Interview with Elmer Geronimo Pratt Gun Club, Black Self-Defense Group Listed as ‘Hate Speech’, ‘Dangerous’ by Facebook

By Josefina Morales

Earlier this month, leaked internal documents from Facebook revealed a list of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” which are regulated on their social media platform. The list of censored groups included the Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt Gun Club (EGPGC), a Black self-defense organization based in Central Texas. Tribune spoke with Nick Bezzel of the EGPGC about his thoughts on Facebook’s designation and how his organization is growing stronger despite the censorship of the big tech monopolies and the racist oppression of the US imperialist society.

“It hasn’t affected our organizing much,” Bezzel said. “We’re still able to pull off maneuvers to Oklahoma, for instance, with over 1,000 people,” referring to an initiative to commemorate the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The event led to the formation of a Tulsa EGPGC Chapter.

In Facebook documents, EGPGC is classified as “Tier 3,” which means they are not allowed to be on Facebook or organize on the site at all. According to the company, Tier 3 “focuses on entities that may repeatedly engage in violations of our Hate Speech or Dangerous Organizations policies on-or-off the platform or demonstrate strong intent to engage in offline violence in the near future. […] This includes Militarized Social Movements, Violence-Inducing Conspiracy Networks, and individuals and groups banned for promoting hatred.”

“I do have a problem with Facebook taking it upon themselves to try and label our organization as Tier 3 without any proof,” Bezzel said. “We can prove that we aren’t a hate group, we’ve gotten policies passed, never committed any acts of violence—for Facebook to even say that or target us is factually inaccurate. What makes them the authority to be able to use those terms?”

The EGPGC marching in Killeen in January

The EGPGC advocates for the right to self-defense for Black people in the US, challenging the police tactic of no-knock warrants as well as supporting the families of people murdered by the police, such as Javier Ambler, who was killed by Williamson County police in 2019. They have also championed the cause of Marvin Guy, leading a march for him in Austin in September. Guy is facing capital murder charges for shooting back in self-defense when Killeen police executed a no-knock warrant at his home in 2014. Not knowing who was breaking in, Guy shot at the intruders, leading to an officer’s death.

Bezzel told Tribune that EGCPC no longer has a presence on Facebook due to the company’s censorship: “Earlier this year, every three days, Facebook was trying to shut down our page. I would appeal it, and this happened again and again for four months straight. The last time, they didn’t give an option to appeal—they only deleted myself and my chiefs of staff, no warning or anything.”

He continued, “Facebook absolutely does not support Black liberation. To silence groups like us is a dangerous game, it leads to fascism. Labeling a group as extreme without doing research […] makes us targets, like in the sixties. It can cause people to lose their lives.”

Bezzel explains that the reason EGPGC is being lumped in with many right-wing militias is for exercising their constitutional right to carry a gun: “I think the Second Amendment element is the biggest indicator for [Facebook], because they’re not looking at it as a right. The second you see 2A as an element in this organizing, they automatically think ‘extreme.’ […] How can we be extremist when we’re exercising the rights afforded to us?”

Although the right to bear arms exists on paper for US citizens today, it was originally established as a means for white people to oppress Black slaves and wage war on Native Americans. The ruling class will not evenly uphold it for those who they view as a threat to their order, which includes working-class people, poor Black people generally, and particularly those who organize to defend themselves and fight for a new society.

“The only thing I can point to, is they [Facebook] don’t like the fact that Black people are organizing themselves and trying to get their message across.” Bezzel said, “We know that these Black liberation movements are just Black people in America looking for equity and equality. We’ve never been treated the same in 400 years, and when we do speak up we get targeted. They try to shut down our networks and paint us as terrorists. We know for a fact that they try to do these things to suppress the message.”

Bezzel explained that no matter what, EGPGC carries weapons because the racist US State offers no other choice but for Black people to defend themselves against the ruling class, which denies the possibility of ‘peaceful’ resistance: “One of the first acts passed in the Virginia colony [Jamestown] was that Blacks couldn’t own firearms. […] If we don’t carry firearms today, ‘slave patrol’ [the police] is going to gas us and shoot us with rubber bullets.”

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