DETROIT (AP) — The FBI has arrested two alleged members of the far-right anti-government group the Boogaloo Boys, with authorities increasingly concerned about the potential for violence in the leadup to next week’s midterm elections.
Timothy Teagan appeared Wednesday in federal court in Detroit on charges of being a drug user in possession of firearms and ammunition, and giving a false statement in connection with the acquisition of a firearm, according to an unsealed federal complaint.
Meanwhile, the FBI said in a criminal complaint filed Monday that there was enough evidence to charge Aron McKillips, of Sandusky, Ohio, with illegal possession of a machine gun and the interstate communication of threats. It says McKillips is a member of the Boogaloo Boys and is believed to be in a paramilitary group called the Sons of Liberty.
The timing of the law enforcement action is notable in part because it comes just days before the midterm elections. After the FBI searched his home last month, Teagan told documentarian Ford Fischer that federal agents questioned him specifically about potential violence being planned ahead of the election.
“They were very, very particular about questions involving anything going on with the election,” he said. “They were asking if I knew of any violent plans or any violent tendencies that could come forth about the election. … They were asking if we had any plans to go to polls armed.”
Election workers have increasingly been targeted by threats and harassment since the 2020 election, and it’s gotten worse in recent weeks — five people have already been charged with intimidation.
Nationally, elections officials are concerned about a flood of conspiracy theorists signing up to work as poll watchers, with some groups that have trafficked in lies about the 2020 election recruiting and training watchers.
The arrest of the suspected Boogaloo Boys members was reminiscent of a similar move by police in Washington, D.C., who arrested the leader of the Proud Boys just days before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, as lawmakers were certifying Joe Biden’s win. Members of the far-right group, along with leaders in another extremist group, the Oath Keepers, were later charged with seditious conspiracy.
The risk of fragmented far-right movements that promote civil division, anti-authority violence tend to escalate around elections, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Hate crime and extremist plotting that rose in 2008, 2016 and 2018 correlated to conflictual elections, and this year election related invective appears to be rising,” Levin added. “Part of the timing of various arrests could be related to the escalated risk during this time as well as the authorities hitting a threshold of evidence where they could bring charges.”
McKillips’ lawyer, Neil McElroy, said via email Wednesday that McKillips was taken into custody and that he has asked for McKillips to be released pending a Nov. 9 detention hearing in Toledo, Ohio.
In the criminal complaint against McKillips, the FBI alleges he made multiple online threats, including one to kill a police officer and another to kill anyone he determined to be a federal informant.
The FBI contends McKillips provided other members of the Boogaloo Boys equipment to convert rifles into machine guns, as on a trip to Lansing, Michigan, in April 2021. “I literally handed out machine guns in Michigan,” McKillips said in a recording, the complaint states.
In September 2021, he said in a private chat group, “Ain’t Got a federal badge off a corpse yet, so my time here ain’t near done yet lol,” according to the complaint.
In May of this year, McKillips and another user in the Signal messaging system threatened to kill a different Signal user in the belief the person was a federal informant who worked for the FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the complaint says. And in July, McKillips threatened in a Signal chat group that he would “smoke a hog,” meaning kill a police officer, if conditions worsened following a fatal police shooting in Akron, it says.
McKillips frequently advocated violence against police, federal agents, government buildings, big box stores like Walmart and Target, and threatened to blow up Facebook’s headquarters, the criminal complaint says.
During Teagan’s hearing Wednesday, a federal magistrate ordered him held pending a Friday detention hearing.
Dressed in colorful Hawaiian-style shirt — a uniform of sorts for adherents to the so-called boogaloo movement, which espouses that a second U.S. civil war is coming — Teagan told the court that he might seek to retain his own attorney.
Police in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth arrested Teagan on Oct. 25 and charged him with assault and battery in an attack on his father. FBI agents searching his room at his father’s Plymouth home four days later found body armor, boogaloo movement flags and patches, and gas masks, according to the criminal complaint. They also seized a handgun from his brother’s vehicle.
According to the complaint, Teagan submitted an ATF form on July 17 for the purchase of a firearm and certified that he did not use controlled substances. But on Oct. 27, agents seized packages of what appeared to be marijuana, bongs and other drug paraphernalia from Teagan’s room.
His brother, Christopher Teagan, told an FBI agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force that he brought Timothy Teagan “a ton of weed” following his brother’s release on the assault charge, the complaint states.
Teagan was among a dozen or so people who openly carried guns while demonstrating in January 2021 outside of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing. Some promoted the boogaloo movement. Teagan told reporters at the time that the demonstration’s purpose was “to urge a message of peace and unity to the left and right.”
Some boogaloo promoters insist they aren’t genuinely advocating for violence. But the movement has been linked to a string of domestic terrorism plots.
Christopher Teagan, 24, told The Associated Press following Wednesday’s hearing that his brother, through his association with the boogaloo movement, has “never been involved in anything of any type of violent nature.”
“He’s just been to protests,” he said outside the courtroom. “I think (the FBI) will go after him unjustly or harsher because of his association with the group.”
The federal government’s actions could reflect different people in the boogaloo movement “getting closer to violence,” said Javed Ali, an associate professor at the University of Michigan and a former senior U.S. government counterterrorism official.
“Maybe this is part of a more nationwide effort to finally start arresting and disrupting people who’ve moved beyond the phase of being angry,” Ali said.
Such arrests can put individuals who may not have had previous serious charges into a “system of accountability,” said Cliff Lampe, professor of information and a specialist in online interactions around extremist groups at the University of Michigan.
“Sometimes, law enforcement in all areas, city through federal, will bring charges in order to bring a person closer to law enforcement to observe them,” Lampe said.
Timothy Teagan’s arrest came just days after three members of a paramilitary group were convicted of supplying “material support” for a terrorist act over a plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Prosecutors argued the defendants supported the boogaloo movement.
In August, Steven Carrillo, an Air Force sergeant who officials say is associated with the boogaloo movement, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the killing of a Northern California sheriff’s sergeant. In June, Carrillo was sentenced to 41 years in prison for killing a federal security agent in Oakland.
Welsh-Huggins reported from Columbus, Ohio.