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Charges Dropped Against Group of Anti-Trump Protesters

by Countable | 10.3.17

UPDATE: June 1, 2018:

  • Prosecutors in Washington, D.C., have dropped felony charges against seven people arrested for rioting during President Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.

  • Prosecutors were trying to prove that demonstrators conspired to riot in advance and argued that the website DisruptJ20 "was used in the development, planning, advertisement, and organization of a violent riot that occurred in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2017."

  • But a D.C. Superior Court judge determined that federal prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense and the court, and misrepresented other evidence by submitting edited video.

  • More than 50 people still face felony charges over their alleged participation in the anti-Trump rally.

Countable's original story appears below.

DOJ Orders Facebook to Release Info on 'Anti-Administration Activists'

What’s the story?

Lawyers with the Justice Department are demanding that Facebook turn over information on three anti-Trump activists who used the social media platform to plan a mass protest on Inauguration Day. If Facebook complies with the request, the DOJ could also get the personal information of the 6,000 users who "liked" the DisruptJ20 Facebook page.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that demonstrators conspired to riot in advance; they argue that DisruptJ20 "was used in the development, planning, advertisement, and organization of a violent riot that occurred in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2017."

The three search warrants were served to Facebook in February, but a gag order prevented the company from informing the activists they were being targeted for searches. But Facebook, as they explained in a statement, "successfully fought in court to be able to notify the three people whose broad account information was requested by the government."

When the gag-order was lifted in Mid-September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately filed suit.

From the ACLU filing:

"The warrants sought a complete record of anything the three users communicated or received from a third party via Facebook, everyone with whom the users associated via Facebook and everything the users searched for on Facebook, during the specified time period."

The ACLU is arguing the warrants violate First Amendment free speech rights and Fourth Amendment "unreasonable searches and seizures" rights.

Why does it matter?

One of the three warrants issued by the DOJ targets Emmelia Talarico, the owner of DistruptJ20, which is now called Resist This. The ACLU said that if Facebook complies with the request, the company will have to provide the Justice Department the names of around 6,000 people who "simply liked, followed, reacted to, commented on, or otherwise engaged with the content on the Facebook page."

"What is particularly chilling about these warrants," ACLU attorney Scott Michelman told CNN, "is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,”

The two other warrants request information on the personal Facebook accounts of anti-Trump activists Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour.

"My Facebook page contains the most private aspects of my life—and also a frightening amount of information on the people in my life. There are intimate details of my love life, family and things the federal government just doesn’t need to see," MacAuley said in a statement. “Jeff Sessions doesn’t need to see my family photos.”

The Justice Department isn’t commenting on the Facebook warrants from February or the lifting of the gag-order in September, but it issued similar warrants this summer to another. In July, federal investigators convinced a judge to issue a search warrant for DreamHost (which hosts website DisruptJ20) demanding that the company turn over the contact data of the 1.3 million visitors that clicked on the site, including what each visitor viewed or uploaded. DreamHost fought the search warrant in court, and restrictions were placed on the DOJ; the DOJ is currently appealing the decision and DreamHost is considering an appeal as well.

What do you think?

Were the protests on Inauguration Day citizens exercising their First Amendment rights? Or were they riots worthy of a DOJ crackdown? Should Facebook release the data of users? Tell us in the comments section, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps.

—Josh Herman

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*(Photo Credit: Mobilus In Mobili / Creative Commons)

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