Dozens of angry Michiganders, fueled by conspiracy theories and disinformation about the coronavirus, are promoting violence and mobilizing armed rallies against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Facebook, in violation of the social media company’s policies.
Metro Times gained access to four private Facebook groups that can only be seen by approved members. The pages, which have a combined 400,000 members, are filled with paranoid, sexist, and grammar-challenged rants, with members encouraging violence and flouting the governor’s social-distancing orders.
On Sunday, after being contacted by Metro Times, Facebook removed one of the groups, Michigan United for Liberty, and deleted posts on others for violating the company’s policy against inciting violence. Facebook announced last month that it will remove groups and events that encourage people to defy social-distancing measures. Facebook also is investigating the other groups.
“We removed one group for violating our policies and will remove any other violations as we continue our review,“ a Facebook spokesperson tells Metro Times.
Assassinating Whitmer is a common theme among members of the groups. Dozens of people have called for her to be hanged.
“We need a good old fashioned lynch mob to storm the Capitol, drag her tyrannical ass out onto the street and string her up as our forefathers would have,” John Campbell Sr. wrote in a group called “People of Michigan vs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” which had nearly 9,000 members as of Monday morning.
Steve Doxsie had the same idea: “Drag that tyrant governor out to the front lawn. Fit her for a noose.”
“Either President Trump sends in the troops or there is going to be a midnight lynching in Lansing soon,” Michael Smith chimed in.
Others suggested she be shot, beaten, or beheaded.
“Plain and simple she needs to eat lead and send a statement to the rest of the democrats that they are next,” James Greena, of Fennville, wrote.
Russel Christopher Rozman said, “She needs her ass beat. Most of these politicians need a good ass whooping. Just. Punch there lights out.”
When someone suggested the guillotine, Thomas Michael Lamphere responded, “Good ol’ fashioned bullets work better, but I like the enthusiasm.”
“Wonder how long till she’s hit with a shotgun blast,” Chris Parrish wrote.
Matthew Woodruff had another idea: “Can we please just take up a collection for an assassin to put that woman from Michigan down,” he asked.
The comments are especially disturbing because some of those calling for violence are planning to attend an armed rally at the Capitol building in Lansing on Thursday. On April 30, hundreds of protesters, some of them heavily armed, descended on the state Capitol during the “American Patriot Rally,” and there were armed protesters as part of “Operation Lansing” on April 15. A two-day rally is also planned for the weekend.
“We could’ve taken over the capital last time if we wanted,” Chris Coffey said. “This was just a display. Next time won’t be!”
“If she thinks the last protest was bad she hasn't seen anything yet,” DonnaCookie Grady warned.
“We haven’t had any bloodshed yet, but the populous is counting to three, and the other day was two,” Dave Meisenheimer wrote in Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine, which has more than 385,000 members. “Next comes watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.”
Gordon Chapman says he’s going to the Thursday rally and hopes demonstrators are “armed to the teeth.”
“Voting is too late we need to act now,” Chapman said.
The potential for violence prompted some public officials, including Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, to promote banning firearms from the Capitol building.
“There are legislators who are wearing bulletproof vests to go to work,” Whitmer told ABC News last week. "No one should be intimidated by someone who's bringing in an assault rifle into their workplace.”
At 11 a.m. Monday, the bipartisan Michigan State Capitol Commission plans to discuss a firearms ban. In a letter to the six-member commission, Nessel told the panel that it has the legal authority to ban guns from the Capitol.
Nessel’s support of the ban drew anger on another private Facebook page, Whitmer Recall Movement, which has more than 3,500 members.
“We are sharpening a stick for you Dana,” Pete Scudamore wrote.
“DO you want me to bring the rope, shouldn’t be too hard to find a good tree,” Russell Kynn asked.
Nessel’s spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney says the attorney general’s office will not tolerate threats.
“We take every threat seriously — and, of course, we are doing everything we can to minimize threats,” Rossman-McKinney tells Metro Times.
In January, Metro Times chronicled another Facebook page that was rife with sexism, Islamophobia, and threats against Whitmer and other politicians.
Whitmer responded with a letter to Facebook.
"As a lawyer who respects the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression, I realize there is only so much purview media platforms have for the content posted by their users," Whitmer wrote. "However, better enforcement of Facebook's own community standards — where 'attacks' are defined as, 'violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation' — this election cycle is needed now more than ever. Mine is not a singular ask."
The private Facebook groups are a hub for far-fetched conspiracy theories and disinformation, reinforcing people’s fears and anger. For some, the state’s stay-at-home order is an unconstitutional plot by liberals to strip residents of their freedoms and steal the election from President Trump. Some insist the coronavirus is a hoax, and others believe it’s a manmade disease designed to enrich billionaires and force vaccines on the masses.
One of the most popular and influential conspiracies is featured in “Plandemic,” a 26-minute documentary-style video with ominous music that racked up millions of views in the past week. The video features a widely refuted researcher named Judy Mikovits, who spins a baseless tale about wealthy people intentionally spreading the coronavirus to boost vaccination rates. She also warns against wearing masks, saying they can exacerbate viral symptoms. Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram have been removing the video, saying the false claims pose a threat to public health.
Not surprisingly, many members of the groups say they will never wear a mask because they believe they are unsafe or represent tyranny.
Birbot Arvo suggested he would resort to violence if police approached him about wearing a mask.
“Cop or not. You come at me strong about a mask and I will break your face,” Arvo said.
Nathan Silver declared he “will not submit to their cultural Marxism.”
“I refuse to wear one,” wrote Rich T. Tyra II. “They cause more problems than they prevent and its a sign of being silenced and submission and its training for the forced vaccinations.”
To Melody DeCaire, wearing a mask is useless because the coronavirus isn’t real.
“theres no such thing as Covid,” she insisted. “Its radation [sic] poisoning coming from the 5g,” referring to the conspiracy theory that 5G towers cause the illness.
As it struggles to stem the spread of disinformation, Facebook has become the go-to platform for anti-government talking points.
In an April 20 interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the “stuff that people are saying that is false around a health emergency like this can be classified as harmful misinformation that has a risk of leading to imminent danger, and we’ll take that content down.”
When reached for comment, Facebook users who posted comments about violence said they were merely exercising their right to free speech.
Thomas Allan Morse, who wrote, “Army 11 bravo vet here ready to rumble. Two to the chest one to the head,” responded that he “earned” the right to exercise free speech because he served in the military.
“Did you serve this country in the armed forces? Let alone ground combat?” Morse asked Metro Times via Facebook Messenger. “I earned my 1st ammendment (sic).” ‘
He declined to say whether he planned to attend Thursday’s rally.
Sexism also is rampant among members of the private groups.
“I'm dying here a woman talking strategy is like a man explaining what its like to go through menopause. PLEASE,” Eric John Mayer said.
James Davis added, “Men advanced civilization from the days of banging two rocks together. I don’t doubt there are smart women out there. However, the smart women are busy doing things like having families, not corrupting themselves with power and ruining people’s lives.”
Facebook users called Whitmer a “Nazi,” “spawn of the devil,” “wicked witch,” “arrogant facist [sic] pig,” “Gestapo Gretchen,” “tyrant,” “Soros puppet,” and “baby killer tyrant.”
For Patricia Folk, threats are the logical next step to regaining her freedoms.
“I honestly believe that the only way that Congress and the Senate are going to start listening to ‘We the People’ are threats,” Folk wrote on one of the private pages. “They no longer respect the voter, or the people they represent. Maybe a tarred and feathered election official, may wake them up.”
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