Another Mass Shooting Is Being Linked to an Online Forum where White Supremacy Thrives

8chan has become a sounding board for mass shooters—and even its founder wants it to be shut down

As officials are apparently still struggling to determine why 19-year-old Santino William Legan opened fire on a crowd in Gilroy, California, last weekend—killing three people and then himself—two more deadly mass shootings have taken place.

On Saturday, August 3, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, a while male from Allen, Texas, marched into a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, carrying an assault rifle and murdered at least 20 people, injuring at least two dozen more. Hours later, at about 1 a.m. on Sunday, 24-year-old Connor Betts, a white male reportedly armed with a long gun and a high-capacity magazine, opened fire outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people, injuring 27 more. Six of the nine victims were black.

While details regarding motive appear to be scarce as yet in the Dayton mass shooting, a 2,300-word “manifesto” believed to have been posted online by Crusius prior to the El Paso terrorist attack cites a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and suggests “getting rid” of immigrants in order to make “our” way of life more sustainable.

Crusius reportedly posted the screed to the online forum 8chan, a spinoff of 4chan that The New York Times describes as “a megaphone for mass shooters, and a recruiting platform for violent white nationalists.”

Although white male mass shooters are often described as “lone wolves,” several perpetrators of recent shootings have found a community of white supremacists on 8chan. Both the shooter who perpetrated a mass killing in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, and the shooter who killed one person and injured three others at a Synagogue in Poway, California, in April had posted hate-filled diatribes to 8chan before carrying out their crimes.

Since distancing himself from the website, its creator, self-proclaimed “eugenicist” turned born-again Christian Fredrick Brennan, has repeatedly said that the site should be shut down. “Whenever I hear about a mass shooting, I say, ‘All right, we have to research if there’s an 8chan connection,’” Brennan, who lives in the Philippines, told The New York Times.

“It’s not doing the world any good,” he adds. “It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.” The site is currently being operated by an Army veteran named Jim Watkins and his son Ronald, who also live in the Philippines.

In July, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said that most of the domestic terrorism cases the bureau has investigated are motivated by white supremacy. Despite that white supremacist activity online has become a bellwether for extreme acts of violence, he also said that the FBI’s focus is “on the violence…We, the FBI, don’t investigate the ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence.”

In a co-authored op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Jillian Peterson and James Densley of the Violence Project said that to stop future mass shootings, society at large needs make it harder for shooters to find validation, particularly online. “We all can slow the spread of mass shootings by changing how we consume, produce, and distribute violent content on media and social media,” they write. “Don’t like or share violent content. Don’t read or share killers’ manifestos and other hate screeds posted on the internet.” Of course they also advocate for “depriving potential shooters of the means to carry out their plans,” i.e. restricting access to firearms.

Meanwhile, 8chan founder Brennan is holding out hope its current operators will pull the plug. “How long are they just going to allow this to go on?” he wonders.

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