This post in the 35,672 member Open Oregon Facebook groups sounds in many ways like any other post in a COVID denialism group. Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s mask mandates are tyrannical, masks and vaccines “must be a personal choice,” and people should support those businesses that “choose to fight and NOT COMPLY!”
“Starting tomorrow, the tyrant Kate Brown has issued again a statewide indoor mask requirement for everyone 5 and up. WE CANNOT allow this to continue to be mandated. Masks and vaccines should and must be personal choice... Continue to support local businesses that choose to fight and NOT COMPLY! Stand in defense of these neighbors! THANK YOU OREGON PEOPLE'S RIGHTS! Sincerely BJ Soper State Assistant.”
- Post by Bambi Bianchi in Open Oregon, August 13, 2021. 
COVID Denial and Other Far-Right Groups
The People’s Rights Network
While similar in sound and tone to many posts, this one, circulated by a member of Open Oregon, was identified as a statement by People’s Rights Oregon state leader BJ Soper. Soper, also a longtime paramilitary Three Percenter, has led organizing efforts in Oregon that saw the far-right nationalist group’s statewide membership swell from 2,047 in late 2020 to more than 5,300 by June 2021. COVID denialist politics have been a critical factor in the People’s Rights network’s success at base-building.
The presence of People’s Rights activists, ideas, and material in these Facebook groups provides an avenue for introducing radically anti-democratic ideas and goals of far-right groups like People’s Rights to a much broader audience.
While organizing most aggressively on COVID denial issues, People’s Rights ideology is heavily shaped by both the far-right Christian nationalism of W. Cleon Skousen and the National Center for Constitutional Studies and KrisAnne Hall. A far-right “constitutionalist,” Hall has appeared at a white nationalist League of the South meeting and views the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution – cornerstones of federally-protected civil and voting rights – as unconstitutional.
Many in COVID denial Facebook groups have circulated KrisAnne Hall’s work. An August 21 post in Open Up Kansas! (11,233 members), for instance, stated, “How do we fix an unlawful, overreaching government? How are Christians to respond? What are our rights? This educational presentation by Constitutional Lawyer KrisAnne Hall, and Evangelical Pastor JC Hall, her husband addresses these questions and more.” KrisAnne Hall’s materials and events have been promoted in Reopen California…NOW! (11,650 members), #reopenWA (7319 members), and Washington – Resist a 2nd Lockdown (7101 members).
Influenced by these and other ideas, People’s Rights in Oregon has mobilized against tribal treaty rights and laid out an insurrectionist plan to secede a “Great State of East Oregon” from the remainder of the state. To advance these plans, People’s Rights Oregon cited the Declaration of Independence to claim an ongoing right to “alter, reform or abolish their current form of government” if their issue positions are not implemented. An October 2020 People’s Rights document ended with a declaration that “We are quickly becoming a group with strength in numbers, which gives our collective voice much more power politically, legally and physically IF needed.”
The momentum built around opposing masks, lockdowns, vaccines, and even businesses opting to require masks for customers, has led to People’s Rights being one of the most referenced far-right groups in the Facebook groups under study here.
In some instances, People’s Rights areas assistants have become members of COVID denial Facebook groups. For example, People’s Rights Florida area assistant Rachael Love Cohen is a member of ReOpen South Florida. Likewise, People’s Rights Oregon Area 5A assistant Liz Batterson is an Unmask Our Kids Oregon member. In addition, as previously mentioned, Amy Rose and April McDonald of Maskless Women of Southern Oregon (MWSO) have also been identified as People’s Rights network area assistants.
In other instances, supporters of People’s Rights have promoted the organization inside COVID denial Facebook groups. For example, Open Oregon announced an event by the far-right group Citizens Restoring Liberty (CRL), a group describing that it “stand[s] in unity with People’s Rights” in its “Oregon People’s Declaration to Annul Governor’s Sanctions.” CRL urges people to “join the movement…at People’s rights (sic)” and gives out the group’s text-based recruitment tool. The post itself announces “PEOPLE’S RIGHTS – COOS COUNTY” and writes, “We will provide Employer Jab Injury Liability forms for employees who want them – Area Assistants.” Area Assistant is the title of a local People’s Rights organizer.
An administrator of Unmask Our Kids Oregon (3,890 members), Djames Sekap, announced, “It’s time to unite with like-minded people and fight. Join People’s Rights and come to meetings. Link in comments.” People’s Rights area assistant Liz Batterson, an Unmask Our Kids Oregon member, bemoaned on the thread that “Facebook has caught on to my People’s. Rights .com. I used to be able to put (no space) in between…sadly they are upping their game!”
Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer
Another People’s Rights member, and close organizational ally, lauded in some Facebook pages is Joey Gibson of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. Gibson, active in COVID denial mobilizations alongside People’s Rights leaders in Southern Washington, is currently facing felony riot charges for his actions outside of a Portland pub in 2019.
A member of Washington-Resist a 2nd Lockdown (7,101 members) wrote, “Not sure how many people know of Joey Gibson, he and Patriot Prayer have been fighting for Wa (sic) and Oregon restaurants rights, along with fighting off ANTIFA. Our media has portrayed them as the enemy, but if you actually take the time to go and listen to one of their rallies, you’ll find that they are actually hero’s (sic).”
Video of Gibson speaking at a January 6 Olympia, Washington event was circulated in Reopen Washington State- #ReopenWA (7,500 members). In addition, ReopenWA (43,256 members) administrator, Israel Moore, distributed an article featuring Joey Gibson’s opposition to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 related restrictions. And another post in ReopenWA promoted an event featuring Gibson.
While most of the People’s Rights network’s Facebook groups were expelled in 2020, these COVID denial groups continue to provide a platform for the group to spread its message and recruit. In concert with communications networks outside Facebook, the far-right group can be expected to continue exploiting the COVID denial issues and building a base that has grown considerably since its formation.
The Proud Boys
Proud Boys and Boogaloo Bois at a Freedom 515 rally.
The Vancouver, Washington school lockdown triggered by the unauthorized presence of Proud Boys is just one example of how the violent, racist, misogynistic group used COVID denial to stay afloat after the Capitol insurrection. The arrest of several key leaders and numerous members involved in the January 6 attack led many to declare the Proud Boys organization dead (again). The Proud Boys used local COVID denial activity as an outlet to remain relevant and stay on the streets.
The Proud Boys found support amongst COVID denial Facebook groups. Open Up Kansas! (11,215 members) distributed a National File article depicting Proud Boy Joe Biggs as a political prisoner. Other members commenting agreed. Earlier this year, Biggs was charged with conspiracy and six additional offenses in connection to his role in the insurrection. The same National File article circulated in It’s time to UNMASK the Garden State (3,292 members).
Tammy Davis Heuring, Administrator for the North Carolina-based FreedomNC – New Hanover County, wrote to her group that, “Proud Boys are nothig (sic) more than Patriots defending America imo, the opposite of antifa.”
Unmask Our Kids WA promoted the September 10 school protest described at the outset of this report. Group administrator “Sarah Sarah” voiced full-throated support for the Proud Boys and violent Proud Boy activist Tusitala Toese. She wrote, “She [Student Protester] needs your help protesting anyone in or near Vancouver who can be there! Support this brave girl! We love you girl! Proud boys Tiny will be there to protect her! They need your help!.” Sarah had previously posted a message on her personal Facebook page about a September 4 Proud Boys rally in Olympia, Washington, writing, “This is WHY WE NEED AS MANY PEOPLE AS WE CAN AT THESE RALLIES! Antifa have declared war on us today at our rally! Tiny is a patriot! He was one of us!!.”
The Oath Keepers
The Proud Boys are not the only group involved in the January 6 nationalist insurrection that receives praise and promotion in Facebook COVID denialism groups. The same applies to the paramilitary Oath Keepers, at least 19 members and associates of which have been arrested for the violent riot.
A member of 🇺🇸SURVIVORS OF SC🇺🇸 [formerly REOPEN SC MAGA 2020!] (22,000 members), circulated an article by self-proclaimed Oath Keeper Tom Kampert. The piece mixed praise for armed solutions to social problems with a cultural antisemitism alleging that America today is akin to Nazi Germany of the 1930s and 1940s:
“Some think that the mere idea of taking up arms against the government, for any reason, is an act of treason. To those who do, I would suggest they read the Declaration of Independence. One has only to look at the events of the day to understand why we need the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters… The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters have instilled fear in many in our government, and well it should… I’m old enough to remember some of what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and I’m seeing it resurfacing here. Only Instead of persecuting Jews, they persecute anyone who questions them or has an opposing viewpoint. It’s time to wake up America. Time to fight back.”
The day before the January 6 insurrection, a member of NJ Knuckleheads [formerly Open New Jersey, May 1, 2020] (5,633 members), who was apparently in Washington D.C., wrote, “Just met some ‘oath keepers’ (sic) on the walk…they said there are tons of undercover security everywhere! Roads blocked!”
QAnon, Militias, and Other Groups
Armed far-right paramilitary militia members at a Freedom 515 rally.
