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Lawsuit: Facebook let militia groups to promote conspiracy theories that led to Rittenhouse shooting

Posted at 7:04 AM, Sep 23, 2020

MILWAUKEE — A new lawsuit claims Facebook promoted conspiracy theories among the members of militia groups and is responsible for a series of shootings in Kenosha that left protesters dead in the days following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Four people, including the partner of one of the victims killed in the shooting, filed the lawsuit Tuesday against Facebook, members of two militia groups and Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old accused of killing two protesters.

The lawsuit filed in the federal court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin alleges Facebook failed to delete two groups — the Kenosha Guards and the Boogaloo Bois — before the allegedly racist and hateful content led dozens of armed counter-protesters to Kenosha, including Rittenhouse.

"These calls to arms, as one might infer, are not met with the responsible consideration of concerned citizens, but by violent, racist rhetoric in which militia members promise to shoot protesters, their desire to literally kill people displayed publicly for all to see," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit argues that Facebook's algorithm allows content from such militia groups to spread rapidly. The suit also argues the algorithm allowed Kenosha Guards' content to be picked up by conspiracy website InfoWars, which wrote an article on the group's call to arms.

The lawsuit adds Rittenhouse answered that call to arms and drove across state lines from Illinois to Kenosha with a long gun. Under the command of militia member Ryan Balch — who is named as a defendant in the suit — Rittenhouse later independently shot the three protesters, according to the lawsuit.

Rittenhouse is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Facebook received over 400 complaints and flags concerning the Kenosha Guards page and the content it was posting, according to the lawsuit. It alleges that the social network did not attempt to take the page down until after the shooting occurred. In fact, Kevin Mathewson, the creator of the Kenosha Guards page, removed the group himself, the suit alleges.

Mathewson is also among those listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

"More importantly, Facebook continues to provide militias with the tools to further their violent conspiracies, at a time when we are entering into an election period in which the President of the United States — who openly supports the activities of these militias, while insulting Black Lives Matter and other racial justice protesters — has declared his intent to contest the forthcoming election," the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit cites several causes of action, including conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, action for neglect to prevent, negligence, civil conspiracy, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, among other causes.

The lawsuit calls for the injunctive relief enjoining Defendants from future violations of plaintiffs' rights guaranteed under federal and state law, as well as damages determined during a trial.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include:

  • Hannah Gittings, partner of Anthony Huber, who was fatally shot by Rittenhouse
  • Christopher McNeal, a Black man who says he was assaulted by militia members
  • Carmen Palmer, a Black woman who says she was attacked by militia members when she traveled to Kenosha to protest
  • Nathan Peet, a local journalist who witnessed Rittenhouse allegedly shoot the first victim

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Plaintiffs by Jason Flores-Williams and Jennifer D. Sirrine, of 21st Century Law, both based outside of Wisconsin.

In addition to Facebook, the Kenosha Guards group, Rittenhouse, Balch and Mathewson, the plaintiffs are suing the Boogaloo Bois, a right-wing militia that has the alleged goal of fomenting a race war in the U.S.

This story was originally published by Jackson Danbeck on WTMJ in Milwaukee.