TACOMA, Wash. — Martin Cabello III is incredibly popular on Instagram. Almost 500,000 people follow him for diet advice and explanations of his religion, Cabelloism. He has another 25,800 followers on Twitter and 1.2 million on TikTok.
Followers have left posts saying Cabello has inspired them to live healthier lives and thanked him for his frequent posts and his candidness about autism, which he says he has.
“Martin we are all family we love you very much,” one commenter said on a March 22 post.
Cabello has posted frequently on his Instagram page that some of his South Hill neighbors, the homeowners association for his neighborhood, law enforcement and others are involved in covering up and participating in a sex-trafficking ring.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Darrin Moss said the claims have not warranted investigation.
“If you wanted to call in a sex crime and I don’t know you, we are going to look at it, unless it’s clearly obvious that something isn’t making sense or clicking … ,” Moss said. “There’s no report written to show that Mr. Cabello was reporting a sex crime.”
Cabello’s posts have led to some of his neighbors receiving death threats and others to move away. Three neighbors have been granted anti-harassment protection orders against him.
“My wife and I worked all our lives for a house like this, and then this little (expletive) is ruining our lives,” one neighbor told The News Tribune. “It’s been pure hell.”
Experts say cyber-stalking laws are still being developed in the loosely regulated world of social media.
Agnieszka McPeak is an associate professor of law and director of the Center for Law, Ethics, and Commerce at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane. As the internet grew, so did online harassment. McPeak said courts are looking into new ways to navigate the uncharted territory of online false claims made against people.
“People move, people quit their jobs, people change their moods, people disappear from all the online forums and clubs and things that they are part of,” she said. “So the real-world impact of this really can’t be understated, because it does have true detrimental effects on people.”
Reached by telephone in early April, Cabello told The News Tribune, “I don’t talk on the phone.”
He then said he would comment for this story only during one of his regularly scheduled Instagram livestreams, where people log in and asked him questions. He did not respond to repeated telephone messages seeking comment when The News Tribune declined to participate in the stream.
Attempts to reach Cabello through his lawyer and through direct messages on Instagram also were unsuccessful.
Ugly claims and anti-harassment orders
Cabello moved to Westmore in 2005. It is a South Hill community of 80 homes and was built in the early 1980s, said Lorri Smyth, acting president of the Westmore Homeowners’ Association.
“The most controversial decision made, that caused many opinions, was the height of the speed bumps. There are occasional neighbor-to-neighbor issues over fences or barking dogs, but all in all, a peaceful place,” she told The News Tribune in an email.
Cabello lists his home address with Google as a business location for Ketogenic Dietitian Consultant. He has registered Your Spark is Light as a business at his home address, according to the Washington Secretary of State database. A GoFundMe listed under his name has asked for $25 million to fund his book, “Your Spark is Light.” As of May 5, more than $6,500 has been donated.
In his Instagram bio, Cabello describes his account as “my Autism Journal for medical purposes.”
Neighbors said until about 2015 he was a regular guy, borrowing tools from them and having casual conversations.
One neighbor said the ugly claims started for him about a year ago, when he was working in the front yard of his house. Cabello would say from his own property that the neighbor was a rapist and child molester. The neighbor said he went to confront Cabello, but he would run into his house.
In videos, Cabello claims some of his neighbors are involved in a sex trafficking ring and want “information” from him. He has said women and children go missing and that some Westmore residents are to blame. He talks about extortion, pedophilia, rape and murder in his videos.
Some previous posts include Cabello walking up to neighbors’ property, showing the home and telling his followers that someone living there committed a sex crime.
At least three neighbors have been identified by name in his video posts. At least one of his neighbors received a threatening phone call from one of Cabello’s followers, one of the neighbors told The News Tribune.
In the anti-harassment protection orders, all three of which were granted in February, neighbors shared their concerns about Cabello’s posts.
One of the neighbors said in filing for an order that in January, Cabello accused him of raping, torturing, waterboarding and trying to program Cabello to kill people. Another video said he was sex trafficking children, according to court documents. Followers have said online the neighbor needed to die.
In a separate request for a protection order, another neighbor said Cabello was standing and filming in front of their house in November, stating that he saw the neighbor rape a woman in his home. Followers made comments like “leak his address so we can give him justice” and “beat the (expletive) out of him.”
