When protesters gathered in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, many were met with resistance from armed “militia” members. One of them was Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen gunman who currently faces homicide charges. Now, Kenosha protesters are bringing a lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly enabling the shooting and other abuses from the same night.
Taking Aim At Militias
The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court on Tuesday, September 22. It names Rittenhouse and Facebook as defendants, along with two organizers of Facebook events encouraging armed “militia” groups to attend the protests.
One of these was Kevin Mathewson, a former alderman who operates the “Kenosha Guard” Facebook page. According to the suit, Mathewson used the page to call for armed followers to attend the protests.
The fourth defendant, Ryan Balch, is an alleged member of the far-right “Boogaloo Bois” movement. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Balch has spoken about being with Rittenhouse on the night of the protests. He has also been linked to white supremacy by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
According to the lawsuit, the Kenosha Guard and Boogaloo Bois used Facebook to encourage armed counter-protesters to travel to Kenosha. The suit alleges that Rittenhouse “answered the Call to Arms by driving across state line from Antioch, Illinois with an assault rifle.”
Facebook claimed that they had no evidence that Rittenhouse was a follower of the Kenosha Guard page. The lawsuit, however, said that “common sense — and, likely, further discovery — counsels that Rittenhouse would not have know about or traveled to Kenosha but for the Call to Arms having been widely publicized.”
Stories Of Harassment
Among the plaintiffs in the case is the partner of 26-year-old Anthony Huber, who was shot and killed by Rittenhouse. Hannah Gittings was with Huber at the protest when he died trying to disarm Rittenhouse, who had just shot and killed another man, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.
Meanwhile, three more plaintiffs allege widespread harassment from armed counter-protesters that night. Forty-year-old Carmen Palmer said she drove with her daughters to Kenosha to participate in the protests but decided to leave because of the presence of firearms. When she returned to her car, however, she found that the tires had been slashed. The mom said she and her daughters were insulted and attacked with pepper spray as they tried to perform repairs.
Another plaintiff, journalist Nathan Peet, said men with rifles corralled him into a the former site of a gas station. There, he witnessed Rittenhouse shooting Rosenbaum, was but unable to help. According to the suit, Peet “could not differentiate between the militias and police, who appeared to be working in coordination.”
The final plaintiff, Christopher McNeal, was reportedly “threatened at gunpoint, and told what he could and could not do, say and could not say,” according to the legal complaint.
The lawsuit aims to hold the defendants responsible for conspiring to violate the plaintiffs’ civil rights and intentionally inflict emotional distress.
Did Facebook Enable Shooting?
It also seeks acknowledgment that Facebook was negligent in not removing posts that were meant to incite violence. According to the suit, the site received 400 complaints about the Kenosha Guard page prior to the incidents. The page remained on the site until several days after the protests and shooting.
In a video following the controversy, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that an “operational mistake” had allowed the Kenosha Guard page to stay up.
Some legal experts are skeptical that the case against Facebook, one of the world’s largest social media platforms, will succeed.
“Facebook gets sued over users’ content all the time,” said Frank LoMonte, a law professor at the Univerrsity of Florida. “The Communications Decency Act is highly protective of (online) platforms. It lets them pick and choose what to take down without assuming ownership of what they leave up.”
Authorities are currently holding Rittenhouse at a juvenile detention center in Lake County, Illinois. He will appear in court on September 25 to face possible extradition to Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Mathewson and Balch have yet to comment on the matter publicly.