SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it removed a page for the Kenosha Guard, a group which had posted a "call to arms" in Kenosha, Wisconsin, saying the page violated its policy against "militia organizations."
The company's action followed the shooting deaths on Tuesday night of two people during protests in Kenosha, which broke out in response to the police shooting of a Black man earlier this week.
Authorities charged a 17-year-old from Illinois with homicide on Wednesday in connection with the deaths.
Militias organized rapidly on Tuesday on Reddit and Facebook, where users shared coverage from Infowars, a right-wing conspiracy site. Infowars in turn amplified the Kenosha Guard's Facebook post and said the groups were "recruiting citizens to patrol."
Though Facebook banned Infowars' page long ago, tracking tool CrowdTangle showed its article on Kenosha was shared 274 times, according to the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab. It was also posted nine times to pages with a combined audience of more than 103,000 people.
Many of the pages contained threats of violence.
One commentor wrote on the Stand Up Kenosha page on Facebook: "Shoot to kill folks. Cause they won't give you a second chance."
A Facebook spokeswoman said the company had not found evidence suggesting the shooter followed the Kenosha Guard page or had been invited to its event.
She said Facebook was also removing content tied to the shooting, including the suspect's page, which previously showed him posing with rifles.
Reddit did not respond to a request for comment, although posts threatening to bring guns and pipe bombs and to "cleanse Kenosha of the rioters" were deleted there too.
Before its removal from Facebook, the Kenosha Guard's profile photos featured a large American flag and a man holding a military-style rifle.
"Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend out (sic) City tonight from the evil thugs?" one post read, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (https://bit.ly/2YC9uGJ)
The group, which identified itself as a "social club," also created a Facebook event called "Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property" on Tuesday and warned police they would be "outnumbered."
Created on June 2, the page had nearly 3,500 followers as of Wednesday morning.
After the shooting, the group posted a statement saying it was "unaware if the armed citizen was answering the Kenosha Guard Militia's call to arms."
(Reporting by Katie Paul and Joseph Menn; Editing by Franklin Paul, David Gregorio and Richard Pullin)