17/09/2020 22:30 BST

Portland Proud Boys Rally Promoted On Facebook Pages Despite Extremist Ban

The pages were removed only after an inquiry from HuffPost, as concerns grow over Facebook's ties to escalating political violence in the U.S.

Maranie Staab / reuters
Proud Boys and supporters of the police participate in a protest in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 22.

Members of the Proud Boys and other far-right groups were using Facebook this week to promote and raise funds for an upcoming rally in Portland, Oregon, despite recent assurances from the social media giant that such extremist organizations would not be able to organize on its platform, and after a summer marred by political violence linked to the company. 

On Wednesday multiple Facebook pages were active showing persons affiliated with the Proud Boys or other far-right groups promoting a rally against “antifa” and Black Lives Matter scheduled for Sept. 26 in Portland. 

Links to these Facebook pages were provided to HuffPost by the Tech Transparency Project, a watchdog group. The links showed far-right groups posting propaganda videos promoting the upcoming rally, and included a page utilizing Facebook’s own fundraising tool to collect money for the event.

HuffPost asked Facebook about the pages on Wednesday evening and by early Thursday afternoon all had been removed. 

“Proud Boys and promoting their events are banned from Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We’ve already removed Events, Pages and accounts tied to the upcoming rally for this reason and our work to disrupt these efforts is ongoing.” 

But according to Katie Paul, director of the TTP, Facebook’s response is just yet another example of the company doing too little too late to combat extremism on its platform, removing harmful content only after being alerted to it by journalists. 

“Facebook has focused more effort on its public relations for cleaning up after a tragic event than it has to address how its platform is facilitating these events in the first place,” Paul told HuffPost. 

Among the pages removed by Facebook on Thursday was one called “Proud Security,” which was replete with Proud Boys symbols and imagery. The Proud Boys are a Trump-supporting, neo-fascist street gang infamous for attacking leftists at political rallies across the country, often in Portland.  

Tech Transparency Project
A Facebook page promoting a neo-fascist Proud Boys rally scheduled for Sept. 26 in Portland included a propaganda video for the event. 

On Sept. 8, the Proud Security page promoted the upcoming Proud Boys rally by posting a video montage of recent anti-racist protests in Portland, and imploring “patriots” from around the country to come to “take a stand” in the city. 

Two other pages removed Thursday belonged to far-right groups called the Patriot Coalition of Oregon and the Patriots of Washington. Both groups had posted a video montage of what is essentially Proud Boys riot porn, inviting supporters to come “smash antifa” in Portland at the Sept. 26 rally.

The Proud Security page — run by a man named Daniel Tooze — utilized Facebook’s own fundraising tool to collect money for the event. Nearly $2,000 had been raised toward a $10,000 goal as of Wednesday evening.  

That page was also removed by Facebook on Thursday. Facebook’s rules indicate that the company takes a fee from such fundraisers on its platform. The company did not respond to a  HuffPost question as to whether it had taken a fee from the Proud Boys fundraiser. 

Tech Transparency Project
A Facebook page raising funds for the neo-fascist Proud Boys rally scheduled for Sept. 26 in Portland. Facebook removed the page after an inquiry from HuffPost.

On Wednesday, multiple celebrities took part in a highly publicized “Stop Hate For Profit” boycott of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. It was the latest action in a monthslong campaign by a coalition of social justice groups to pressure the tech company into confronting extremism on its various platforms. 

This summer has seen a series of damning reports detailing Facebook’s ties to right-wing violence in the U.S. and across the globe.

Late last month the company had been warned that a militia group was using its platform to organize an armed counter-demonstration against anti-racist protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but failed to remove the militia group’s page. 

A 17-year-old marching with a militia group in Kenosha later shot and killed two protesters, severely injuring another. 

Earlier this summer, a report from TTP detailed how slow Facebook had been in responding to the proliferation of “Boogaloo” accounts on its platform. TTP found over 100 pages devoted to the idea of the “Boogaloo,” a term popular among far-right paramilitary groups in the U.S. to describe an imminent civil war in this country. 

These self-identifying “Boogaloo bois” used Facebook to discuss weapons, combat medicine and how to develop explosives. 

Later TTP connected multiple members of these Facebook groups to real-world acts or plots of violence, including three men arrested by the FBI for allegedly planning to attack Black Lives Matter protesters in Las Vegas with Molotov cocktails.

Paul, the director of TTP, said she’s worried Facebook’s recent failure to remove the pages promoting the upcoming Proud Boys event in Portland could mean “even more extremists” show up in the city.

Portland is already reeling from months of escalating political tensions, which has seen far-right extremists show up to often harass and attack ongoing anti-racist demonstrators there. 

Earlier this month a caravan of Trump supporters drove trucks through the city, firing pepper spray and paintball guns at counter-demonstrators in the streets. The event ended with a self-identifying anti-fascist named Michael Reinoehl shooting and killing a Trump supporter named Aaron “Jay” Danielson. 

Reinoehl, who told Vice News that he shot Danielson in self-defense, was later killed by law enforcement in Washington state. The circumstances surrounding his death remain murky, although one witness claims Reinohl did not pose a threat to law enforcement officers when they shot him.

The upcoming Proud Boys event in Portland was announced in the wake of Reinohl’s and Danielson’s deaths and is being billed as a rally to “end antifa.”