On Wednesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security subpoenaed 8chan owner Jim Watkins to testify on the anonymous message board’s handling of racist content. The site has been linked to multiple mass shootings in recent months and has been widely condemned as a safe haven for white supremacists and other racists.
Most recently, the suspected gunman behind the El Paso, Texas, massacre posted his white supremacist manifesto to the site before attacking a Walmart earlier this month; 22 people were killed and 25 other people were injured in the shooting. The site remains offline as of Wednesday afternoon, after several hosting companies cut ties to 8chan in the days following the attack.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, and Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, said in a joint statement it’s “critical” Watkins appear before Congress on September 5.
“In recent years, violent extremist content has proliferated on both large and small social media platforms,” the statement said. “At least three acts of deadly white supremacist extremist violence have been linked to 8chan in the last six months. We have questions on what is being done to counter this trend so we can be sure it is being properly addressed.”
Just prior to the El Paso shooting, a post appeared on 8chan with a four-page message claiming to be from the suspected shooter. The manifesto railed against undocumented immigrants as “invaders” and argued they exacerbated issues facing American workers.
“The job of my dreams will likely be automated. Hispanics will take control of the local and state governments of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs,” the manifesto said. “They will turn Texas into an instrument of a political coup which will hasten the destruction of our country.”
Similar 8chan posts were made in advance of the shootings at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a synagogue in Poway, California, with the suspect behind the Poway attack posting on 8chan before the shooting that “what I’ve learned here is priceless.”
Frederick Brennan, the creator of 8chan who sold it to Watkins in 2015, stepped away from the site in 2016 and since the El Paso shootings has repeatedly called for the site to be taken down for good because, in his words, “bodies are continuing to pile up.” Watkins, in a YouTube video on Sunday, said 8chan has been offline “voluntarily” for the last week. He said the site would remain offline until he has talked to Congress.
“I want [Congress] to understand that we have nothing to do with this crazy violence that’s been happening,” Watkins said. “I want them to understand what’s been going on because it’s obviously a smear by the press.”