Facebook Bans Second Amendment Group Without Explanation

The Virginia Citizens Defense League says it's gotten no accounting of move from tech giant

A VCDL bus in Richmond, Virginia on January 18, 2021 / Facebook
February 2, 2021

A top Virginia gun-rights group was booted from Facebook without explanation on Tuesday, a move the tech giant confirmed but refused to explain.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told the Washington Free Beacon that the group's page disappeared without explanation. The company said the decision to remove the page is final—but did not provide further details.

"This was correctly actioned and we will not be republishing," Facebook spokeswoman Kristen Morea said. She declined to elaborate on the decision.

Van Cleave said the group used its Facebook page exclusively to communicate with its members as well as organize electoral and legislative efforts. The group's page helped raise awareness of Gov. Ralph Northam's (D.) controversial gun-control agenda in 2020 and mobilized activists to help block some Democratic proposals. The league also took to social media to spread the word about COVID guidelines in the months leading up to a peaceful driving demonstration in Richmond on January 18. Van Cleave said the ban deprives the league of such capabilities in the future.

Facebook's decision to pull the league without explanation may signal trouble for other mainstream gun-rights groups and ignite new scrutiny of the company's opaque moderation practices. The company has come under fire before for its ad hoc approach to content moderation, with critics alleging that it plays politics and arbitrarily silences conservative voices. Van Cleave, for one, says that's what he believes and that Facebook's move against his group foreshadows the deplatforming of other Second Amendment Groups.

"If they did this to us, it's just a matter of time," he told the Free Beacon. "I think we're a high-profile group and that's why we got singled out. Those who aren't as high profile as we are, I'm sure they're on the chopping block next."

This is not the first time Facebook has targeted the gun group. At the end of January, it booted the group before later restoring its page—also without explanation.

At the time, Morea blamed the removal on an "error" and apologized. Facebook went on to suspend the personal accounts of the group's leaders, including Van Cleave. Facebook did not offer any explanation about any posts that had violated Facebook policy. After Facebook briefly lifted the January suspensions, Van Cleave's personal account was again shut down, he said Tuesday.

Morea told the Free Beacon in January that Facebook would not offer more details on Van Cleave's initial suspension due to a "very real and credible threat that people can game the system" if they understand how it works. She directed the Free Beacon to a Facebook press release on its moderation policies referencing the Capitol riot.

Van Cleave said neither he nor the group has ever advocated for violence or been involved with protesting the results of the 2020 election. He said the lack of clarity from Facebook suggests that the ban is "political" and may soon expand to other gun groups.

"It's just a yo-yo effect: Apologize. Put it up. Take it down," Van Cleave said. "It sounds like it's just the politics they don't like."