What You Need to Know About 8chan, the Controversial Site Tied to the El Paso Shooting

August 5, 2019, 3:57 PM UTC

Moments before a suspected domestic terrorist began firing and killing innocent people in El Paso, he went online. Before he pulled the trigger, authorities say, he allegedly visited the forum website 8chan, posting a manifesto, expressing a fear that Hispanic people would take over Texas and turn it into a “Democrat stronghold.”

It wasn’t the first time that a shooter had posted on the site before going on their killing spree. And on Sunday, Cloudfare, which hosted 8chan, terminated the forum’s service, saying it “has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate“.

8chan might be an all too familiar name when it comes to mass murder, but for many people, it’s still a mystery. Here’s a brief primer on its history and its likely future.

What is 8chan?

8chan is a forum where people can exchange and discuss ideas. The best comparison, albeit a poor one, is Reddit. But where that site is best known for memes and political debates, 8chan’s topics tend to skew towards more controversial subjects and its contributors are largely people with extremist views. It’s not hard to find posts loaded with violent content or memes celebrating killers in celebrity-like fashion.

Has 8chan been linked to other mass shootings?

Several. Before the El Paso incident, the murderers in both the March Christchurch, New Zealand shooting (51 dead, 49 injured) and April’s synagogue shooting in Poway, Calif (1 dead, 3 injured) posted on the site around the time of the acts. Last year, the shooter at the tree of life synagogue posted on the site before killing 11 people.

Who founded 8chan?

Fredrick Brennan launched 8chan in 2013. The idea, he has said, came to him while he was high on psychedelic mushrooms. He wanted to create a site that would welcome any sort of speech, no matter how vile, as he viewed other message boards as too restrictive.

He has long since stopped working with the site and said he regrets its creation. He has feuded with the current team in charge of 8chan on Twitter regularly.

Who runs 8chan now?

Jim Watkins, an Army veteran, and his son Ronald, are now in charge of 8chan, running the site out of the Philippines. Both have declined to comment on the site’s role in the El Paso shooting to many outlets.

How did 8chan become a gathering spot for extremists?

8chan wasn’t much of a gathering spot for anyone before 2014. Then GamerGate happened.

An anti-feminist collection of people who described themselves as gamers coalesced around 8chan after they were booted from 4chan, an anonymous online bulletin board. The widespread attention that movement got made it a magnet for other extremists, including QAnon, a group that believes there is an international bureaucracy plotting against Donald Trump and his administration, and self-described “incels,” men who complain about being “involuntarily celibate.”

Why do shooters post their manifestos on 8chan?

According to Brennan, it comes down to three reasons:

  • “A receptive, sympathetic audience is there and will help spread the manifesto.
  • 8chan has a morbid record of success for maximum spread of mass shooting manifestos.
  • Moderation is, and has always been, lax to non-existent.”

Why did Cloudfare terminate 8chan’s service?

The hosting service, which also hosted the Neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, said 8chan had “proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit…. We reluctantly tolerate content that we find reprehensible, but we draw the line at platforms that have demonstrated they directly inspire tragic events and are lawless by design. 8chan has crossed that line.”

Does this mean 8chan is gone for good?

Hardly. It’s actually already starting to pop back up online. Ron Watkins, via Twitter, announced Monday the site had switched over to a new host, bitmitigate (which describes itself as “a non discriminatory provider of DDoS protection that operates in the fullest consistency to free speech”). Posting, he said, should be restored soon.

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