While Republican politicians, right-wing media and much of conservative America join hands in singing the praises of a minor charged with first-degree murder in connection with two homicides after he allegedly crossed state lines and killed people with a gun he couldn’t legally carry, victims of the violence in Kenosha, Wis., that night, including the partner of one of the two protesters who died from their gunshot wounds, filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Kyle Rittenhouse and leaders of local militia groups.
The five-count civil complaint filed late Tuesday in a Wisconsin federal court argues that Facebook “empowered right wing militias to inflict extreme violence and deprive Plaintiffs and protestors of their rights” by providing a platform for the groups to recruit members and plan violence. It also accuses alleged shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, a follower of the fringe anti-government group “boogaloo,” and the “commander” of the self-described militia group Kenosha Guard of being part of a violent conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of four Black Lives Matter protesters, including the partner of a man killed during the protests.
The suit, the first to accuse Facebook of abetting the violence in Kenosha, centers on the night of Aug. 25, when a Black Lives Matter protest in the Wisconsin city descended into violence.
The plaintiffs are Hannah Gittings, whose partner was among those Rittenhouse allegedly killed; Christopher McNeal, a Black man and longtime resident of Kenosha; Nathan Peet, a Kenosha resident who attempted to assist one of the people allegedly killed by Rittenhouse; and Carmen Palmer, a Black woman who traveled to Kenosha from Milwaukee with her kids and a church protest group to march against racial injustice.
The main offense the plaintiffs cite in pointing the finger at Facebook for facilitating militia group meetings is the 455 times Facebook users reported a Kenosha Guard event page that urged people to arm themselves and come to the city to get involved in whatever the hell it is militia groups do in the 21st century. According to a Facebook employee, those flags “made up 66% of all event reports that day” and yet no immediate action was taken against the page.
In fact, NBC News reports that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own words were quoted against him in the lawsuit—filed as McNeal v. Facebook, Inc.— pointing out that he admitted the failure to remove the page was an “operational mistake.”
“In other words, Facebook received more than 400 warnings that what did happen was going to occur,” the lawsuit reads. “Perhaps the worst part of this organized deprivation of rights and dignity is that it all could have been prevented.”
The plaintiffs are asking the court to impose an injunction on Facebook that would prohibit the platform “from violating its own policies that are designed to prevent violence,” NBC reports.
According to BuzzFeed, other people named in the lawsuit include Ryan Balch—who said in a Facebook post that he took on a “tactical advisement” role with a group of militia members that included Rittenhouse—and Kevin Mathewson, the “commander” of the Kenosha Guard and its page admin, who the suit says “planned, orchestrated, implemented, and took steps in furtherance of a conspiracy designed to threaten and terrorize US citizens, which ultimately resulted in murder and violence.”
The complaint says that at the hands of militia members, the four plaintiffs were “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.”
Outside of the injunction, it’s unclear what specified damages the lawsuit is seeking.