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The ongoing confrontation between protesters and armed militias in Kenosha, Wisconsin reached a violent climax just before midnight on August 25, 2020, with a shooter leaving at least two people dead and one injured, two days after police shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, an African American man, as he attempted to enter his car.
The shooting capped a chaotic night, with police firing tear gas and pepper balls into the crowd as some protesters vandalized property and set small fires. Meanwhile, protesters also confronted a group of men armed with assault rifles, arguing and hurling profanities at each other. The shootings began at around 11:45 p.m. local time when an individual was shot in the head near the area where the confrontation was taking place. The suspected shooter, identified by court records as 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, attempted to escape, and several minutes later allegedly shot at least two more people as a crowd attempted to detain him. There was no apparent police presence in the immediate vicinity at the time of the shooting.
While the full details of the fatal incident are still being investigated by law enforcement, the seeds of potential violence were planted over the course of the day leading up it, as multiple threads on Facebook and reddit encouraged militiamen and other armed individuals to head to Kenosha, ostensibly to protect local businesses from protesters. In some cases, these discussions encouraged acts of violence. The conspiracy website InfoWars, meanwhile, amplified the call to arms, potentially encouraging additional people with weapons to attend the event.
“Take up arms”
Approximately 13 hours prior to the shootings, a Facebook page that has since been removed by the platform actively solicited armed individuals to protect neighborhoods that evening. At 10:44 a.m. local time, the administrator of the “Kenosha Guard” page asked if any members were willing to “take up arms and defend out [sic] City tonight from the evil thugs.” They continued, “Nondoubt [sic] they are currently planning on the next part of the City to burn tonight!”
The page also circulated a now-deleted event RSVP titled “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property.” It would eventually garner more than 300 RSVPs, with an additional 2,300 people interested in attending.
The RSVP was eventually picked up by conspiracy outlet Infowars, which noted that the event description stated, “[L]aw enforcement is outnumbered and our Mayor has failed, Take up arms and lets defend our CITY! Meet at civic center at 8PM,” though there is a discrepancy between this time and the 6:00 p.m. timestamp on the RSVP itself. InfoWars then speculated an affinity with the Boogaloo movement, writing, “This may have been inspired by other boogaloo movements such as in Michigan.”
According to the Internet monitoring tool Crowdtangle, the Infowars post received more than Facebook 1,000 interactions, including 274 shares by users and nine posts to pages featuring an audience over more than 103,000 people combined.
Less than 30 minutes after the “Kenosha Guard” page encouraged people to take up arms in Kenosha, a now-deleted Facebook group called “STAND UP KENOSHA!!!! TONIGHT WE COME TOGETHER” was created by a user named Ness C-Tino at 11:11 a.m. local time. A few minutes after launching the group, they added a description: “[E]nough is enough!! we need to protect our children, buildings and neighbors!!! we can’t sit back and watch OUR HOME burn down!!! it’s time we STAND TF UP FOR OUR CITY!!!!”
Another member of the group posted a second event RSVP at 1:09 p.m. local time, though it appears to be a screenshot of an event page from a mobile phone rather than a link to the RSVP itself. Entitled “Citizen Brigade…Stand up Kenosha!” it invited Facebook users to assemble at Kenosha’s Petretti Park at 7pm. “Get off your phone, gear up and come out to counter this BS happening in Kenosha,” the invite said.
The police seem more concerned with saving the government buildings and letting the rioters run wild over the rest of the city. Is it time for the rest of us to come together and stop these out of towners from coming in and burning our city down. Unconfirmed internet rumors say that they are targeting neighborhoods and schools tonight.
While much of the thread quickly devolved into an argument, a user named BassmasterFisherDude replied with a threat: “I am on the way with 75 people from Green Bay We have lots of guns. Lots of pipe bombs. Going to cleanse the streets of rioters.” They added in a follow-up comment, “We are White We are above the law.” It is unclear whether this individual actually participated in the event.
In another deleted r/Kenosha thread, user Constant-Bass-1488 posted an ominous warning at 1:24 p.m. local time:
ATTENTION ALL NON-WHITES AND DEGENERATES OF KENOSHA. YOU HAVE UNTIL SUNDOWN TO PACK UP YOUR BELONGINGS AND LEAVE THE AREA, AFTER THAT ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU OR YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE YOUR FAULT!
BassmasterFisherDude replied, “Time to purge….Purge!”
Back on Facebook at 1:58 p.m. local time, Ness C-Tino posted again to “STAND UP KENOSHA.” He wrote, “There is a gathering/starting spot today around 4 p.m!! Inbox me for address and details!!”
Threats and logistics
By 5:42 p.m. local time, “Kenosha Guard” posted an open letter in an attempt to reach out and warn Kenosha’s police chief, Daniel Miskinis, of their intentions that evening.
As you know I am the commander of the Kenosha Guard, a local militia. We are mobilizing tonight and have about 3,000 RSVP’s. We have volunteers that will be in Uptown, downtown, and at the entrances to other neighborhoods. Our effort has made national media. https://www.infowars.com/wisconsin-militia-recruiting-citizens-to-patrol-kenosha-after-2nd-night-of-riots/#inline-comments I ask that you do NOT have your officers tell us to go home under threat of arrest as you have done in the past. We are willing to talk to KPD and open a discussion. It is evident, that no matter how many Officers, deputies, and other law enforcement officers that are here, you will still be outnumbered.
Kenosha Guard Commander
Hey guys My name Is Paul Swick State Officer with the TTPO. We are trying to create a line of Communication with you guys. What kind of expected contingency you do have that will show up tonight in Kenosha.
It is unclear if any such coordination ultimately took place.
At 6:38 p.m. local time, “Kenosha Guard” posted a video. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, we’re starting to gather here,” they said. “There are about 10 of us here. We’re ready. Meet us here — we’re at Civic Center Park across from the courthouse.”
This was later followed up with a photo of armed men standing in a park, including the individual from the previous video. The page then went quiet for the rest of the evening.
Meanwhile, on the “Stand Up Kenosha” group, a much more disturbing pattern of posts played out over the course of the day and evening, as members issued threats and encouraged violence. “This shit ends 2night this is our fucking city,” one member wrote at 2:58 p.m. “[T]ime to start busting heads,” added another at 4:27 p.m. As nighttime approached just before 7:00 p.m., a third user posted, “Shoot to kill folks. Cause they won’t give you a second chance.” And as night fell just after 8:00 p.m., someone added, “Give them hell.”
As the confrontation between protesters and armed individuals played out that night, “Stand Up Kenosha” focused on on-the-ground logistics in an apparent attempt to coordinate with each other. At 8:31 p.m., a user named Megan Elizabeth wrote, “723 58th street suspicious 4 guys with long guns walking …they may be friendly! Be aware!” Less than 15 minutes later, she added, “Sounds like we have a great group out there tonight!!! Please be safe!” This was soon followed by, “2 long guns staging 56 and sheridan Male and female walking east.”
The group continued to support each other with reports from the ground. One user with a Confederate battle flag as their profile picture asked at 10:39 p.m., “Any long guns still have eyes on the crowd and im watchin by casa capri.”
This may have been reference to armed individuals taking overwatch positions on the roofs of area businesses, as could be seen in a livestream aired by the Facebook page “The Rundown Live” approximately 30 minutes earlier. “We’ve got militia on the roof here and it’s pretty neat,” the livestreamer noted casually.
Less than an hour after that video was streamed, one of the individuals who appeared in the footage ran toward the scene of an altercation before allegedly firing multiple shots, leaving at least two people dead. He is now being held in an Illinois jail.
The morning after the shooting, “Kenosha Guard” released a statement prior to its deletion by Facebook:
We are unaware if the armed citizen was answering the Kenosha Guard Militia’s call to arms. Just like with the shooting of Jacob Blake, we need all the facts and evidence to come out before we make a judgement. God Bless and stay safe Kenosha!
Immediately prior to the page being deleted, the most popular comment in response to the statement read, “He was clearly defending himself. What does it matter?”
Written by DFRLab staff, Washington DC.
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