While some in these Facebook groups openly downplay QAnon conspiracy theories, others signal their adherence “Q.” A member of REOPEN NJ poking fun at QAnon believers, however, pointed to the general problem,
“It’s obvious that a number of Qanon followers and other assorted conspiracy theorists are members of this page. Qanon aficionados believe that former president Donald Trump was waging a holy war against a secret cabal of pedophiles, whose members include top Democrats, global elitists and Hollywood.”
Demonstrating the presence of QAnoners in these Facebook groups, the moderator of ReOpenPa (5,733 members) and a member of OpenAlaska (6,925 members) posted messages containing the QAnon cue “WWG1/WGA,” standing for “Where We Go 1, We Go All.” In #reopenWA, Ted Mahr promoted his Galactic Wisdom Conference slated to included presentations by “UFO experts and contactees” and a specialist on the “Hollow Earth” alongside “Qanon.”
While not explicitly endorsing QAnon ideas, Kristy Brown, an administrator for Freedom Lovers of Michigan [formerly UNCENSORED: Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine] (3,233 members), warned, “Be aware of what the Democratic party is doing. This email was sent out.” The email in question is alleged to have cast major social media sites behind the January 6 insurrection, including the claim that “For far too long, these platforms have tolerated white supremacist and misogynistic groups like QAnon and the Proud Boys.” Commenters responded, “Where are the real fact checkers?” and “What a farce.” Brown also posted the warning in the TeaParty Patriots of Michigan Facebook group.
A member of Open Michigan Now (1,070 members) promoted the Sons of Liberty and a video titled “Militia 2.0: Re-Establishing the Constitutional Enforcers in the US.” And members of Re-Open California (4,340 members) and REOPEN NJ (48,678 members) stressed the importance of the first 13 words of the Second Amendment, stating, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.”
Unmask Our Kids – Louisiana promoted a “FREEDOM RALLY” calling for “NO LOCKDOWNS NO MASKS NO VAXX” hosted by the reactionary Turning Point USA. Meanwhile, a member of Rise Up Wisconsin the WISCONSIN Liberty, Freedom, Community, Rally & Action Page (11,761 members), promoted the Rise Up Wisconsin project of far-right former sheriff David Clarke.
 Bianchi, Bambi. Facebook. Posted in Open Oregon. August 13, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/OpenOregon/posts/4261188243917664/.
 Hart, Laura. Facebook. Posted in Open Up Kansas! August 21, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/openupks/posts/559712142037634/.
 January, Deborah. Facebook. Posted in Reopen California…NOW! August 23, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/228142555200570/posts/564084278273061/; Bruner, Debbie. Facebook. Posted in #reopenWA. August 23, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2545414418898036/posts/3931242516981879/; Valencia, Stacy. Facebook. Posted in Washington – Resist a 2nd Lockdown. June 8, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1078848462573343/posts/1212950835829771/.
 Alony, Alisa. Facebook. Posted in ReOpen South Florida. August 22, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReOpenFL/posts/1542173779462415/; ReOpen South Florida. Members. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReOpenFL/members/. Accessed August 23, 2021. A post by Cohen circulated in the ReOpen South Florida Facebook group included a statement about one Vladmir Zelenko that, “Dr. Zelenko attended the January 6, 2021 rally at Washington D.C. He was quoted as saying ‘I support anyone who is willing to help people and maintain liberty and spread truth, so if the Proud Boys are doing that, then I would support them. I don’t support violence; I don’t support tactics that may lead to bigotry and so on, but I do support freedom-loving patriots that are willing to stand up for the liberties of this country.’”;  Batterson, Liz. Facebook. Unmask Our Kids Oregon. August 6, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/301038391536427/posts/368898691417063/.
 Ferro, Luci. Facebook. Posted in Open Oregon. July 7, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/OpenOregon/posts/4153785431324613; Citizens Restoring Liberty. Oregon People’s Declaration to Annul Governor’s Sanctions. https://www.citizensrestoringliberty.com/home-1. Accessed August 23, 2021.
 Sekap, James. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Our Kids Oregon. May 27, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/301038391536427/posts/323532635953669/.
 Moffet-Ridgeway, Kristi. Facebook. Posted in Washington-Resist a 2nd Lockdown. January 1, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1078848462573343/posts/1113838115741044/.
 Tjoelker, Wylin. Facebook. Posted in Reopen Washington State- #ReopenWA. January 19, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/reopenwa/posts/520817058861608/.
 Moore, Israel. Facebook. Posted in ReopenWA. January 5, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/reopenwashington/posts/888359988566164/.
 Hoffman, Lynnette. Facebook. Posted in ReopenWA. January 18, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/reopenwashington/posts/895499361185560/.
