The sequel to the deadly “Unite the Right,” Alt-Right rally that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer is being organized on Facebook Messenger, according to a series of Facebook chats that have been reviewed and independently verified by Inverse.
The chats, which were first leaked by activist media collective Unicorn Riot, show disturbing, openly racist organizing occurring on Facebook Messenger, despite the company’s best efforts to purge the platform of extremists.
No More Tiki Torches
The chats reveal planning for the event between 20 Alt-Right and White Supremacist organizers between May 13, 2018 and June 14, 2018, and include discussion on everything from speakers to location coordination.
Unlike 2017’s rally, which occurred exclusively in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, organizer Jason Kessler is planning on potentially bringing the rally to both Charlottesville and Washington DC.
A National Park service representative tells Inverse that Kessler has received initial approval for the rally to be held at Lafayette Park, which is across the street from the White House, but is still waiting to be issued a permit. The review process “will ensure public safety and protection of park resources,” but will not “consider the content of the message presented.”
In the Facebook chat, Kessler noted a restriction of the new location: “No fire allowed… we need to forget about the torch thing,” referencing 2017’s event which featured lit tiki torches.
Someone named Kat Snyder quickly suggested, “battery lights.”
In the chats, Kessler says “DC is the backup in case we don’t have a permit for CVille, the police refuse to protect us, or some other unforeseen circumstance.” This was despite getting into a debate over parking at Union Station and taking a train to McPherson Square as opposed to finding spaces near Lafayette Square.
For now, it seems like the plan is to rally at Charlottesville at 11 am Eastern and be in Washington DC by 5 pm Eastern on August 12.
Balancing Out David Duke
Who would attend the rally was also a point of contention for the extremists. Someone named McCormick H Foley, a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi, said he was bringing a group of seven to 15 Hammerskins, who are a violent White Supremacist group, according to The Daily Beast.
Others debated potential speakers. Kat Snyder suggested black Alt-Right personality Candace Owens, who was recently promoted by Kanye West. She was eventually vetoed, but Kessler suggested they find a black speaker “if it makes it easier to balance out Duke,” referring to former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke.
Throughout the chats, Kessler and others raise privacy concerns.
“Don’t call anywhere near Charlottesville. Get it from NC, WV, DC, or SC,” Kessler instructs the others when discussing ticket arrangements.
“And don’t use AIRBNB,” he adds.
In apt foreshadowing of the leak, Kessler also encourages everyone to move over to the encrypted app Signal.
How White Supremacists Communicate
This isn’t the first time that White Supremacists have organized via Facebook. The first Unite the Right rally was actually organized through a Facebook event. It was removed only one day before the rally.
Facebook says it removed the event once it realized it was affiliated with a hate group.
The fact that organizers of the same event simply moved into a chat shows a significant obstacle that Facebook faces in enforcing hate organization on its platform.
In an interview with Ezra Klein, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s AI is capable of detecting and stopping “sensational messages,” but it seems like a more sophisticated system is required for detecting hate organizing.
When reached for comment, a Facebook representative told Inverse that everyone in the chat has been removed from the platform following a review of the materials. With their community standards agreement and reporting tools for Messenger, Facebook hopes that extremist organizing will be patrolled by users, but it remains an open question how effective that method will be on a person-to-person platform like Messenger.
The Facebook Messenger platform is one of the few places left where White Supremacists can still congregate without scrutiny. After the first Unite the Right rally, GoDaddy shut down Neo-Nazi forum the Daily Stormer, and gamer chat service Discord shut down its White Supremacist servers. Now, person-to-person messenger apps appear to be the primary location of White Supremacist chat, including Facebook Messenger, Signal, and Zello.