August 6, 2019 9:51 am
Updated: August 6, 2019 11:59 pm

Owner of 8chan defends website in wake of outages after mass shootings

ABOVE: Controversial forum 8chan linked to mass shootings

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The owner of online messaging board 8chan defended the website in the wake of two mass shootings that have reignited the debate over gun control in the U.S. 

In a YouTube video posted early Tuesday morning, 8chan owner Jim Watkins said the messaging board has around one million users and has “never protected illegal speech, as it seems we have been accused [of] by some less-than-credible journalists.”

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“We have responded with both vigour and integrity every single time that a threat of violence has been posted and information for it has been requested by law enforcement,” he said.

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8chan has a history of use by violent extremists and came into the spotlight this past weekend after U.S. authorities cited a lengthy anti-immigrant manifesto posted online before a Saturday morning shooting in the heavily Hispanic border city of El Paso, Texas, which they said was evidence the bloodshed was racially motivated. Police are investigating the document, which is believed to have been written by the suspect.

READ MORE: El Paso mass shooting being investigated as domestic terrorism

The El Paso shooting took place at a Walmart store, leaving 22 people dead.

Patrick Crusius, 21, has been charged with a single count of capital murder in the El Paso case, court documents show, in what is likely a legal placeholder to keep him in custody while the investigation is underway. 

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Eight of those killed in the attack were Mexican citizens, according to the Mexican government.

The four-page statement uploaded to the largely unmoderated online message board called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and expressed support for a gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.

LISTEN: Dr. Joan Donovan of  Harvard Kennedy School joins Ryan Jespersen to explain what 8chan is and looks ‘under the hood’ of the controversial message board

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The El Paso killings prompted 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan to call for the site to be shut down in an interview with the New York Times. Brennan no longer has control of 8chan, which is now run from the Philippines by Watkins, a U.S. Army veteran, the Times reported.

READ MORE: Trump vows ‘urgent resolve’ on background checks after mass shootings, provides no details

Cybersecurity company Cloudflare said on Sunday evening that it is terminating service for 8chan, which then sought a new domain host.

In his video statement on Tuesday, Watkins likened 8chan to “an empty piece of paper for writing on.” 

“It is disturbing to me that it can be so easily shut down,” he said. 

Watkins also countered the allegation that the El Paso shooter uploaded a manifesto to 8chan: “First of all, the El Paso shooter posted on Instagram, not 8chan. Later, someone uploaded a manifesto. However, that manifesto was not uploaded by the Walmart shooter. I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but it was not uploaded by the murderer. That is clear, and law enforcement was made aware of this before most people had even heard the horrific news.”

It is unclear how or if the suspect used Instagram.

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Watkins also said it was “clearly a political move” to remove 8chan from Cloudflare.

“It has dispersed a peacefully assembled group of people talking,” Watkins said. “This silenced them effectively.”

He also claimed that 8chan moved to a new network after Cloudflare’s announcement, but the new network was cut off by its web infrastructure provider. 

“Hopefully, service will be restored shortly. Again, my thoughts and prayers are for the victims of violence everywhere,” Watkins added.

WATCH: 8chan’s creator hopes to destroy ‘Frankenstein’ creation after mass shootings

READ MORE: U.S. Congress weighs response after 2 mass shootings

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Saturday’s rampage appeared to be a hate crime, and federal prosecutors called it domestic terrorism. A Texas prosecutor said the state will seek the death penalty against Crusius if he is convicted.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Americans “must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy” and blamed the internet and violent video games for fostering violence.

WATCH: Vigil held outside NRA headquarters in Virginia to call for gun reforms in wake of El Paso, Dayton shootings

8chan creator Brennan, who also lives in the Philippines, described himself as “naive and ignorant” in an interview with Reuters, saying if he could go back and “not create 8chan at all, I probably would.”

The site was also used by a shooter who in March attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and providing inspiration for a shooting a month later of a man at a synagogue in Poway, Calif.

“It’s gotten to a point where if a mass shooter wants to go to a killing spree, they choose 8chan to post their manifesto,” Brennan said.

WATCH: Message board down after 3 mass shootings

8chan’s main page prominently displays the phrase “embrace infamy,” attracting people with deep-seated anger, he said.

“It seems there’s nowhere else to go in terms of how extreme it is.”

Brennan agreed to media interviews because he had hoped to stop 8chan. However, he said the El Paso shooting was the turning point, rather than the deadlier New Zealand attack.

“I did not call for it to be shut down like I’m calling for it now,” he said.

Asked if he had attempted to reach law enforcement authorities to warn them about the dangers of 8chan, Brennan said: “If the PNP (Philippine National Police) wants to talk to me, no problem at all. I will tell them anything I know.”

The PNP on Monday said it was investigating 8chan.

— With files from Reuters and Associated Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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