Poway Synagogue Shooter Found Hate Online
The murderer and his victims worshipped just twelve miles apart.
This is just one of many jarring details to emerge after Saturday’s deadly shooting, in which a man filled with traditional markers of promise walked into the Chabad of Poway, Calif. on the last day of Passover and opened fire, killing one worshipper and wounding the rabbi and two others.
John T. Earnest, 19, lived with his parents, attended a high school where his father taught, went to church, and attended college nearby. But it seems he’d found a different home online, lurking for months on the 8chan’s /pol/ board, a discussion forum described by experts as a “gathering place for extremely online neo-Nazis.”
It was there that he found a welcoming community, who echoed his anti-Semitic views and “disgust” for the Jews who seek to “doom” the white race.
And it was there that he published a manifesto filled with hate, prepared to “willingly sacrifice my future…for the sake of my people,” and citing as inspiration the mass shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in 2018, and the March 2019 attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which killed 50 people.
He had learned to follow the new white supremacist terror playbook. Before the attack began, an 8chan user with his name posted to the site, “What I’ve learned here is priceless.” And then, chillingly, “a livestream will begin shortly.”
For whatever reason, his livestream did not work. But the community which foments hate remains largely unchecked.
This was precisely the problem that the recent House Judiciary Committee meeting on hate speech and white supremacy should have been examining, but the convening itself was bogged down first by first by political posturing, and then by hate speech which forced the comments associated with the livestream to be suspended.
Yet, Eileen Hershenov, senior vice president of policy at the Anti-Defamation League did manage to get on the record how 8chan and Gab play a key role in stoking violence around the world. “These platforms are like round-the-clock digital white supremacist rallies,” she said.
But the moment didn’t last.
Bärí A. Williams, vice president of legal, policy, and business affairs at All Turtles and longtime advocate for inclusion in tech, notes that the political convenings about safety in tech have become a cynical and political exercise:
It’s always interesting to see who each organization and company sends to these hearings to articulate its efforts and intentions. I noticed that Facebook and Google sent mid-level black attorneys to address their efforts to limit toxic content on their platforms instead of a VP or C-suite-level executive. And one curious inclusion was Candace Owens, a Republican activist who has turned into a media darling for being . . . a black woman who uses social media to espouse the far-right gospel and who briefly converted Kanye West to her version of “free thinking”(before he reverted back).
And so the hate continues, fueled by its own self-serving propaganda.
Here’s just one chilling metric.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, tells the Los Angeles Times that since 1992 there have only been four years in which hate crimes against a religion exceeded 20 percent of all hate crimes. Three of those four years were recent: 2015, 2016 and 2017.
“Now we are seeing a ‘propaganda of the deed 2.0’, where violent assailants want to commit acts, but also publicize it themselves,” he said. “It’s a chain, almost like a fan club of like-minded violent people.”
Without serious intervention, these events will continue.
Which means that for now, the members of the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church are alone to sort out how one of their own had become so lost to hate. As are the millions of people who are walking into work all over the country afraid of what may be percolating in their real-world communities and who will be mourned next.
The divide feels insurmountable.
In wrenching testimony, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway explained what it was like to face down the man who had just killed his friend and fellow worshipper, Lori Kaye. “Here is a young man standing with a rifle, pointing right at me, and I look at him. He had sunglasses on. I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his soul.”
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