KENOSHA, Wis. — A lawsuit filed on Wednesday in the Eastern District Court of Wisconsin seeks a court order that would force Facebook to remove posts calling for violence in the wake of protests that turned deadly in Kenosha in August.
Also named in the lawsuit are Kyle Rittenhouse, militia groups the Boogaloo Bois and the Kenosha Guard, as well as two other individuals.
Last month, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse took to the streets of Kenosha armed with a gun in response to Black Lives Matter protests across the city. Rittenhouse has since been charged with gunning down protesters Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding a third man, Gage Grosskreutz, on the night of Aug. 25.
The new lawsuit takes aim at Facebook for not removing posts from violent extremists such as the Kenosha Guards and the Boogaloo Bois that called for armed supporters to take to the streets despite the platform’s ban on violent rhetoric.
One such person who heeded this call, the lawsuit claims, was Rittenhouse.
“Facebook’s inaction led to the death of two protesters, in addition to the harm suffered by Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit states. “The enabling and empowering of militias to conspire with its platform and tools allows white supremacist groups to recruit, organize, and thrive, while Facebook continues to profit from their activities, and those who fight for social justice continue to die.”
Citing a Buzzfeed News investigation, the lawsuit also claims that Facebook was alerted to the Kenosha Guard’s page over 400 times, before moderators deemed that it didn’t break any rules.
The plaintiffs include Hannah Gittings, who describes herself as Huber’s life partner. She said she watched Huber die and suffered threats and insults from members of the Kenosha Guard and the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government extremist group. Some of them pointed their guns at her, the lawsuit alleges.
Another plaintiff, Christopher McNeal, is Black and was confronted, commanded, assaulted and harassed by militia, according to the lawsuit. A third plaintiff, a Black woman named Carmen Palmer, says she traveled to the protest with her children and that militia members threatened her, sprayed her with pepper spray and slashed her group’s tires. The fourth plaintiff is Nathan Peet, a freelance journalist who says he tried to help Rosenbaum after he was shot but that his efforts were hampered by militia who “corralled” protesters following the shooting.
“The planning and preparation exhibited in this (Kenosha Guard) post led to Plaintiffs and other protesters being terrorized, assaulted, harassed, and placed in so much fear when facing the business end of military grade assault rifles that they determined it was too dangerous to continue to protest,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also seeks seeks unspecified damages for the plaintiffs, claiming that the various defendants trampled their right to free assemby and freedom of speech.
In late August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that not taking down the pages had been a “mistake.”
“It was largely an operational mistake,” Zuckerberg said in a video shared to Facebook. “The contractors, the reviewers, who the initial complaints were funneled to, didn’t, basically didn’t pick this up.”
The company issued a statement Wednesday saying it removed Rittenhouse’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and that it had no evidence suggesting he followed the Kenosha Guard page or was invited to the event posting.
The company added that it “took action against organizations and content related to Kenosha,” including removing the Kenosha Guard page and content that praises or supports the shootings or Rittenhouse. And Facebook said it continues to remove content that violates its policies against posts or pages that advocate for violence during protests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.