SOCIETY

Inside the Rapid Rise of the Police-Bashing Site CopBlock

SOCIETY
Jun 16, 2014 at 12:35 AM ET

For the last few years, the most popular cop-related spot on the Internet has been a site called PoliceOne. The site has a distinct pro-law enforcement bent and features stories like top 10 signs you need a new partner and 24 things cops know but most people don’t.

But recently, a site with a very different take on cops has leap-frogged PoliceOne on social media. That site, CopBlock, has become a prime venue for venting about police abuses, with some contributors even celebrating cop killings. Over the past three months, its popularity has jumped. Its Facebook following has tripled to 666,000 likes, and the site now routinely crashes from traffic spikes. PoliceOne has 575,000 likes.

Last week, when a husband-wife team (he was a CopBlock follower) gunned down two Las Vegas police officers who were eating lunch at a pizza joint, a CopBlock user cheered the moment. “The good news is, there are two less police in the world,” wrote Christopher Cantwell on the site’s Facebook page. “The bad news is you not only failed to start a revolution, you completely missed the entire point.”

Another user chimed in the next day: “One human being was killed,” Mike Roninette wrote, referring to a third person the couple shot to death. “The other two were slime.”

Cantwell was later booted from the site, and CopBlock’s founders says their aim is simply to hold police more accountable and that they preach non-violent ways of achieving that goal. But even after banning Cantwell, one of the site’s administrators—the site has 12 administrators, all of whom can post on its behalf—continued to take shots at the cops.

“When you allow such a police state, WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN!!!!!?????” one of them wrote.

The site’s rising popularity dovetails with a growing resentment of law enforcement, fueled by events in the news: cattle rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff against the feds in Nevada; protests in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over controversial police killings; even the New York Police Department’s ham-fisted launch of a new Twitter hashtag. The militarization of the police hasn’t helped matters.

Morgan Wright, a former Kansas state trooper and detective who also has served on teams investigating the Oklahoma City bombing and prepped security for the Republican National Conventions, says sites like CopBlock can no longer be considered fringe. “They’ve hijacked the narrative,” he says.

It’s unclear whether rhetoric on sites like CopBlock actually leads to cop killings, but in the last year, the number of cops killed by firearms has increased 53 percent (that figure includes police officers killed in the line of duty).

CopBlock is based in New Hampshire and run by a dozen people, some of whom grew up together and all of whom share the belief that we live in a police state. Its mantra is “the camera is the new gun,” and CopBlock followers often shoot videotapes of police performing their duties. The site’s icon reimagines the friendly neighborhood white police officer from the 1950s, only he has a video camera aimed at his face.

CopBlock’s supporters are neither exclusively far to the right nor mainly far to the left—it has followers on both ends of the spectrum in spots between the two as well. There are members of the Tea Party on the site, as well as Occupy Wall Street sympathizers—all united by their belief that it’s time to police the police.

One of the site’s founders, Peter Eyre, says CopBlock has received over 5,000 testimonials from people who have had their rights trampled by cops. In some cases, members offer to help potential victims. “There’s countless examples of people coming together to help each other and there have been favorable outcomes,” says Eyre. “CopBlock has a lot of eyes, and people can help each other to see patterns and withdraw consent” when confronted by cops.

Eyre, a 33-year-old with a master’s degree in law enforcement who says he once had dreams of becoming a police officer, has also offered money to any cop who turns in a fellow cop who has “abused someone else’s rights.” So far nobody has taken him up on this offer of $500 or the equivalent in bitcoin.

The “About” tab “CopBlock 101″ notes, “We do not ‘hate cops.’ We believe that no one—not even those with badges—has extra rights.” Eyre says he believes in non-violence.

But plenty of commenters on the site like to talk about cop killing. Eyre, himself, took an editing credit on a 2012 YouTube video titled “When Should You Shoot a Cop?”

In the video, which has a half million views, the narrator serves up lines like: “The history of the human race would have been a lot less gruesome if there had been a lot more cop killers around to deal with the state mercenaries of those regimes.”

Eyre says he has no problem with the video, which he says is not a pass to unload on police, but rather a call for people to take “individual responsibility and to not be controlled by others.”

But some people who study the impact of incendiary language on the web see things a little differently. Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, says constructive criticism of cops can be a “good thing” in a democracy, but CopBlock goes too far. “There is a difference in putting down bad cops and bad police policies, and attacking all law enforcement indiscriminately,” he says. “Words have consequences and when people go to the Internet and see police as Nazis and thugs that will kill your family happily, some people are going to reach and react with violence.”