Media Matters has found far-right figures, some with ties to anti-government extremists and at least one with involvement in acts of domestic terrorism, are using Facebook to promote protests against Washington state’s stay-at-home order -- despite Facebook’s recent announcement that it would remove “events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing.”
On April 20, Facebook confirmed to Seattle publication The Stranger that the platform had removed several events targeting Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D-WA) stay-at-home order after determining that they violated Facebook’s policy against “events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing.” Inslee’s office agreed that protests violated his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which includes a ban on public and private gatherings and the closure of nonessential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Currently, the order is in effect until May 4, but the governor has said it will be extended.) The events were promoted by the Facebook page “Liberty, At All Hazards,” which was created in March. The page calls Inslee’s order “improper and illegal overreach of the government” and claims to “recognize no authority or legality in his order that places a ban on the gathering of individuals in groups of 50 or more, or any other restriction on the right of the people to peaceably assemble.”
Facebook previously announced on April 20 that it had removed similar events and posts in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska and was assessing events in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. A previous Media Matters investigation found a number of events, pages, groups, and posts promoting events in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska were still on Facebook on April 22 -- all in violation of Facebook's supposed policy. As of publication, only five events identified by Media Matters have been removed from the platform since April 22.
Now, Media Matters has found at least eight event pages on Facebook promoting protests in Washington -- including one event hosted by Liberty, At All Hazards, the same page which The Stranger initially brought to Facebook’s attention.
Media Matters has also found Facebook posts promoting the events from far-right figures, such as Washington state Rep. Matt Shea.
Shea, who has served as a state representative in Washington for over a decade, has extensive ties to far-right groups, including anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ, white nationalist, anti-government extremist, and militia groups -- a trend well-documented by Washington media. In December 2019, Shea was suspended from the Washington House Republican Caucus and removed from his committee positions after a report commissioned by the state House of Representatives found that he had “participated in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” and that he is “an active and influential leader of the Patriot Movement,” a far-right, anti-government extremist group that “includes organized militia members and so-called sovereign citizens” and has engaged in armed standoffs with law enforcement.
Other far-right figures promoting protests in Washington include Robert Zerfing, who has ties to white nationalists; Republican state committeeman and Shea ally Tyler Miller; and Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson.
Washington Rep. Matt Shea is using Facebook to promote events against the state’s stay-at-home order
- In a Facebook post on April 17, Shea announced that he would take part in leading a May 1 protest in Spokane against the governor’s order. The Facebook event page for the protest appears to have been taken down, but pictures have been shared in Facebook groups such as Reopen Washington State - #ReopenWA and Reopen Washington State.
- During the April 16 edition of his podcast, Patriot Radio, which was also posted to the podcast’s Facebook page, Shea promoted May 1 as a day for publicly protesting Inslee’s stay-at-home order because “we need to do everything we can -- peacefully -- to prevent the Marxists from trying to destroy this country,” later adding, “We cannot let arbitrary decisions and what is amounting to tyranny rip our country and our state apart.” Shea also mentioned a rally that had been planned for April 19.
- On April 18, Shea spoke at the Saving America Conference, which was held on Facebook livestream. The conference was organized by the American Conservative Movement, a newly formed group which claims that the coronavirus pandemic is “an opportunity for these people in power to have an excuse for engaging in more power grabs. They must be stopped.” The event’s first speaker, a co-founder of the group, criticized enforcement of social distancing orders, claiming “authoritarianism is rampant,” and encouraged protests against other governors’ stay-at-home orders like Michigan’s “Operation Gridlock” in order to “stand up today and push back against what our quote-unquote ‘leaders’ are doing.” Although Shea never directly promoted the protests in his own remarks, he claimed, “We shouldn’t just be praying, we should also be moving to action, and if we wish to remain free, as Patrick Henry said, we must fight.” He later referenced closed businesses and bans on outdoor activities as he gave advice “to reclaim our country” from “globalists, Marxists, and Islamists.”
- On April 24, Shea posted on Facebook about the protests in general, claiming that “the protests are working,” and referring to the protests as “civil obedience.”
- Republican state committeeman and Shea ally Tyler Miller runs the Liberty, At All Hazards Facebook page and used it to organize protests. In a live video that he posted to Facebook on April 7, Miller said Inslee’s announcement that schools will be closed through the end of the year “makes our event on the 19 coming up all the more important for everyone to attend.” He has posted several other live videos on the page that also promoted protests, and posted a link to one of his events in a private Facebook group.