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A few days ago, Sam Firstenberg, the Israel-born movie director behind the ’80s cult classics Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and American Ninja, was scanning a newspaper when he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“It’s almost bizarre — a surrealistic situation,” says Firstenberg, 70.
He read about a domestic, anti-U.S. government extremist movement that had sprouted in the dark recesses of the internet and, amid recent protests over coronavirus lockdowns and George Floyd’s killing, has sprung terrifyingly to life.
And the movement named itself after one of his movies.
The boogaloo movement has exploded into the mainstream in recent days after it came to light that Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo — who on May 29 used the cover of the Floyd protests to gun down one federal officer and injure another in Oakland, California — claims allegiance to the group.
Carrillo later scrawled the word “Boog” in his own blood on the hood of a stolen vehicle during a June 6 gun battle with police in Santa Cruz County that also claimed a sheriff’s deputy’s life.
According to The New York Times, the movement originated on platforms like Reddit, 4chan and Facebook, its name “derived as an inside joke from the 1984 cult classic film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Its followers often wear brightly colored Aloha shirts, because boogaloo also sounds like “big luau.”
The boogaloo boys’ one goal: to hasten a second Civil War. On message boards, it was referred to as “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.” That’s where the name originated.
Until only recently, “Electric Boogaloo” was a lighthearted meme. “In the last 10 years or so, it became equal with the word ‘sequel,'” Firstenberg explains. (A Twitter hashtag game to name book sequels, for example, resulted in responses like “Lord of the Flies 2: Electric Boogaloo.”)
Firstenberg loved the trend, which seemed to revive interest in the campy breakdancing flick: “It’s screened at festivals the past few years,” he says. “Though it’s not nearly as popular as American Ninja.”
He takes no credit for the title, which was already decided upon when he boarded the project. “It was more the stars of the movie — Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quinones and Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers, who came up with it,” he says.
But after two brutal killings, the fun once associated with the word is no longer.
“It’s impossible to wrap my mind around,” Firstenberg says. “From a movie like this about dancing children and neighborhood unity — something like this has evolved.”
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