Facebook Deletes Hundreds of Hate Group Accounts Targeting BLM Protests

Hundreds more Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to U.S. hate groups Proud Boys and American Guard have been identified and removed.

The new social media enforcement comes after a network of profiles tied to the far-right organizations was disrupted last month. They had been urging supporters to attend the anti-racism protests taking place in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

At the time, Facebook said about 190 accounts were deleted from its applications amid chatter that some members were being rallied to go to protests while armed.

This week, a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News that a fresh round of take-downs had been launched on profiles with links to the extremist groups.

According to ABC News, a total of 358 Facebook accounts and 172 Instagram accounts associated with the Proud Boys group were deleted, while 406 Facebook accounts and 164 Instagram accounts with ties to American Guard were removed.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not reveal further information about the account holders, including locations or which protests they were planning to attend.

"We saw accounts from both organizations discussing attending protests in various U.S states with plans to carry weapons but we did not find indications in their on-platform content they planned to actively commit violence," the spokesperson said.

Proud Boys is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit advocacy organization that specializes in civil rights.

Members of the group—established in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes—have appeared alongside other hate organizations at extremist gatherings, including the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, the SPLC explains online.

It says in a detailed fact sheet: "The Proud Boys are self-described 'western chauvinists' who... deny any connection to the racist 'alt-right,' insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an 'anti-political correctness' and 'anti-white guilt' agenda."

McInnes claimed to have quit the association in 2018 after it emerged the FBI had labeled Proud Boys as "an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.."

American Guard, which also formed in 2016, consists of "hardcore white supremacists," according to an Anti-Defamation League profile. The ADL says the group has "a background with connections to anti-immigrant extremism, hatred, and violence."

Proud Boys and American Guard were previously banned from Facebook and Instagram for violating hate speech policies. Officials told The Associated Press earlier this month some of the removed Facebook accounts were previously being monitored, and pledged to remove any pages, groups or accounts that attempt to circumvent its ban.

"We saw that these groups were planning to rally supporters and members to physically go to the protests and in some cases were preparing to go with weapons," Facebook's director of counterterrorism and dangerous organizations policy, Brian Fishman, told the Associated Press at the time, a similar explanation to this week's enforcement.

On June 3, Reuters reported Facebook had removed some accounts that were created by white supremacists to pose as the antifa (anti-fascist) movement, a loose collection of individuals who oppose far-right movements, sometimes with violence.

Facebook sources told Reuters the fake accounts, seemingly attempting to discredit the movement, were removed for breaking "inauthentic behavior" policies.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr previously blamed outbursts of violence during the nationwide protests as the work of "antifa and other similar extremist groups," although analysis of arrest records and social media showed little evidence that was true.

President Trump announced on Twitter late last month that he would designate antifa as a terrorist organization, despite it having no formal structure or leadership figures.

Proud Boys
Members of the Proud Boys face off against anti-Trump protesters outside a rally where President Trump officially launched his re-election campaign on June 18, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Gerardo Mora/Getty