Militia groups given ‘platform’ by Facebook ahead of Kenosha shootings, lawsuit says

A lawsuit on behalf of four individuals was filed in federal court Tuesday against Facebook, Kyle Rittenhouse, two militia groups and two members of those groups alleging that Facebook enabled violence against protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month. That violence will impact the plaintiffs for the rest of their lives, according to the lawsuit.

The five-count lawsuit alleges that by failing to remove a militia group’s event page from the social media platform, Facebook was negligent and “empowered right wing militias to inflict extreme violence and deprive Plaintiffs and protesters of their rights.”

The lawsuit also alleges that 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, Kevin Mathewson, Ryan Balch, the Kenosha Guard and Boogaloo Bois participated in a racially motivated conspiracy — among others — to deprive people of their rights to be free of violence and harassment.

The suit also states that Rittenhouse was emboldened by Facebook groups such as the Boogaloo Bois and the Kenosha Guard to travel from Illinois to Wisconsin to engage with protesters, ultimately shooting and killing two people in a “racially motivated conspiracy to deprive plaintiffs of their rights as citizens of the United States.”

Rittenhouse faces several criminal charges including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18 and two counts of recklessly endangering safety, WBEZ reported.

In a statement to Buzzfeed News, Lin Wood, an attorney for Rittenhouse, called the suit “nonsense.”

McClatchy News has reached out to Facebook for comment.

The plaintiffs are as follows, according to the lawsuit:

Hannah Gittings, whose partner Anthony Huber was killed while trying to disarm Rittenhouse

Christopher McNeal, a Black man and Kenosha resident of more than 20 years

Carmen Palmer, a Black woman who was trapped in Kenosha with her children during protests

Nathan Peet, a local journalist who tried to rescue a man allegedly shot by Rittenhouse

Story continues

They are seeking damages as well as an injunction preventing Facebook “from violating its own policies that are supposed to prevent violent rhetoric, militia groups, and other racially motivated hate groups from congregating and interacting on its site,” according to the suit.

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‘Call to arms’ complaints

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook received more than 400 complaints about an Aug. 25 “call to arms” event hosted by militia group Kenosha Guard, but did not immediately remove it from the platform. The event encouraged people to travel to the protests in Kenosha with weapons, the suit said.

One post on the event page asked if there were “any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?” according to photos in the lawsuit.

Another comment read, “I totally plan to kill looters and rioters tonight,” the suit said, and, “Use hollow points, they expand on contact.”

Mathewson, the self-proclaimed commander of the Kenosha Guard, shared the event on his personal page, according to the suit.

The night of Aug. 25

On Aug. 25, people gathered to protest in Kenosha after video emerged of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, appearing to be shot in the back several times by police, CNN reported. Blake survived the shooting.

Rittenhouse is accused of traveling to Kenosha and meeting with Balch — a member of Boogaloo Bois — who the suit alleges was the “Tactical Advisor” of the group that also included other armed members who allegedly took up “pre-planned sniper positions” on roofs and street corners.

That night, Rittenhouse allegedly opened fire on protesters, shooting and killing Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, according to CNN.

The lawsuit alleges that had Facebook not provided “the platform and tools for the Kenosha Guard, Boogaloo Bois, and other right-wing militias to recruit members and plan events,” the shootings would not have occurred.

‘Operational mistake’

In a company-wide meeting last month, Facebook called keeping the event page up an “operational mistake,” The Verge reported.

“The contractors and reviewers who the initial complaints were funneled to didn’t pick this up,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, according to The Verge. “On second review, doing it more sensitively, the team responsible for dangerous organizations recognized that this violated the policies and we took it down.”

Though, the outlet reported that the video wasn’t removed until after the shooting.

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