By Ken Silva
On Oct. 28, 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in Congress about what he was doing to monitor online extremism, citing his company’s work with law enforcement to apprehend the men who had allegedly tried to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer weeks earlier.
“Over the last four years in particular, we’ve built closer partnerships with law enforcement and the intelligence community to be able to share those types of signals. We’re doing more of that, including in the case you mentioned before, around the attempted kidnapping of Governor Whitmer,” Zuckerberg told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
“We identified that as a signal to the FBI about six months ago, when we started seeing some suspicious activity on our platform.”
However, it was revealed during the Whitmer kidnapping plot trial in March that at least some of that “suspicious activity” was conducted by FBI informants.
And in the wake of a Grand Rapids federal jury acquitting two of the accused plotters—agreeing with their defense that the FBI incited and entrapped them—Zuckerberg’s comments about the case are recirculating online, serving as the butt of numerous jokes about Facebook notifying the FBI of its own actors.
Facebook did not respond to emails from The Epoch Times.
According to the U.S. government, the extremist rhetoric of the alleged Whitmer kidnap plotters was first noticed in March 2020 by Army veteran Dan Chappel, who later served as a key FBI informant. Chappel said in court that he was scrolling online when the Wolverine Watchmen militia’s Facebook page “popped up as a suggestion post.”
As the FBI’s case grew from there, the bureau allegedly created Facebook pages for the Three Percenters militia, according to statements made last month during the federal trial. According to the defense, one of the primary drivers of this activity was Stephen Robeson—the former FBI informant who told The Epoch Times last month that he’s received death threats over his role in the case.
Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons, who represented Adam Fox, said during the trial that Robeson operated the Facebook page of the Three Percenters, a militia that was involved in the Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy as well as the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol Hill incursion.
According to Gibbons, Robeson announced on the Three Percenters’ Facebook page that Fox had become the leader of the Michigan branch in June 2020. It was around that time that Fox became active with the Wolverine Watchmen, the group associated with the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Fox was made administrator of the Michigan Three Percenters’ Facebook page created by the FBI informants, Gibbons said.
“He got that Facebook page courtesy of the federal government,” the attorney said.
After being made administrator of the Facebook page, Gibbons said, Fox received a message from another FBI informant named “Mark.” Fox then attended a militia training event in Munith, Michigan, on June 28, 2020, Gibbons said.
The alleged plot escalated from there, until Fox was arrested along with Croft, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, Ty Garbin, and Kaleb Franks in October 2020.
At a March 31 webinar hosted by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, academics discussed the issue of curtailing online extremist rhetoric. When this reporter mentioned FBI informants administering Three Percenters Facebook pages, the webinar’s moderator said this is one of the complicating factors in trying to monitor speech.
“Being in extremist online spaces carries a very prolific rate of ‘friendly fire,’ in terms of the number of actors with different understands, goals, and perspectives all being in one place,” said Program on Extremism senior research fellow Bennett Clifford, referring to federal informants.
“If you’re in any sort of group, or platform, or channel where there’s a congregation of extremists, you can also expect to find nation-state actors, folks from law enforcement, interested observers, and so on,” he said.
“And sorting out the discourse in those arenas, and contextualizing who belongs to what, or what belongs to whom, is increasingly difficult in avoiding those cross-reactions that happen when you have that motley crew of people together. It can be very difficult from a regulatory perspective, as well.”