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4 file federal lawsuit against Facebook, Kyle Rittenhouse, militia groups in wake of Kenosha protest shootings

Facebook. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Four people have filed a federal lawsuit demanding that Facebook prevent militias and hate groups from using the site after the platform was used to draw armed people to protests in Kenosha that left two people dead, the plaintiffs claim.

The federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday is against Facebook, alleged shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, militia groups and two people involved in the groups in the wake of Kenosha protest shootings.

Prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse, 17, with shooting and killing two men during a protest in Kenosha on Aug. 25 over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, two days earlier. A white officer shot Blake in the back seven times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Some of the protests turned violent, with demonstrators burning and looting buildings, while the National Guard was called in to restore order. According to the lawsuit, a militia group calling itself the Kenosha Guard put out a call on its Facebook page for armed people to guard property in the city. Among those who took up the call was Rittenhouse, who is from nearby Antioch.

“We have an army. We do not need people playing army — particularly when their targets are engaged in the expression of fundamental rights,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs, citing a Buzzfeed story, said that Facebook received more than 400 complaints about the Kenosha Guard’s post but that the company decided the post didn’t violate its anti-violence policies. The Kenosha Guard took down its call to arms the day after the shootings and Facebook took down the militia group’s entire page later that day, the story said.

The plaintiffs argue that Facebook was negligent for not removing the post and are seeking an injunction that would force the company to prohibit violent rhetoric, militias and hate groups from the site. They warn that such groups are still posting on Facebook and could use it to incite violence if President Donald Trump loses the Nov. 3 election but refuses to leave office. The plaintiffs also are seeking unspecified damages.

The plaintiffs are listed as Hannah Gittings, identified as the life partner of Anthony Huber, who was fatally shot, allegedly by Rittenhouse; Christopher McNeal, who allegedly was harassed by militia members; Carmen Palmer, who allegedly was threatened by militia members; and Nathan Peet, a witness to one of the fatal shootings.

In addition to Huber, Rittenhouse is charged with shooting and killing Joseph Rosenbaum.

The lawsuit lists the defendants as Facebook; Rittenhouse; the Boogaloo Bois, another right-wing group; the Kenosha Guard; former Kenosha Ald. Kevin Mathewson, the commander of the Kenosha Guard; and Ryan Balch, who the lawsuit says is an “avowed member of the Boogaloo Bois,” and who “assumed the role of Tactical Advisor of the squad that included Rittenhouse.”

While people have a right to “possess ludicrous opinions,” the lawsuit said, “when these beliefs turn into a conspiracy to deprive the rest of us of our constitutional guarantees through threats, fear, assault, violence, and murder, then the actions and coordination of these right wing militias become the subject matter of our law,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit includes multiple screenshots from social media showing comments such as “I fully plan to kill looters and rioters tonight” and “now it’s time to switch to real bullets” and “use hollow points, they expand on contact.” Another commenter on the page states “armed and ready. Shoot to kill tonight.”

“It was only days after Plaintiffs and protestors were forced to flee in terror and watch their friends and loved ones die that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued a public apology for what he called an ‘operational mistake,’” the lawsuit states.


© 2020 The Wisconsin State Journal