A Florida man has been sentenced to six months in prison for threatening to “literally kill" employees of the national conservative Christian non-profit American Family Association in social media messages that Facebook allegedly said did not violate its policies.
Chase Davis, 21, of Pompano Beach, Florida, was sentenced to federal prison last week by U.S. District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell after sending two May 2019 Facebook messages in which he claimed that he and others would kill every person who runs the Mississippi-based AFA.
In addition to incarceration, Davis must also serve 400 hours of community service, pay $1,440 of restitution to AFA for costs it incurred to protect its employees from the threat and will be required to accept mental health treatment, according to Department of Justice. After his sentence is served, Davis will be under court supervision for three years.
“I am coming to Tupelo unexpected with a group of people and we are going to kill every single person that runs your group,” Davis’s May 2019 Facebook messages to the group reads. “I have put together a group to have you... obliterated to dust. Yes, I literally mean killing all of you.”
In a statement, AFA explained that its employees contacted Facebook after receiving the threats. Facebook’s policy does not allow “hate speech, credible threats or direct attacks on an individual or group, content that contains self-harm or excessive violence.”
But the activist organization claims that Facebook deemed the messages it received were not a violation of policy. AFA added that its appeal of Facebook’s decision was unsuccessful.
The threat did prompt immediate reports to federal law enforcement and an FBI investigation was launched. Davis was indicted for criminal threats in the summer of 2019 by a grand jury in the Northern District of Mississippi. He pled guilty to the charges in a Florida federal court.
His guilty plea in Florida was according to a rule that allows a defendant to plead guilty to charges in the district where they reside through an agreement by the parties and the court, according to the Justice Department.
“It is important to protect free speech, but when it crosses the line and becomes threats to harm others on the basis of race, religious beliefs, political affiliations or other protected reasons, we will use Federal laws to hold those individuals accountable for their actions,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi William C. Lamar said in a statement.
The Christian Post reached out to the AFA and Facebook for comment on this story. Responses could not be received by press time.
The motive has not been directly proven as a threat to conservative Christians, but Davis’ messages do suggest a hatred towards AFA, a Christian nonprofit that advocates for public policy goals and holds conservative views on issues like abortion and LGBT rights.
“AFA supports a biblical worldview that God created us by design as male and female and that marriage is between one man and one woman,” AFA Senior Vice President Buddy Smith said in a statement.
“With all the sexual brokenness in our society and in the church today, AFA will not be intimidated into silence … a relationship with Jesus Christ is the only answer to the culturally controversial questions about gender and sexuality.”
AFA advocates for traditional family values but is listed as a "domestic hate group" by the controversial far-left civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center.
AFA and dozens of other organizations that hold Christian conservative views on issues like marriage and sexuality have contested their labeling by AFA as “hate” groups. SPLC has been cited by some media organizations in their reporting on such groups.
In 2018, 47 conservative groups, including the AFA, issued an open letter calling on government agencies, news organizations and other entities to avoid using SPLC for guidance, claiming that the organization has “defamed and otherwise harmed" dozens of groups because of ideological differences.
In August 2012, the headquarters of the Family Research Council, a Washington D.C.-based Christian conservative activist organization, was attacked by a gunman who later admitted to FBI agents that he found FRC through SPLC’s list posted online of anti-LGBT “hate” groups.
FRC President Tony Perkins accused SPLC’s “reckless labeling” of causing “devastating consequences.” Perkins at the time claimed that SPLC had provided a “guide map” for terrorists to target FRC and like-minded groups.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has urged tighter regulation on internet communication, especially regarding harmful content and what constitutes free speech.
In February, Zuckerberg spoke at a conference in Germany, stating that private companies should not have to make regulation decisions and that the government should, according to BBC.
In the February speech, Zuckerberg recommended a combination of existing television and media regulations to be applied with a new regulation targeting social media specifically. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee to discuss the power of big-tech companies and the content on their platforms.
"I understand that people have concerns about the size and perceived power that tech companies have,” Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks.
“That’s why I’ve called for a more active role for governments and regulators and updated rules for the Internet. If we do this right, we can preserve what’s best about this technology ... while also protecting society from broader harms."