This past week, we experienced the third mass shooting to emerge from 8chan, an infamously vile message board, known most recently as an epicenter for the alt-right.
The shooting that took place in El Paso killed at least twenty. It was a copycat of the Christchurch massacre in March which was livestreamed on 8chan by a user who coated his weapons in 8chan memes. In June, a teenager on 8chan attempted to replicate the Christchurch killings at a Synagogue in Poway, California. He killed one worshiper and wounded many before his gun jammed.
These shootings are part of a larger pattern of alt-right killings, generally young men, motivated by fascist ideology they absorb online, or their imagined status as superfluous human beings on the bottom of society as so called “incels” (“involuntary celibates”), or both.
These include the killer of Heather Heyer at Charlottesville, a man who rammed a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto in 2017 “to speak to Sgt. 4chan,” (the site which 8chan copied), the perpetrator of the 2015 Charleston massacre, the Parkland shooter, and the 2014 Isla Vista “virgin” killer. But the list is far longer and stretches back a decade.
When the Christchurch shooting occurred, I had just finished a book on 4chan and 8chan and how they have spawned mass shootings and the alt-right.
For the work, I spoke at length to Fredrick Brennan, the founder of 8chan. When I first encountered him in 2018, I was surprised to discover he denounced the culture he helped create as “toxic.” “I want nothing to do with the chans” he told me. Yesterday, he was pleading on Twitter for 8chan to be shut down.
In 2014, when 8chan was just a year old and Brennan twenty, he made a series of very wrong choices: he chose to allow his site to become the epicenter of a misogynistic harassment campaign known as gamergate, which had been banned on 8chan’s predecessor, 4chan.
He then chose to keep 8chan alive in exchange for a job. He is still being punished for these choices, just like the rest of us. But the story of how and why he made these decisions, stayed with me. It seemed like something out of fiction, for all the misery involved in the making of it, and then the catastrophes that followed.