Congress Calls On 8chan Owner To Testify On Extremism After Mass Shootings

Lawmakers have called on the owner of 8chan, an online forum that amplifies the voices of violent extremists, to testify before Congress after the shooter in one of the weekend’s two massacres was believed to have posted on the website.

The House Homeland Security Committee sent a letter Tuesday to 8chan owner Jim Watkins demanding he appear to answer questions about the platform’s history of hosting, promoting and celebrating racist and extremist content on the site, and to find out what Watkins is doing to address it.

“Regrettably, this is at least the third act of white supremacist extremist violence linked to your website this year,” the letter signed by the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), said, referring to the Saturday massacre that killed at least 22 people in El Paso, Texas. The shooter is believed to have posted a white supremacist manifesto on 8chan before the attack, describing his hatred for immigrants and Latinos in a style that used rhetoric from both the Great Replacement manifesto and from President Donald Trump. The attack is the deadliest massacre of Latinos in modern U.S. history.

The letter cited a mass shooting in March, when a white Australian gunman murdered at least 51 worshippers and injured 49 more on a Muslim holy day at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. That shooter is believed to have posted a 74-page white supremacist manifesto and a link to a Facebook livestream of the attack on 8chan. The El Paso shooter’s screed cited the Christchurch shooter as a source of inspiration.

A month later, another white gunman opened fire on a synagogue in Poway, California, killing a Jewish worshipper and injuring three others on the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday. That shooter is believed to have posted an anti-Semitic and racist letter on 8chan before carrying out the attack.

“Americans deserve to know what, if anything, you, as the owner and operator, are doing to address the proliferation of extremist content on 8chan,” the Tuesday letter said.

Watkins is a U.S. Army veteran in his mid-50s who lives in the Philippines. He took over the site from founder Fredrick Brennan in 2015, HuffPost previously reported. Watkins told BuzzFeed in 2017 that he does not share the extremist views on the site, though he has done nothing to stop the flow of such content.

HuffPost has previously reported on and broken down how 8chan became the popular spot on the internet to share violent extremist content. The poorly moderated forum is anonymous, making it a hotbed for hate, radicalization, violent misogyny and celebrations of mass killers. Users regularly post racist, homophobic, pedophilic content and propaganda without consequence, creating a worldwide white supremacist movement.

Google blacklisted the website from its search engine in 2015 because of concerns that users were engaging in child pornography. But the site still reportedly averages millions of monthly visitors.

CloudFlare, a tech giant that provided internet infrastructure services to 8chan, announced it is removing the extremist forum from its network after the El Paso shooting. The tech company said in a blog post that it feels “incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter” but that 8chan “has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate.”

Earlier Tuesday, Watkins posted a statement saying he believes 8chan is merely a “peacefully assembled group of people talking” and not a breeding ground for hate.

But in a New York Times interview after the El Paso shooting, Brennan himself acknowledged 8chan’s influence in acts of violence and said to “shut the site down.”

“It’s not doing the world any good. It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there,” he told the Times’ Kevin Roose on Sunday. “And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.”

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