KENOSHA — Nearly one month ago, two protesters were shot and killed in Kenosha. A new federal lawsuit claims Facebook and armed militia members who used the social media platform, promoted conspiracy theories that encouraged the alleged shooter to go to Wisconsin Aug. 25 and commit the murders.
The 39-page lawsuit was just filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court Tuesday. Four people, including the partner of a man killed during the Kenosha protests, are suing militia groups, the alleged shooter and Facebook.
Prosecutors said 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse pulled the trigger, killing Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, and hurting Gaige Grosskreutz.
Huber's partner is now suing and so too are three other people, including Chris McNeal.
“I shouldn't have to worry about being shot at a protest,” McNeal said.
McNeal was in downtown Kenosha that night to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He said everything was peaceful until he ran into a group of men who pointed their long guns at him and others.
“Nobody's doing anything and they're sitting there, claiming they're protecting the gas station,” McNeal said. “They're on top of roofs of buildings that nobody's messing with. What are you protecting?”
In the lawsuit, the protesters claim hateful and racist rhetoric disseminated through Facebook influenced Rittenhouse and other amateur militia members to go to Kenosha.
Attorney Jennifer Sirrine is a part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs.
“We are filing for so that the plaintiffs and the protesters can find justice and not be terrorized by these white militia groups,” Sirrine said. “[Facebook] had ample warning and they really need to be held responsible for what their platform allows these militia groups to do.”
According to the lawsuit, “Before the shootings took place, the company received more than 400 reports of the Kenosha Guard and its event page, claiming they were violating community standards, such as the ban on inciting violence.”
Days later, Facebook deleted the posts.
“When something goes bad because you didn't do your job, you're like, ‘oh no, now we’ll do something.’ It's too late. People died already,” McNeal said.
Now the protesters are seeking damages from the social media platform.
“Had they actually followed through with their own policies and taken the page down, then it wouldn't have been publicized so widely and Rittenhouse may never have seen the event and come and gone to Wisconsin,” Sirrine said.
The protesters also want change and are demanding "an injunction preventing Facebook from violating its own policies that are supposed to prevent violent rhetoric, militia groups, and other racially motivated hate groups from congregating and interacting on its site.”
“I think Facebook has a responsibility to abide by their own rules,” McNeal said.
A spokesperson from Facebook released the following statement on the lawsuit:
We removed the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and took action against organizations and content related to Kenosha. We have found no evidence that suggests the shooter followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited to the Event Page they organized.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, L. Lin Wood responded to the lawsuit saying in part, “This lawsuit is errant nonsense but may provide a golden opportunity for obtaining documents and sworn testimony from Facebook to bolster Kyle’s future defamation case against Facebook for falsely accusing him of mass murder.”
TMJ4 News reached out to the leaders of the militia groups named in the lawsuit for comment, but have not heard back.