When Bob Rasmussen was trying to find a used barbecue grill last month, he turned to Facebook Marketplace.


He was discouraged when he tried to log on to Facebook and failed repeatedly.


It took him several minutes to determine what had happened.


Rasmussen is a member of the Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club. Facebook had taken down the club’s page and the personal accounts of all of its administrators and moderators.


"Community defense though community action" is how the Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club describes itself. It is a mutual aid, abolitionist, pro-worker, anti-racist and anti-fascist group.


Members have guns for community defense.


It takes its name from 19th-century abolitionist John Brown, who launched a failed attempt to free slaves when he and his men raided the national armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. While in Kansas, Brown and his men slaughtered pro-slavery settlers with swords.


The club doesn’t advocate violence and has never done so on its Facebook page, Rasmussen said.


The group began in response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the rise of armed groups on the right.


The Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club was caught up in a Facebook purge of groups on the right and left of the political spectrum.


"Today we are expanding our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to address organizations and movements that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization and banned from having any presence on our platform," Facebook wrote in an Aug. 19 document "An Update to How We Address Movements and Organizations Tied to Violence"


The action targeted anarchist groups that support violent acts during protests, militia organizations and QAnon supporters, the document reads.


"I am just personally offended they would lump us in with these QAnon groups," Rasmussen said.


Members of his group have received specific death threats because of their activism, he said.


His group has never even received a warning about a Facebook post, Rasmussen said. He’s insulted that Facebook would suggest his group is tied to violence.


The group operates a mobile soup kitchen each winter, serving more than 1,200 meals each year so far. It’s brake light clinics have repaired more than 40 brake and tail lights, a leading cause of traffic stops by police.


Club members have joined with Mid-Missouri Democratic Socialists of America and other activist groups to operate CoMo Mutual Aid during the pandemic, volunteering at Loaves and Fishes, Room at the Inn and Services for Independent Living. They also deliver groceries for homebound people.


The club part of the Stop the Cuts Coalition, supporting union custodians and landscapers when their jobs were threatened by the University of Missouri.


The Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club responded to the Facebook removal on its website in a statement labeled "The Great FB Purge of 2020." Facebook is allowing people to link to its website.


"Mid-Mo JBGC’s page had never been flagged for content that violated Facebook’s community standards and we believe the main reason for our page being blocked was because Facebook needed to create the impression of political ’balance’ when it disabled the pages connected to ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories," the statement reads. "But lets be honest - Facebook and its owners had very little motivation to allow the left to keep criticizing powerful people and institutions on their platform."


It also included a link to an article in The Intercept, headlined "Facebook’s Ban on Far-Left Pages Is an Extension of Trump Propaganda."


It lists pages eliminated that include "It’s Going Down," which publishes reports on social struggles and "Crimethinc" which The Intercept calls ’a bastion of left-wing, anarchist publishing and thought."


Attorney General Bill Barr and Donald Trump probably aren’t behind the purges, Rasmussen said.


"I don’t think Facebook is taking orders from the Trump administration," Rasmussen said. "It’s just Facebook trying to pander to the right."


Facebook didn’t respond when asked to provide information about any information linking the Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club to violence.


He doesn’t expect Facebook to correct the situation, Rasmussen said. He has since restored his personal Facebook page.


"Our group is more than our Facebook page," he said. "Facebook isn’t going to stop us from meeting the needs of the community and helping with mutual aid projects."


The Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club is on Twitter @MidMOJBGC. Its website is at midmojbgc.org.


rmckinney@columbiatribune.com


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