Neighbors, who have been identified by The News Tribune but asked for anonymity in fear of their safety, said it has been “hell” living in Westmore.
One of the neighbors who has a protection order against Cabello said he discovered the posts after his granddaughter found them and asked him about them. He is moving out of state because of the social media posts.
“This has absolutely uprooted my life,” he said.
Another said it’s been horrible to live in the neighborhood with someone claiming he has perpetrated sex crimes. Someone following Cabello contacted him to let him know his information was easily accessible.
“He wrote me a post saying (Cabello) just doxed you. I want to make you aware,” one neighbor told The News Tribune. “I’ve lived here 34 years and never lived in fear in my neighborhood until now. His posts have made us live in fear in our home. When I talk to people, there are some who have been afraid to step outside.”
Cabello’s claims extend beyond the neighborhood. He has involved local businesses and a national clothing retailer in his posts about sex rings and kidnappings.
A fourth protection order was filed and granted in April by an employee at a Puyallup grocery store. The victim said in court documents that Cabello called her corporate office and posted an Instagram video saying she showed up to his house in lingerie for payment of advertising and talked about child pornography.
“He has mentioned me in many live videos claiming I am trying to make him a suicide bomber, or that I am trying to seduce him and children in his home. His followers starting calling my workplace and asking if those allegations were true,” her statement in court documents said.
In an interview with The News Tribune, she said Cabello was an avid customer for a few months and then her daughter asked her if she had seen his videos about her. Initially, she decided to ignore the posts. She said she felt that kicking him out of the store would trigger a response.
“I don’t know what he is capable of. He makes comments to his followers, and they egg him on and help offer to off his neighbors, and that’s pretty concerning,” she said. “It’s uneasy for anyone to listen to accusations about people in your community, but to know there is no truth to these is even scarier.”
Cease and desist
A few residents reached out to the Westmore Homeowners’ Association after months of his video posts, Smyth told The News Tribune. The homeowners association sent Cabello a cease-and-desist letter on Feb. 12.
Smyth said the posts about neighbors and the homeowners association began in November.
She told The News Tribune residents have moved from the neighborhood over Cabello’s posts.
“It’s gotten so out of hand. Two families moved already, and four more are threatening to move over this,” she said.
One family “left that day and never returned” when Cabello posted online that their young son was going to be raped by two men who live at Westmore, Smyth said.
The cease-and-desist letter said Cabello “slanders and defames” the HOA, its board and individual homeowners. The Feb. 12 letter said Cabello’s online posts violate Washington’s cyberstalking and the HOA’s bylaws, which state homeowners have a right to use and enjoy their lots.
“The Association has been made aware of numerous videos Mr. Cabello has posted on Instagram and other social media platforms which accuse the Association as well as individual members of the community of heinous criminal acts such as homicide, rape and human trafficking,” the letter said. “You must remove these posts and cease posting content of this nature immediately.”
As of May 5, videos accusing neighbors and the Westmore Homeowners’ Association remained on his Instagram account, and Cabello has made videos since the letter claiming neighbors are involved in kidnapping and sex crimes.
Westmore HOA’s attorney, Jennifer Hill, said that under the HOA’s Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions, if the videos are not removed or any debts levied by the association are not paid, the Westmore HOA can file a lawsuit, which could result in foreclosure.
The HOA’s policy allows the board to record a “lien” against a resident for not paying fines or annual dues. A lien is a legal claim on property or other assets that allows the holder to obtain the property if debts are not paid.
“It looks like their collection policy is someone has 30 days to pay something then start accruing late fees, then after 60 days they get final notice. After 90 days, a lien can be recorded,” said Hill, declining to say if any fines had been levied.
Smyth, though, said Cabello has been notified that the HOA considers him in violation of its bylaws.
“A second violation letter was sent to Mr. Cabello, indicating incurred fines and reminding him that failure to remove his posts would result in substantial additional fines. A third violation letter was penned and mailed that identified new posts and noted that older posts had not been removed,” she said in a March 12 email to The News Tribune.
Not violating online rules
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said Cabello has called or been the subject of 75 calls to 911 since 2001.
