By Matt Field | August 28, 2020
After police shot another Black man last week, sparking yet more protests, this time in Kenosha, Wis., a former local official jumped into the fray, joining the throngs of often armed vigilantes who’ve appeared at anti-racism demonstrations this summer. Kevin Mathewson—a former Kenosha alderman—put out a call last Tuesday on the Facebook page of the Kenosha Guard militia group for “patriots willing to take up arms and defend (Kenosha) from the evil thugs,” later showing up himself at the local courthouse, armed and with others, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Kenosha Guard page listed an “event”—a call for a show of vigilante force—scheduled for the same day that Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Illinois with pro-police proclivities, came to Kenosha and, it is alleged, shot and killed two men at the protests. Facebook eventually took down the Kenosha Guard’s page, but the Bulletin found that Facebook did not completely scrub the Guard’s fingerprints from the platform. Mathewson’s personal Facebook account was reportedly removed. But he maintained another account—one that contained several pro-vigilante posts and an exhortation for followers to “lock and load,” a reference to arming themselves.
After the Bulletin questioned Facebook, this account, too, was taken down. “Our teams took another look, and it has now been removed,” a spokesperson wrote in an email Friday.
Facebook did not shut down the Kenosha Guard page until Wednesday, even though at least two users had flagged it for inciting violence before the shooting, The Verge online news site reported. BuzzFeed News reported that, in fact, the Kenosha Guard event “was flagged to Facebook at least 455 times after its creation.” Following the Tuesday shooting, Facebook took down the militia’s page, a related event page, and, according to a Facebook spokesperson quoted in the Chicago Tribune, a personal account belonging to Mathewson.
But that wasn’t the whole story.
The Bulletin found Friday that Mathewson appeared to have at least one live page left. Before it was taken down, the page contained pro-vigilantism content. “Thugs are planning. Stay vigilant. Lock and load….” Mathewson posted last Monday. The message for people to arm themselves was in response to an accompanying screenshot of a post by someone named Michael Espinosa who wrote “PROTEST THE UPPERCLASS NEIGHBORHOODS TONIGHT IT’S TIME TO BRING THE FIGHT TO THERE SIDE OF TOWN LETS GO KENOSHA!!!!!”
Mathewson’s post was shared at least 102 times and garnered 78 reactions and 51 comments, including one from a user who replied, “Just bought three brand new 9mm and brought my AR back from the gunsmith. I have mags for days.”
Mathewson’s page, which listed him as a public figure, included posts linking to an article on Alex Jones’s InfoWars site about the Kenosha Guard’s call to action. In another post, a man sits on a porch with a military-style weapon in hand. “Beautiful out tonight,” Mathewson posted. “Stay safe everyone.”
That was Tuesday, the same night Rittenhouse allegedly killed two men and wounded another. On the night of the shooting, Mathewson posted a photo of a group of armed men. “Armed citizens at all entrances to my neighborhood. #secondamendment,” he wrote.
The Kenosha Guard finally attracted Facebook’s scrutiny after Rittenhouse allegedly carried an AR-15-style assault rifle to the Kenosha protests and shot and killed two men, according to CNN. After that, Facebook seemed to place a high priority on taking down posts advocating Kenosha vigilantism, as evidenced by a Twitter thread Thursday by the company’s director of counterterrorism and dangerous organizations and also a Friday video clip from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In it, Zuckerberg described his anger at seeing pictures of a heavily armed Rittenhouse walking nonchalantly near police in Kenosha.
“I think for all of us, this image and the juxtaposition of seeing Jacob Blake kind of facing away from the police and being shot next to these images of this white kid with a long gun strapped to his body walking by the police with nothing happening just kinds of symbolizes what we all feel is wrong and unjust and just how much progress still needs to be made,” Zuckerberg said.
The Kenosha Guard page and the event page violated a new policy, Zuckerberg said, “that we put in place a couple weeks ago that included QAnon and other militia groups that we were worried could be trying to organize violence.”
Zuckerberg said that there appears to be no connection between Rittenhouse and the Kenosha Guard, and Mathewson said he didn’t know the teenager, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Critics of Facebook can point to a long history of the company failing to tamp down on right-wing extremism.
Facebook said that it took down the Kenosha Guard page and the event page for violating the new militia organizations policy, according to a spokesperson. “When we remove a group or page for breaking our Dangerous Orgs policies, we also disable the accounts of the admins,” the spokesperson said. The Chicago Tribune reported that Mathewson ran the Kenosha Guard page. Once someone’s account or page is removed, he or she can’t operate a similar account or page on the platform, the company spokesperson told the Bulletin.
Indeed, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mathewson’s personal account had been removed and that he’d been “effectively” banned for life from the platform. “He will not have been warned, and (we) will not allow people who are banned under our dangerous orgs policy to have a profile,” a spokeswoman for Facebook told the newspaper.
Mathewson’s now defunct public figure page linked to the business website of a private detective by the same name in Kenosha; according to the Chicago Tribune and the nonprofit newsroom the Wisconsin Examiner, Mathewson is a private detective. The website also said Mathewson had been elected twice as alderman and included screenshots of him giving media interviews in which he is described as a former Kenosha alderman. Both the Chicago Tribune and the Wisconsin Examiner describe Mathewson as a former alderman. In its article, the Wisconsin Examiner described an account similar to the one that Facebook removed upon questioning from the Bulletin. Mathewson did not respond to an email, calls, or Facebook chat requests.
Major rallies had been planned for Friday and Saturday in Kenosha, The New York Times reported last week.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated from the original.
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Keywords: Black Lives Matter, Facebook, Jacob Blake, Kenosha Guard, Kevin Mathewson, Kyle Rittenhouse, Mark Zuckerberg, militias
Topics: Technology and Security
Thank you, Matt, for writing this piece. I didn’t realize you and your group, here, were involved so proactively in so many things and I am extremely grateful for that. I was also wondering if you were on Medium.com and would consider publishing your piece there. And I would be very interested in knowing if your group has – or is planning – to call for our politicians to declare these militia groups (that incite and engage in crimes against Americans,) the the KKK, and the other white supremacist subgroups as domestic terrorist organizations. Of course, it wouldn’t have any… Read more »