Fact Check

Is the Government Arresting People for Anti-Obama Facebook Posts?

Rumor: The U.S. government is arresting people for anti-Obama Facebook posts?

Published Oct 29, 2014


Claim:   The government is arresting citizens for anti-Obama Facebook posts.


TRUE: Former Marine Brandon Raub was temporarily committed in 2012 after posting comments to Facebook that caused local law enforcement agents to believe he posed a potential threat to himself or others.
FALSE: Under a Homeland Security initiative known as "Operation Vigilant Eagle," the federal government is detaining citizens for posting anti-Obama Facebook statuses or comments.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2014]

This article claims that the government is arresting people for anti-Obama facebook posts. Can you please research whether this is true or not? It seems very unlikely to me.

Operation Vigilant Eagle. Is it true some people who have posted anti Obama comments on Facebook are being arrested?


Origins:   In August 2012, former Marine Brandon Raub

of Chesterfield, Virginia was involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation, and initial reports suggested Raub was taken into custody for a series of comments and posts on Facebook. In the immediate aftermath of Raub's evaluation, family members and lawyers advocating for Raub alleged the 26-year-old's First Amendment rights were violated in the course of his involuntary commitment.

Initial comments about Raub's Facebook activity included information suggesting Facebook friends of the former Marine and other users of the social network began to report unsettling and increasingly distressed comments he posted to his page and in closed groups. In July and August of 2012, Raub allegedly put out progressively conspiratorial and violent material, and local police were notified of the content.

On 16 August 2012, police in Chesterfield attempted to interview Raub and determine whether he posed a threat to himself or others based on those reports. Officers who attempted to speak with Raub believed he required additional evaluation, and a subsequent press release from the Chesterfield Police Department indicated Raub refused to comply and was handcuffed:

"After speaking to Raub, officers believed him to be in need of further evaluation. Chesterfield officers at the scene contacted Chesterfield Mental Health Crisis Intervention. Crisis workers recommended that police take Raub into custody and bring him in for evaluation." Col. Thierry Dupuis, Chief of the Chesterfield Police Department, said in a statement.

Virginia law allows police to detain people for mental evaluation under emergency circumstances.

"Raub was placed in handcuffs after he resisted officers' attempts to take him into custody. Raub was evaluated by a Chesterfield mental health official, who determined that he should be held under a temporary detention order and transported to John Randolph Medical Center for additional evaluation." Col. Dupuis said.

At the time of the incident, former platoon commander Sean Lawlor spoke to the media about Raub. Lawlor, who served alongside Raub, described the young man as an "excellent Marine" but expressed concern about his mental state:

Knowing the man that he is, I believe that he fully intended to act on the threats he was posting. We may never know, but the fact that law enforcement intervened may have kept Brandon from doing something extremely destructive.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) later confirmed agents interviewed Raub based on his Facebook posting but denied he had been arrested or detained for anti-government content. On 23 August 2012, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub's release. Raub was arrested again in July 2014 and charged with indecent liberties with a child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In the years since Raub's first encounter with police in Chesterfield, rumors about "Operation Vigilant Eagle" and its purported targeting of veterans have circulated on the web. However, no matching reports of citizens detained for "anti-Obama" Facebook posts have emerged despite the rumor's longevity.

Operation Vigilant Eagle is a real American law enforcement effort headed by the FBI aimed at identifying and preventing violence from white supremacists and "militia/sovereign-citizen extremist groups." In 2009, the Wall Street Journal described Operation Vigilant Eagle as an effort to circumvent "lone wolf" attacks of both right and left-wing political extremists:

Lone-wolf offenders continue to be of great concern to law enforcement," the [FBI] said in a February memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The FBI is "trying to identify a potential lone wolf before he or she would act out violently," Michael Ward, the bureau's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview earlier this year.

The lone-wolf initiative is one element of a broader strategy to fight domestic terrorism, dubbed "Operation Vigilant Eagle," launched late last year in response to what the memo identified as "an increase in recruitment, threatening communications, and weapons procurement by white supremacy extremist and militia/sovereign citizen extremist groups."

While Raub's forcible evaluation in 2012 was certainly controversial, the content leading to his encounter with police in Virginia was not specifically aimed at President Obama, nor did the handling of his case suggest the government believed Raub to be an extremist: responding officers had cause to question whether Raub posed a threat to himself or others, and they acted based upon their observations of him and not according to a secret government campaign to detain veterans. As far as we know, Raub's week-long psychiatric hold remains the only reported instance of an individual's being placed under psychiatric evaluation against his will due to political content posted to Facebook.

Last updated:   25 April 2015


    Dutton, Nick and Catie Beck.   "Detained Marine Veteran Now Released, Per Judge's Order."

    WTVR-TV [Richmond].   23 August 2012.

    Fields, Gary and Evan Perez.   "FBI Seeks to Target Lone Extremists."

    The Wall Street Journal.   15 June 2009.

    O'Dell, Larry.

  "Brandon J. Raub, Former Marine, Detained After Anti-Government Facebook Postings."

    Associated Press.   21 October 2012.

    Ryan, Jason.   "Former Marine Detained After Alleged Facebook Threats."

    ABC News.   21 August 2012.

    "Brandon Raub, Marine Arrested by Federal Agents, Accused of Exposing Himself to Teen."

    WTVR [Richmond].   7 July 2014.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags