Prosecutors are claiming that Facebook deleted key evidence in a case against an extremist New Mexico militia group when it removed the group’s page last year, and accuse the tech giant of refusing to retrieve needed information.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez, of Bernalillo County in New Mexico, filed a lawsuit in June 2020 to limit the online activities of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a heavily armed self-described militia. The group clashed that month with protesters rallying to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in Albuquerque.
The violence ended in gunfire and left one protester seriously injured. While the shooter wasn’t a member of the militia, Torrez claimed its members perpetuated the chaos through posts and rhetoric on social media.
The month after the protest, however, Facebook deactivated the group’s account for violating its policy, which bans hate speech and dangerous organizations. Now, the social media giant won’t comply with a subpoena to produce content from the account.
Facebook deleted key evidence in a legal battle against an extremist New Mexico Civil Guard when it deleted their account, prosecutors allege. Above, members of the group are pictured being detained by police at a June 2020 demonstration in Albuquerque
District Attorney Raúl Torrez is pushing for the tech giant to turn over necessary records for a subpoena against the militia
Torrez surmised that Facebook either permanently deleted the content or simply hasn’t attempted to retrieve it yet. ‘If that’s true, I think Facebook’s gonna be hard-pressed to make an argument that they are actively engaged in policing extremist content on their website and on their platform,’ he said at a news conference Monday.
Torrez announced at the news conference that he has filed a petition with California Superior Court to pressure Facebook, where it is headquartered. He said he expects a hearing before the California judge by early 2022.
Torrez is requesting Facebook produce subscriber information of everyone who started and ran the New Mexico Civil Guard Facebook page, in addition to the tech giant’s internal communications related to removing the page.
The militia clashed with protesters who were rallying to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in Albuquerque in June 2020
Facebook deactivated the extremist group’s account the month after the protest for violating its policy against ‘hate speech’ and ‘dangerous organizations’
Torrez said that Facebook claims it can regulate itself, ‘yet when we request basic information about who owned this account or who opened this account, it can’t answer it or won’t provide it.’
He added, ‘My hope is that Facebook will take a step back perhaps and recognize that their ethical and legal obligations under the circumstances should lead them in a new direction where they make these kinds of records accessible to law enforcement, accessible to state and local governments.’
Business Insider previously reported that the New Mexico Civil Guard’s leaders include ‘a neo-Confederate with a swastika tattoo’ and a self-described ‘national anarchist with a history of denying the Holocaust.’
At the protest in June 2020 to remove the statue of Juan de Oñate, who was notorious for massacring natives, Steven Baca, 31, was arrested and charged after shooting and critically wounding Scott Williams.
Baca, a former city council candidate, is not a member of the militia, but was fighting with it against protesters who tried to remove the statue.
Following the violence, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement, ‘The heavily armed individuals who flaunted themselves at the protest, calling themselves a ‘civil guard,’ were there for one reason: To menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force.’
Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection is assisting New Mexico prosecutors in the case against the militia. The agency also aided in a Virginia case for an injunction against several of the groups that participated in the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Mary McCord, the institute’s executive director, told the Washington Post that Facebook’s response is ‘insufficient.’
The Daily Mail reached out to Facebook for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
The protest ended in gunfire and left one protester seriously injured. While the shooter wasn’t a member of the militia group, Torrez claimed its members perpetuated the chaos at the event through their posts and rhetoric on social media
Steven Baca (center), 31, was arrested and charged after shooting and critically wounding Scott Williams (left) during the protest
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said to the Washington Post on Monday, “We preserve account information in response to a request from law enforcement and will provide it, in accordance with applicable law and our terms, when we receive valid legal process. When we preserve data we do so for a period of time, which can be extended at the request of law enforcement.”
Stone did not elaborate on the specific request for the New Mexico Civil Guard information or why the company has not yet turned it over.
The issue parallels mounting pressure the embattled social media giant has been facing from the African nation of Gambia to release deleted account information of the organizers of Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims.
A federal magistrate in Washington ordered Facebook to comply with the requests in September, ruling that federal privacy laws don’t apply to social media accounts once platforms have suspended or banned them, the Post reported.