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Facebook shuts down page of armed Utah group that attends anti-police protests

Utah Citizens’ Alarm says it will continue to coordinate via its own website

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A man affiliated with Utah Citizens’ Alarm who declined to give his name holds a rifle while standing with counterprotesters as Black Lives Matter Utah holds a protest outside of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Facebook page belonging to an armed Utah group formed in response to protests against police brutality is among thousands shut down after the social media platform announced it would remove accounts discussing potential violence.

Facebook expanded its policy Wednesday on people and groups it deems dangerous, saying it will now take down or restrict accounts it sees as a public safety threat but that don’t meet the higher standard for a ban from the platform.

But Utah Citizens Alarm founder Casey Robertson says his group never advocated for violence.

“Facebook seems to be confused about the difference between the constitutional right to bear arms and a propensity for and inclination toward violence,” Robertson said in a statement.

Robertson founded the pro-police group as a response to a July protest in Provo where authorities say a demonstrator shot an SUV driver as the vehicle pushed through protesters who surrounded it in a crosswalk. The driver was struck in the arm.

Since then, dozens of the militia’s members sporting tactical gear and rifles have faced off against those protesting police in Salt Lake City, Provo and Cottonwood Heights.

Robertson said Wednesday the group supports First Amendment rights but opposes violent or destructive behavior. Utah Citizens’ Alarm will continue coordinating on its website after Facebook took down its page and those of its administrators “without warning and seemingly without any recourse,” Robertson said.

“This isn’t going to stop us. Not even close,” he added. “It’s going to just make us stronger.”

Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, said on Facebook the group’s page is down “because they are terrorists. They incite violence. They threaten us daily. And God loves black people.”

Demonstrators at an Aug. 7 rally in Cottonwood Heights said a man who was recording video and talking with members of Utah Citizens’ Alarm was then maced by one of those with the group.

Cottonwood Heights Police Lt. Dan Bartlett said Thursday he anticipates the man recording part of the encounter to face a criminal charge for allegedly pushing the man who police believe maced him in self-defense.

“It’s not going to go the way people think,” Bartlett said.

Facebook announced Wednesday it would restrict more sorts of pages than just those advocating violence. It expanded the category to include pages celebrating violent acts, those showing they have weapons and suggesting they will use them, or pages with specific followers who have patterns of violent behavior.

A Facebook spokeswoman did not comment on the Utah Citizens’ Alarm page but pointed to the announcement that the company was taking action against accounts “tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon.”

Facebook will continue to allow people to post content supporting the groups, but will restrict their means of organizing, pushing posts lower in search results and taking away the site’s mechanisms allowing them to fundraise, run advertisements and sell products.