An adherent to the far-right boogaloo movement — whose most extreme followers are reportedly looking to spark a civil war — was with Kyle Rittenhouse last week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, before the Antioch teenager allegedly opened fire on protesters, killing two and wounding another.
Ryan Balch, an Army veteran from West Bend, Wisconsin, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he met Rittenhouse in the lead up to last Tuesday’s shootings and spent much of the day with him. While Balch said Rittenhouse “had no connection” to the loosely organized group, he noted that as many as 32 boogaloo adherents were in Kenosha that day.
Balch, who has used social media to post Nazi propaganda and white nationalist messaging, described himself in a series of Facebook messages to the Sun-Times as a “Boog Boi.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists, militia members and other extremists use the phrase boogaloo as “shorthand for a future civil war.”
“Whereas the militia movement [and] radical gun rights activists typically promote the boogaloo as a war against the government or liberals, white supremacists conceive of the boogaloo as a race war or a white revolution,” the Anti-Defamation League said.
Hatewatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, highlighted Balch’s presence in Kenosha in an online post Sunday.
Balch confirmed that the “general consensus” among “boogaloo bois” is that a civil war is “imminent.”
Individuals tied to the boogaloo movement are facing terrorism-related charges in a plot to start a riot during a demonstration in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
And another boogaloo loyalist, U.S. Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo, allegedly shot two Federal Protective Services officers, one fatally, as they guarded federal property amid similar protests in Oakland, California. Carrillo, who headed an anti-terrorism squad in the Air Force, then allegedly used pipe bombs and a high-powered rifle to ambush sheriff’s deputies who tracked him to his home near Santa Cruz, leaving one dead and two more hurt.
The presence of the “boogaloo bois” in Kenosha came as unrest gripped the city following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, although Balch said they came independent of an appeal from a group called the Kenosha Guard that recruited armed people to come to the southeast Wisconsin city.
Though Balch said he was separated from Rittenhouse and didn’t witness the shootings, his account offers a window into the accused killer’s movements before the demonstration turned violent. Balch said Rittenhouse “seemed appropriately scared” but didn’t appear “frightened.”
“Agitators did seem to focus on him because he seemed like an easier target than the rest of us,” said Balch.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has said his client was acting in self-defense. He awaits extradition on charges of first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless endangerment.
In a Facebook post, Balch claimed he and other vigilantes were there to protect and offer aid to members of the public, including antifascists and Black Lives Matter protesters. He also claimed that an exchange between Rittenhouse and police that was captured in a viral video wasn’t as chummy as it appeared: “[T]hey tossed us water and mockingly said they appreciated what we were doing.”
A Kenosha police spokesman didn’t immediately respond to questions about the presence of the “boogaloo bois” last week.
While Balch complained that some adherents on the far-right “seem to racialize the conflict that seems to be coming,” he has used social media to boost white nationalists.
Balch’s Twitter posts include a link to a video titled “TRUTH WILL TRIUMPH ADOLF HITLER” and a retweet of a post from white nationalist leader Richard Spencer calling for efforts in North America and Europe to “help Muslims reconnect with their roots and families.” The posts, both from 2017, were included in the Southern Poverty Law Center post.
In explaining his social media presence, Balch claimed he was running a website at the time and posing as a member of the Alt-Right in order to “screenshot their shenanigans and make memes out of it.” Balch said he posted the video celebrating Hitler because he “can enjoy a bit of irony.”
Ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Kenosha Tuesday, another potential flashpoint in a summer marked by waves of civil unrest, Balch said he and other boogaloo adherents plan to stay away from any possible protests.
“It’s gonna be a dog and pony show anyway,” he said of the trip.