“I have never received any warning about content that I posted. Never had a ban,” Marshall said. “I believe this is politically motivated to harm conservatives before November’s election.”
Facebook said this week it took action against anarchists, militias and followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose adherents believe President Trump is battling shadowy “deep state” saboteurs who run a child sex-trafficking ring and worship Satan.
Facebook said it had removed from its online platform 980 groups, 520 pages and 160 ads linked to militia organizations and “those encouraging riots,” including antifa, a loosely knit group of far-left activists. The company said it had also restricted more than 1,400 hashtags related to these groups and organizations on Facebook-owned Instagram.
“We have seen growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior,” Facebook said in its blog post, adding that such groups “have demonstrated significant risks to public safety.”
“While we will allow people to post content that supports these movements and groups, so long as they do not otherwise violate our content policies, we will restrict their ability to organize on our platform,” the company added in its blog post.
Some legal experts who track militia activity praised Facebook’s decision.
“I think it’s a great development,” said Mary McCord, a law professor at Georgetown University and legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “When you are advocating violence, use of force, unauthorized, that’s illegal activity you’re advocating,” she said. “It’s not protected.”
McCord’s organization is co-counsel in a lawsuit brought by a New Mexico prosecutor last month against a local militia in an attempt to stop it from showing up at protests as a military unit and assuming law enforcement duties.
Marshall, a former Army medic who served in Afghanistan, said he felt wrongly targeted by Facebook.
“We’ve never called for violence. We’ve called for people standing up for their rights,” Marshall said. “We’ve always told people: Follow the law. Listen to police. Do the right thing.”
“We’re not violent, never have been,” he added.
The Washington Three Percenters is a state-level group with more than 400 members. It is an offshoot of the national organization named after the debunked notion that only 3 percent of colonists fought in the American Revolution.
Organizations that track far-right groups have described the Washington Three Percenters as an anti-government militia that promotes conspiracy theories and has elements that promote racist or white-nationalist views.
Marshall said Facebook took down his personal pages and his candidate page for his recent run for the state legislature. He said that he had begun helping the campaign of Loren Culp, a Republican candidate for governor, but that “my ability to do that was completely yanked out from myself” by Facebook’s action.
Many of the people he knows whose pages were shut down by Facebook, including members of armed groups, “are not people who would support a Democratic candidate ever,” he said. “They will almost certainly be voting for Trump, and they are against Biden.”
“My biggest concern here is, I would love to be able to rebut this, but I have no recourse,” he said, adding that “there’s no link to click, no way to submit anything” in his defense.
Marshall added that some people he has been in contact with are considering legal action.
A state Senate candidate in Idaho, Eric Parker (R), also had his campaign Facebook page shut down. Parker, the founder of the Real 3%ers of Idaho group, told the Idaho Statesman that Facebook also closed his organization’s page and his and his wife’s personal pages.
“Frankly, we don’t consider ourselves a militia,” Parker told the Statesman. “A militia runs around the woods and trains to fight some war. . . . We’re the same as any other nongovernmental organization.”
In Utah, a new armed group with a rapidly growing following, the Utah Citizens’ Alarm, was also taken off Facebook.
The group was founded in late June by Provo resident Casey Robertson after a shooting during a protest there. Since then, members of the group have appeared on several occasions at Black Lives Matter events, carrying guns and wearing tactical gear. Their stated purpose has been to maintain order, but critics have described them as an intimidating presence that discourages public debate.
Since its founding, the Utah Citizens’ Alarm group’s Facebook page had quickly swelled to more than 15,000 followers. Robertson posted a video on YouTube this week in response to Facebook’s decision, calling it a “setback.”
“This will be a day that will live in infamy,” he said.
Robertson said his group would continue using YouTube and Twitter. The Utah Citizens’ Alarm page on YouTube had 168 subscribers as of Friday.
In his video, Robertson said his group plans to attend a rally in support of police on Saturday at a park in Salt Lake City.
“This isn’t going to stop us, not even close,” he said. “It’s just going to make us stronger.”