Protest Watch

Colorado Ties to Facebook Lawsuit Over Kenosha Protest Murder

Armed militants and protesters face off during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the Jacob Blake shooting.
Armed militants and protesters face off during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the Jacob Blake shooting. Huffington Post via YouTube
Denver-based attorney and Westword profile subject Jason Flores-Williams is behind a potential blockbuster lawsuit against Facebook related to the August 25 murder of Anthony Huber by alleged gunman Kyle Rittenhouse during protests over the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And while the complaint doesn't deal directly with counter-protesters tied to violent militias in Denver, Flores-Williams says that some of the abuses that happened in Wisconsin have also taken place here — and he's ready to take action against them, too.

"We're monitoring everything to see what the militia's next moves in Colorado will be in regard to trying to repress protests — and then we'll file in Colorado," he maintains. "It's almost inevitable."

The lead plaintiff in the suit, filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin in conjunction with Massachusetts lawyer Jennifer Sirrine, is Hannah Gittings, Huber's life partner. Defendants include seventeen-year-old Rittenhouse; Kevin Mathewson, so-called commander of the Kenosha Guard, a militant organization accused of trying to disrupt the Kenosha demonstrations; and Ryan Balch, a member of a pro-Nazi group called the Boogaloo Bois.

Still, Facebook is by far the biggest target of the action, owing to an event page set up by the Kenosha Guard in advance of the rally. "It was basically a call to arms for the militias to come to Kenosha, armed and ready to go," Flores-Williams points out. "And it became monstrously replete with the most violent racist rhetoric: 'I'm going to kill somebody.' 'I'm going to kill me a nigger.' 'I'm going to smoke me some bitches.'"


Before long, Flores-Williams continues, this material was being shared across multiple Internet platforms, and complaints followed: "Facebook received more than 400 flags about the page and how something horrific was going to happen and they did nothing. Their stated policy is that they will take things like this down, but they didn't."

click to enlarge A screen capture from the lawsuit shows some of the violent invective that turned up online related to the protests. - THE LAW OFFICE OF JASON FLORES-WILLIAMS
A screen capture from the lawsuit shows some of the violent invective that turned up online related to the protests.
Days after Huber's death, Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg publicly acknowledged that the company had committed an "operational mistake" in allowing the Kenosha Guard page to remain online, but this mea culpa wasn't nearly good enough for Flores-Williams. "They lied about how many complaints had been made, and they failed to react," he notes. "And because they failed to react, people were killed."

While preparing the Kenosha lawsuit, Flores-Williams says he began receiving reports "from the streets, and especially from Black Lives Matters protesters, that local Colorado militias have been showing up at protests. They had the same insignias we've been seeing around the country and the same tactical gear with assault rifles, and they were harassing protesters."

Similar accounts in Andy Kenney's September 12 Colorado Public Radio piece titled "Armored Groups Are Playing Late Night Cat-And-Mouse At Downtown Denver Protests," and references to communication and coordination using Facebook and its sister service, Instagram, echoed what Flores-Williams had been hearing, he says: "That's the relevance with what's happening in Colorado."

Whether in Kenosha or Colorado, Flores-Williams wants to prevent Facebook from being used as an organizing tool by alt-right groups. "There are a lot of intelligent people out there who think [President Donald] Trump is going to contest the election" should he lose to Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November, he notes, "and these right-wing militia groups are going to go to D.C. That's why we filed this now — to stop these groups from using the same Facebook platform and tools to initiate armed military intervention. We're grabbing Facebook and saying, 'You can't do this. Your negligence is resulting in death and the violation of rights for American citizens. It's not about free speech. It's about what you're allowing people to do. You're enabling so many bad things to happen, and you need to get on top of this now.'"

Click to read Hannah Gittings, et al., v. Facebook, et al.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts