Hours before three protesters were shot in Kenosha, two of them fatally, calls went out on social media for armed vigilantes to flock to the city and use force against demonstrators they described as thugs and arsonists, according to a group that monitors internet disinformation.
“The seeds of potential violence were planted over the course of the day,” the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab said in a blog post on Wednesday, “as multiple threads on Facebook and Reddit encouraged militiamen and other armed individuals to head to Kenosha, ostensibly to protect local businesses from protesters.”
It added: “In some cases, these discussions encouraged acts of violence. The conspiracy website InfoWars, meanwhile, amplified the call to arms, potentially encouraging additional people with weapons to attend the event.”
A 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, has been arrested on suspicion of first-degree homicide in the shootings on Tuesday night; he can be seen in multiple videos taken that night, carrying a semiautomatic assault rifle, and some videos appear to show him shooting people. It was not clear whether Mr. Rittenhouse, who lives in nearby Antioch, Illinois, had seen the social media appeals.
In an interview conducted that night before the shootings, Mr. Rittenhouse told a video editor at The Daily Caller, a conservative news and opinion site that he and other armed people were present because protecting businesses was “our job.”
On the day of the shooting, the Atlantic Council researchers found, a Facebook page was created, calling for people to “gear up” and protect Kenosha. One person posted on the page, which has since been deleted, “shoot to kill.”
Another now-deleted Facebook page, claiming to represent a local militia group, asked people to “take up arms” and defend Kenosha from “evil thugs” who were “planning on the next part of the City to burn.” That invitation was promoted by Infowars, leading to it being repeated on hundreds of other Facebook pages.