While threats from Cabello’s followers about coming to the neighborhood to kill neighbors have been made, Moss said, it’s a question of whether they are viable threats.
“Is there a valid threat they can carry out? Is it reasonable that this person would have fear?” he said. “If your neighbor said, ‘I’m going to punch your face when you come out the garage,’ we could make that arrest. There’s this gray area where we don’t know who these followers are or where they live.”
The Sheriff’s Department has asked Instagram to remove Cabello’s account, Moss said. A Facebook and Instagram spokesperson said Cabello’s account was looked into, but it doesn’t break any rules.
“We allow people to make criminal allegations on our platforms,” Stephanie Otway said in an email.
Community standards on Facebook and Instagram on bullying say no negative character claims can be made, but criminal allegations can be made, so that people can draw attention to personal experiences or offline events.
“In cases in which criminal allegations pose real-world harm to the named individual, however, we may remove them,” according to Facebook community standards.
McPeak teaches classes at Gonzaga like Law and Technology and Privacy and Data Security. She pointed to Washington’s cyber-stalking law, which says a person is guilty of cyber-stalking if they act with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass any other person.
Courts have determined embarrassment is too broad to be included. The law requires that intent be proved, and McPeak said that burden can be a sticking point for cases.
“So it’s really important that the intentional act has to be done on purpose, and the purpose that you’re trying to effectuate is harassment, intimidation or tormenting,” she said.
The internet is moving so fast, McPeak said, it’s hard for the law to keep up. Issues like revenge porn, deep fake videos and cyber-stalking are the next frontier.
Ultimately, law enforcement answers the initial question of whether cyber-stalking meets the threshold of the law, she said.
While the Sheriff’s Department feels sympathetic toward the neighbors, Moss said, Cabello’s actions are most likely harassment and not a criminal offense.
“We will continue to monitor what’s going on, and unfortunately, it’s a weird spot,” he said. “The biggest thing of what might occur is a civil punishment.”
Neighbors said filing a defamation lawsuit was considered, but they do not have the funds.
“One of the lawyers said it’s a long process, and it’s expensive. If you don’t have $300,000 in pocket, don’t even try, and we don’t have that money. We are retired military,” one neighbor said.
McPeak said defamation suits can be a challenge for harassment victims.
“They’re high risk, so hard to win,” she said. “It’s hard to actually exercise the right because of those practical restraints, like cost and access to lawyers.”
Courts have determined that defamation is claiming “false statements of fact” that can harm someone’s reputation. McPeak said calling someone a murderer or saying they are accused of a sex crime without proof is presumed to harm someone’s reputation. But social media has put a crack in that presumption.
“Social media defamation claims have been much harder to bring. It’s easier for people to say it’s just hyperbolic speech, no one would take it seriously,” she said. “So, you know, we are seeing a change in a kind of a seismic shift in defamation law, where things that happen on social media, courts seem to say we don’t take it as seriously as we do other speech.”
The Sheriff’s Department has tried to involve mental health resources in responding to calls involving Cabello, Moss said.
“We are providing him with resources to work with mental health experts,” Moss said.
MultiCare is a health care company that partners with law enforcement to respond to behavioral health calls. The goal of responding with police is early identification and intervention and to help divert people from incarceration or emergency rooms.
“Designated crisis responders also can conduct risk assessments, connect individuals to appropriate community resources and provide and/or refer for follow up services,” Holly Harvey with MultiCare said in an email. “Co-responder partnerships with law enforcement serve their specific law enforcement jurisdiction.”
A neighbor told Smyth they tried to put their home up for sale, but the real estate agent backed out, stating it was not in their best interest to represent the home.
Some neighbors have taken matters into their own hands. In the first week of March, fliers appeared that were stapled to street signs in the community identifying Cabello through a picture of him holding a knife and the heading, “Beware: Predator in the Neighborhood,” Smyth said.
“These were removed the following day after complaints that the information had frightened children at the bus stop,” she said.
Smyth worries Cabello’s posts will continue.
“There are going to be new residents and new people who are going to be in his line of fire,” she said. “It’s scary, and we want to put pressure on him. He has to remove those videos and stop posting about them.”
Maybe there’s an end in sight: In recent Instagram posts, Cabello talks about work being done around his house in anticipation of moving.