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Militias and other vigilante groups chasing immigrants on the southern border are able to broadcast their activities and gain new supporters thanks to Facebook’s live video feature. So far, the social media giant hasn’t done anything about it.
Last week, livestreamed Facebook video of a United Constitutional Patriots, a militia group in New Mexico, falsely identifying themselves as law enforcement to a group of immigrants and detaining them went viral. While the video eventually prompted a backlash against the group, it was initially filmed for the group’s more than 5,000 Facebook fans, who thrilled as members of the militia ordered migrants around, apparently illegally.
The group’s leader has since been arrested on gun charges. But United Constitutional Patriots and the people who shot the immigrant videos are still on Facebook, where they can use Facebook Live to broadcast future border activities against migrants and gain even more attention.
The United Constitutional Patriots aren’t the only border group using Facebook to draw in fans. “AZ Patriots,” an Arizona group devoted to confronting migrants, also livestreams its attempts to catch immigrants on Facebook. In one video that’s still live on Facebook, the group’s members are shown questioning migrants at the border.
Livestreaming on Facebook is key for border vigilantes looking to raise funds and recruit news supporters, according to Heidi Beirich, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. The live video lets them show supporters that they’re actually doing the activities they say they are.
“It lets someone be part of the reality TV action,” Beirich said.
Facebook livestreaming became a large part of the militia movement after different militia activists met during the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff, according to John Temple, the author of an upcoming book on the Bundy incident. Militia activists started livestreaming various meetings and court hearings on Facebook, drawing in more members.
“They began livestreaming a lot in the subsequent years, because so many people met each other at that first standoff, and all these networks sort of formed,” Temple said.
Facebook Live has been fueling border militia activity since at least last year, when “Veterans on Patrol” — an Arizona group led by a QAnon believer — claimed that they’d discovered a Pizzagate-style sex trafficking camp in the Tucson area. The site was clearly just a homeless camp, but that didn’t stop Veterans on Patrol from attracting on “patrols” through the desert, where they allegedly repeatedly trespassed on private property. The Facebook Live footage was later used in court against one of the group’s leaders.
Asked why militias like United Constitutional Patriots are still allowed to broadcast their activities on Facebook Live, Facebook said only that they will shut down any fundraisers on the site that involve weapons.
“People cannot use our fundraising tools for activities involving weapons,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We will remove fundraisers this group may try to start on our service and any content that violates our Community Standards.”
As it turns out, though, Facebook doesn’t take that strong a stance against the militia groups fundraising. As of Wednesday, one of United Constitutional Patriots’ top posts is a fundraising link meant to raise money to keep the militia going on the border.