip.

Carrillo apparently used his own blood to write messages on the hood of the hijacked car, the complaint said. It identified the writing as “BOOG,” “I Became Unreasonable,” and “Stop the Duopoly.”

He was part of an elite Air Force security unit at Travis Air Force Base in the city of Fairfield. He served as a team leader trained to protect aircraft at air strips from insurgents and terrorists.

Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said Carrillo’s posts on social media, including Facebook, became increasingly disturbing in the days before the Oakland shooting.

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Levin said the center’s research shows there have been 27 homicides connected to far-right extremists in the U.S. since 2019. That number doesn’t include the most recent Bay Area killings. The FBI arrested three devotees of the boogaloo movement in Nevada recently, and they were charged with inciting violence with the use of Molotov cocktails at protests.

Levin said boogaloo followers include ultra-libertarians and white supremacists, but they all share a belief in a coming second civil war.

“They are 2nd Amendment insurrectionists,” Levin said. “The boogaloo boys believe in armed insurrection and include attacks on the police.”

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Other experts on extremists said the boogaloo movement was still evolving, and its philosophy varied depending on geography and the underlying beliefs of individual members.

While followers all want a second civil war to reset American society, their desired new society varies from embracing racism to one focused on armed libertarianism, the experts said.

Many followers discovered the movement on internet chat sites. It then migrated to more mainstream social media, including Facebook and TikTok, where young adherents post videos of themselves dancing in their trademark Hawaiian shirts.

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Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which tracks far-right extremist activity, said alt-right groups, including the boogaloo movement, increased their online presence dramatically when governments ordered shutdowns to protect people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adherents attended reopen protests and later shifted to the Floyd demonstrations, he said.

Following President Trump’s call for “MAGA night” on Twitter after protesters demonstrated in front of the White House, Burghart said, he saw an uptick in alt-right participation in Floyd rallies.

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“We only saw a handful of instances” before that, Burghart said. “We saw more boogaloo boys showing up at rallies with their Hawaiian shirts.”

Members of the New Mexico Civil Guard militia group, one of whom shot a protester recently over the removal of a statue, also have ties to the boogaloo movement, he said.

“A number of boogaloo boys started in different elements of the far right and have been drawn to the more confrontational stance of the boogaloo over time,” Burghart said.

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Justus was under surveillance when he and his parents entered the federal building in San Francisco on June 11, nearly a week after Carrillo’s arrest, and asked to speak to an FBI agent. His mother said they wanted to tell the FBI about the white van used in the Oakland killing.

Justus told an agent he met Carrillo on Facebook, and they agreed that Carrillo would pick him up at a transit station in Oakland for the May 29 Floyd protest; At the station, Carrillo turned over the wheel to Justus.

According to the criminal complaint against him. Justus said he did not want to participate in the killing but he was trapped in the van with Carrillo.

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After shooting the officers, Justus said, Carrillo was thrilled. “Did you see how they ... fell!” Justus said Carrillo exclaimed.

An FBI agent who wrote the criminal complaint called Justus’ statement “a false, exculpatory narrative carefully crafted to fit what Justus believed to be the state of evidence.”

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