A federal lawsuit has accused Facebook Inc. of empowering and enabling the Wisconsin-based militia tied to Antioch gunman Kyle Rittenhouse, who prosecutors say shot and killed two people at a protest in Kenosha.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, alleges negligence, civil conspiracy, and infliction of emotional distress in connection with the Aug. 25 shootings.
In the complaint, Colorado-based attorney Jason Flores-Williams and Massachusetts-based attorney Jennifer Sirrine allege that Facebook ignored more than 400 complaints from users who were concerned about an event shared by the Kenosha Guard page, as well as some of the comments associated with it.
“Counter protest? Nah,” one comment cited in the lawsuit read. “I fully plan to kill looters and rioters tonight. I have my AR, these fools won’t even know what hit them. Gonna drop them with their ill gotten gains as they exit stores.”
At the time, Facebook said the event itself didn’t violate the website’s policy. Instead, employees encouraged at least one user to block the page if they no longer wished to see its content, according to a screenshot attached to the lawsuit.
Also named as defendants are the Kenosha Guard militia and three people alleged to be members of it – Rittenhouse, Ryan Balch and Kevin Mathewson – and an extremist group known as the Boogaloo Bois.
“We have an army,” Flores-Williams and Sirrine said in the lawsuit. “We do not need people playing army – particularly when their targets are engaged in the expression of fundamental rights.”
The suit seeks unspecified punitive and money damages as well as in injunction to prevent Facebook from violating its own policies.
In a statement emailed to the Northwest Herald on Wednesday, one Rittenhouse’s attorneys, Lin Wood, called the lawsuit a “blessing in disguise.”
“As to Kyle Rittenhouse, 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,” Wood said. “Thus, I view the lawsuit as a blessing in disguise.”
Flores-Williams and Sirrine filed the 39-page civil complaint on behalf of four people who attended the protest. One of those people – 23-year-old Hannah Gittings – attended the protest with her boyfriend Anthony Huber and watched him die after prosecutors say Rittenhouse shot Huber.
Rittenhouse remained at a Lake County juvenile detention center Wednesday. He’s scheduled for an extradition hearing Friday morning. The teenager is considered an adult in Wisconsin courts where he’s charged with first-degree reckless homicide and other offenses in connection with the Aug. 25 shootings, records show.
“As is now sadly well known, Defendant Kyle Rittenhouse answered the Call to Arms by driving across state lines from Antioch, Illinois with an assault rifle, in violation of state law,” according to the lawsuit. “Upon arrival, he liaised with Defendant Ryan Balch, avowed member of the Boogaloo Bois whose social media, like other members of his militia, contained Nazi propaganda such as ‘Truth Will Triumph, Adolph Hitler’ and ‘Beyond Europe and the whole world, the international Jewry will be recognized as its entire demonic threat.’”
One of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, Lin Wood, previously said Rittenhouse never carried a weapon across state lines. The gun belonged to Rittenhouse’s friend, a Wisconsin resident, and never left the state, Wood said on social media.
Still, Rittenhouse is charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person younger than 18 years old, in violation of Wisconsin state law, records show.
Christopher McNeal, one of the protesters taking Rittenhouse and Facebook to court, said Kenosha Guard members assaulted and harassed him the night of the protest. When he sought help from the Kenosha Police Department, he was unable to distinguish between legitimate police officers and militia members, according to the lawsuit.
Another plaintiff, 40-year-old Black woman Carmen Palmer, attended the protest with her children and her church’s social justice group. She claimed militia members pepper sprayed her and other church members as the protesters attempted to repair their slashed tires and leave the area.
“It was the scariest experience of my life,” Palmer said in the civil complaint. “And I have seen a lot, I had to keep it together for my children, but when I got home, I had a panic attack.”
Nathan Peet, a 28-year-old Kenosha resident said he was “forcibly corralled” into a car repair shop parking lot, where he witnessed Rittenhouse shoot and kill 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.
“Though (Peet) attempted to rescue the man and take him to a nearby hospital, he was unable to do so due to the lack of space and chaos that had been generated by the militia’s corralling tactics,” the attorneys said in the lawsuit.
Source: The Daily Chronicle