Illustration: iStock

Investigative journalists have discovered hundreds of law enforcement officers around the country who are active in members-only Facebook groups that are based on racism, hate and ... well, it would be nice to add a third thing here, but that’s about it.

Reveal, a news website site run by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism recently completed a monthslong investigation into police officers’ involvement with extremism on Facebook. The social media giant allows its users to create closed groups that share pictures, posts, and information among members who must gain permission from other members or administrators to see and post content within the group.

Before the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook allowed people to download users’ data, forcing the platform to change its policy, Reveal’s reporters quietly downloaded membership data from two categories of closed Facebook groups:

  1. Extremist groups like “White Lives Matter,” “Ban the NAACP” and “Death to Islam Undercover”
  2. Private groups that only allowed police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and/or corrections officers to join.

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The journalists then wrote software that cross-referenced the two separate lists to see if any of the cops on their list also belonged to the cyber-hate groups. They expected that they would get a few hits.

They got more than 14,000.

They acknowledged that there are tens of thousands of police officers on Facebook and thousands of Facebook groups with hateful ideologies, so it would have been impossible to uncover all of the cops who are aligned with online racism. But Reveal’s reporters began a long process of applying for “memberships” to the private online racism clubs, even offering their real identities, names and photos. Once they were admitted, the group confirmed the identity of people who they suspected were current or former law enforcement officers. They ultimately found nearly 400 active users who fit that description.

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Some of the extreme examples they found were:

  • Geoffery Crosby, a guard at one of America’s toughest prisons, the Angola Prison in Louisiana. Crosby allegedly belonged to 56 extremist groups.
  • James “J.T.” Thomas, a detective at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, who posted a meme of a black woman shortly after hurricane Harvey hit the city. His post said: “A reporter asked a black woman how many Churches had their doors open during the storm??? She said she didn’t know, she eats at Popeye’s.” Thomas was reportedly fired after Reveal notified Harris County officials. But during his appeal, he asked: “If you remove the black woman’s picture, what’s racist about it?”
  • Will Weisenberger, a sheriffs deputy in Madison County, Miss., who belonged to “White Lives Matter” and was involved in a lawsuit that accused him of systematic racism in his policing. He is also accused of punching an already-handcuffed black man in the face and told investigators that he “may have used the n-word.”
  • Lt. Richard Moravec, who belonged to an Islamophobic group. As a Chicago police officer, Moravec has been the subject of 70 allegations including criminal misconduct and excessive force.
  • Joel Quinn, an Abbeville, Ga., cop who defended himself by explaining that it was his “responsibility to detect possible threats to my community all the way up to and including my country,” adding: “Think about this, majority of crimes are committed by minorities (black, Hispanic, etc.) per FBI statistics yet I don’t ‘prey’ on any particular one.”
  • Wisconsin corrections officer Sheldon Best, who told Reveal news that he holds no discriminatory views even though he once commented on a report about more babies of color being born in the U.S. than white children, writing: “Maybe, but minority on minority homocide [sic] will make sure adults of color remain a minority.”

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Reveal News contacted many of the police departments of officers who belonged to racist Facebook groups. Some were fired, other departments opened investigations, some refused to discuss personnel matters and others declined to comment at all.

In 2018, 26.7 percent of 1,165 people killed by police were black.

Twenty-eight percent of the unarmed victims killed by police in 2018 were black.

Nearly thirty-five percent (34.9) of the people who were unarmed, not attacking, but were still killed by police in 2018 were black.