Texas Governor Greg Abbott criticized the website 8chan during his response to the mass murder of shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The former attorney general also proposed roundtable discussions in an effort to come up with ideas for stopping the series of mass murders which have occurred. His reference to the specific website during his televised response caught some viewers by surprise, as many have never heard of 8chan.
What Is 8chan?
In recent months, 8chan has become a go-to resource for violent extremists, according to a recent article in the New York Times. At least three mass shootings this year have been announced in advance on the site. Those include the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the synagogue shooting in Poway, California, as well as the El Paso tragedy.
8chan Is a Megaphone for Shooters
Frederick Brennan, who started 8chan as an online message board in 2013, says it's time to shut the site down. He never intended it to evolve into a platform for mass murderers to announce their violent crimes. Brennan was actually getting ready for church in the Philippines when he heard of the El Paso slaughter.
He said, "Whenever I hear about a mass shooting, I say, 'All right, we have to research if there's an 8chan connection."'
In the case of El Paso, he found a connection quickly. Moments before the El Paso shooting on Saturday, a four-page message whose author identified himself as the gunman appeared on 8chan. The individual who posted the message encouraged his "brothers" on the site to spread the contents far and wide.
The Idea for 8chan Came From Psychedelic Mushrooms
Brennan claimed he got the idea for 8chan while on psychedelic mushrooms. He wanted to establish a free speech alternative to 4chan, a better-known online message board. Disturbed by his opinion that 4chan had become too restrictive, he envisioned a site where any legal speech would be welcome, no matter how toxic.
GamerGate Fueled 8chan
The site remained relatively minor until 2014, when some supporters of GamerGate flocked to 8chan after being kicked off 4chan. GamerGate is a loose reactionary collection of anti-feminist video gamers. 8chan has now become a catchall website for internet-based communities whose behavior gets them evicted from more mainstream sites. It has been an online home for "incels," men who lament being "involuntarily celibate," and other fringe movements.
A Bulletin Board for Terrible Ideas
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "8chan is almost like a bulletin board where the worst offenders go to share their terrible ideas. It's become a sounding board where people share ideas, and where these kinds of ideologies are amplified and expanded on, and ultimately, people are radicalized as a result."
The controversial site remains unmoderated, and its commitment to keeping up even the most violent speech has made it a center for extremists to test out ideas, share violent literature and cheer on the perpertrators of mass killings.
After El Paso, 8chan Goes Dark
Former members of 8chan have scattered across the internet after the far-right site was shut down over the weekend following Governor Abbott's criticism of it. The security service provider Cloudflare terminated the extremist messaging board as one of its clients following the El Paso shooting.
The anonymous nature of 8chan can make it impossible to track where its followers are going, according to Joan Donovan, the director and lead researcher of the Technology and Social Change Research Project, according to an article in the Guardian.
Law Enforcement Investigating Document Posted on 8chan by Shooter
El Paso law enforcement officials confirmed Saturday they were investigating a document posted on 8chan that they believe was written by Patrick Crusius, the alleged shooter, according to CNN. Crusius has reportedly signed a written confession, according to several news sources.
House Committee to Interview Jim Watkins
The House Committee on Homeland Security wants to visit with the owner of 8chan, Jim Watkins, about his internet forum. Watkins wrote last week, "I am on my way back to America as we speak." He addressed his letter to Congress from the 8chan base in the Philippines. He further said, "Rest assured I am not an extremist."
Tech Companies Respond After El Paso Slaughter
In the wake of the deaths of 22 people and injuries of 50 others, the tech companies responded to the tragedy before Congress. Responsible tech companies stepped up to the plate and determined to shut down 8chan. They deleted the terrorist incubator, according to Forbes. This was done because the El Paso terrorist had posted his manifesto online there. His manifesto not only praised the forum, but also referenced prior 8chan terrorists.
8chan Active During El Paso Shootings
Community members of 8chan were egging the gunman on, trying to get him to beat the Christchurch New Zealand mosque shooter's "high score." The Christchurch shooter was 8chan's first terrorist. Mass shooters have been a meme for years, but three separate terrorists organizing and referencing each other on the platform is a pattern that can only be happening because the environment on the platform is conducive to do so.
Gov. Abbott Recommends Roundtables
In addition to condemning 8chan for its role in the murders, Texas Governor Abbott further recommended the creation of roundtables. Abbott, serving his second term as governor, said, "The roundtables, which may start later this month, are meant to collect ideas to legislatively address the domestic terrorism El Paso experienced as well as ensuring guns do not end up in the hands of "deranged killers like the man who committed this heinous crime."
Abbott further said, "We need new and different strategies that go above and beyond what we did in the aftermath of dealing with shootings that took place at the school in Santa Fe." He was referring to the 2018 shooting at a high school thaat killed eight students and two teachers. After that 2018 shooting, Abbott also called for roundtables.
$5 Million Aid for El Paso
Abbott also said Wednesday that the state was providing $5 million to assist El Paso organizations in the wake of the shootings. The governor said roundtables had yielded 25 proposals he signed into law. They were focused on mental health initiatives available to children and school safety.
Abbott Tweets Support for El Paso Victims
Abbott tweeted, "Our hearts will forever be with the people of El Paso. We pray that God will touch all affected with the healing and hope only He can provide. Texas will use every tool and strategy we possess to aid and support the victims and their families. God Bless El Paso."
President Trump Also Calls for Legislation
President Donald Trump said Wednesday there is a "great appetite" among lawmakers in D.C. to pass legislation expanding background checks to buy guns, but "no political appetite" to ban assault weapons. Trump visited the embattled city and offered support to victims' families.
The uncle of an infant who lost both parents in the mass shooting, took his orphaned nephew to meet with Trump. Tito Anchondo, whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in the attack, chose to meet with the President and First Lady. The 2-month old boy suffered two broken fingers. His brave parents saved his life by shielding him.
Trump also met with first responders and law enforcement people during his visit to the border city.
What Is the Future of 8chan?
Does 8chan have a future after Governor Abbott has condemned it and Cloudflare has removed its protection? Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure and cybersecurity company that served 8chan decided to stop providing its services to the site, leaving 8chan vulnerable to cyberattacks. Cloudflare's chief executive Matthew Prince wrote that 8chan's "lawlessness" had "contributed to multiple horrific tragedies."
8chan then used Epik, another infrastructure company for protection. Voxility, a company that provides computing serves to Epik, dumped Epik, indirectly whacking 8chan again.
Abbott and Tech Companies Deserve Credit
Greg Abbott and the tech companies who are condemning the actions of all sites who encourage terrorism over the internet deserve credit. Constructive responses such as these are important in the fight against future mass murderers who thrive over the internet.