The Website Where Violent White Supremacists State Their Case

Aug 5, 2019
Originally published on August 5, 2019 8:52 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So as we just heard, many experts say 8chan has become this big, powerful, dangerous site. And we want to dig a little deeper and hear a little more about how it has become a real go-to for white terrorist extremists.

Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: In the last five months, the El Paso shooter allegedly posted a manifesto on the website 8chan just before he targeted innocent Latinos in a killing spree. The Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter also posted an 8chan manifesto before targeting Muslims. The Poway Synagogue shooter in Poway, Calif., also posted an 8chan manifesto before targeting Jews. Robert Evans, who studies extremism on the Internet, says the 8chan manifesto is a key part of how white extremism is growing.

ROBERT EVANS: That if you shotgun these manifestos out in front of tens of thousands of readers, several times a year, somebody will take the bait. And that's the game they're playing. That's the strategy and it works.

SHAHANI: 8chan is a message board that's become a soapbox for extremists. This past weekend, a founder of 8chan, who's since left the company, called for the site to be shut down. He said it was a receptive audience for domestic terrorists, according to The Washington Post. Evans, who publishes his research on Bellingcat, a site for online investigations, analyzed the Twitter and LinkedIn posts of the El Paso shooter. Up to 2017, his social media presence suggested he was a normal-seeming conservative, Evans says. But then the young man turned to 8chan.

EVANS: The El Paso shooter directly cited in his manifesto the Christchurch shooter's manifesto as an inspiration. And, you know, I don't think this attack happens without the other one.

SHAHANI: 8chan is not on the fringes of the Internet. It's popular, particularly in America. Amazon, which tracks website traffic, says 8Chan ranks 1,813 in the U.S. Advertising experts say that's high. McDonald's, by way of comparison, ranks 1,992. 8chan gets about 15 million unique visitors a month, according to SimilarWeb. Given this popularity, Evans believes 8chan deserves more attention from law enforcement.

EVANS: If 8chan was an Islamic extremist gathering place on the Internet, it would not be around anymore.

SHAHANI: Top politicians have pointed to different causes behind the recent mass shootings. On Sunday, President Trump said the mass shooters have a mental illness problem. Leading Republican and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy put the blame on videogames that have shooters.

Experts who study extremism on the Internet say political leaders need to stop looking for excuses. Brittan Heller, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, says they need to acknowledge the crisis of white extremism that's being aided by online platforms. She rejects the videogame thesis.

BRITTAN HELLER: That is a cop-out. And I think, as Americans, we should demand better.

SHAHANI: 8chan did not respond to NPR's request for comment. After the Christchurch, New Zealand, mass shooting, 8chan's current chief, Jim Watkins, said his technology was not at fault for providing the shooter with a platform. His site is just a tool, and his company cooperates fully with law enforcement. Aarti Shahani, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.