United States of America v. Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, et al. United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Grand Jury Sworn in on January 8, 2021. CRIMINAL NO. 21-cr-175 (TJK). https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/case-multi-defendant/file/1377586/download; Granzow, Steven. Facebook. Posted in Open Up Kansas! July 25, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/openupks/posts/541804767161705/.
 Abbott, Todd. Facebook. Posted in It’s time to UNMASK the Garden State. July 25, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1182569218751192/members/.
 Heuring, Tammy Davis. Facebook. Posted in FreedomNC – New Hanover County. July 17, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/529708041265332/posts/842765803292886/.
 Sarah, Sarah. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Our Kids WA. September 9, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/791456678408164/posts/848494179371080/.
 Sarah, Sarah. Facebook. September 4, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/791456678408164/user/1587254441/.
 Hsu, Spencer S. Four more indicted in alleged Jan. 6 Oath Keepers conspiracy to obstruct election vote in Congress. Washington Times. May 30, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/oathkeepers-capitol-riot/2021/05/30/270b1e6a-bf43-11eb-b26e-53663e6be6ff_story.html.
 Rassmussen, Erik. Facebook. Posted in 🇺🇸SURVIVORS OF SC🇺🇸. March 11, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/710726539672004/posts/957492448328744/. The article states, ““A lot has been written about both organizations, most of it wrong. Let’s start with the Oath Keepers. If you believe the media, they are a “right-wing, white supremacist, anti-government militia.”… The Oath Keepers is an association of like-minded people who, at some point in their life, took an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. Veterans, police officers, active-duty military are what makes up their membership. They are not a militia… As a veteran myself, I, too, am an Oath Keeper… According to the Anti Defamation League, the Three Percenters are anti-government extremists. Not true. They, like the Oath Keepers, only demand that the government operate within the confines of the Constitution as written. That our Constitutional Republic be preserved at all cost… Some think that the mere idea of taking up arms against the government, for any reason, is an act of treason. To those who do, I would suggest they read the Declaration of Independence. One has only to look at the events of the day to understand why we need the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters… The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters have instilled fear in many in our government, and well it should. There is an ongoing unconstitutional assault being carried out against our rights. The First and Second Amendments are under attack on a daily basis… Instead of demonizing the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, we should be thankful that we still have people who love their country and are willing to stand up for what is good and what is right, even in the face of lies and attack from their own government. I’m old enough to remember some of what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and I’m seeing it resurfacing here. Only Instead of persecuting Jews, they persecute anyone who questions them or has an opposing viewpoint. It’s time to wake up America. Time to fight back.”
 McGrego, Stac. Facebook. Posted in NJ Knuckleheads. January 5, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/636144783832589/posts/893536764760055/.
 Richards, Samuel. Facebook. Posted in REOPEN NJ. February 17, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2585262291688647/posts/2845300979018109/.
 Schryver, Monica. Facebook. Posted in ReOpenPa. January 17, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/238464350933672/posts/420675136045925; Lambertsen Lyon, Veronica. Facebook. Posted in OpenAlaska. August 5, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/210412003594244/posts/515109769791131/.
 Out of this world radio. Facebook. Posted in #reopenWA. January 15, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2545414418898036/posts/3313695722069898/.
 Brown, Kristy. Facebook. Posted in Freedom Lovers of Michigan. August 7, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/506963903513352/posts/810693479807058/.
 Brown, Kristy. Facebook. Posted in Freedom Lovers of Michigan. August 7, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/506963903513352/posts/810693479807058/.
 Brown, Kristy. Facebook. Posted in TeaParty Patriots of Michigan. August 7. https://www.facebook.com/groups/TEAPartyPatriotsOfMichigan/posts/4920447951303223/.
 Hosey, Bill. Facebook. Posted in Open Michigan Now. August 20, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1095476260813360/posts/1439434056417577/.
 YamRojam, Bubba. Facebook. REOPEN NJ. March 28, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2585262291688647/posts/2873723892842484/; YamRojam, Bubba. Facebook. Re-Open California. March 28, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2970522293007756/posts/3920900731303236/.
 Nunez, Veronica. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Our Kids – Louisiana. August 9, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/groups/568425324509875/posts/572751207410620/
 Lambertsen Lyon, Veronica. Facebook. Posted in OpenAlaska. August 5, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/210412003594244/posts/515109769791131/; Jager, Kathy. Facebook. Comment on WISCONSIN Liberty, Freedom, Community, Rally & Action Page. August 18, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/groups/215684293066195/posts/526138068687481/.
Facebook and COVID Denial
How the platform is fueling another wave of far-right activism, insurrectionism, and violence, and what we can do to stop it.
A Special Report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights
Copyright © 2021. Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.