Founder of site linked to mass shootings says he created ‘a monster’

Online message board 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan listens to questions during an interview in Manila, Philippines, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Blaza

By Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – The creator of a far-right online message board connected to three mass shootings that killed dozens of people has described himself as “naive and ignorant”, likening the platform 8chan to Frankenstein’s monster, with no limit to its extremism.

Fredrick Brennan, 25, who lives in the Philippines, said the free-wheeling web board he created in 2013 had become a hive of white supremacy, anonymous hate, and Neo-Nazism since he sold it to a fellow American, and said he felt a sense of guilt, “sometimes”.

“If I could go back and not create 8chan at all, I probably would,” he told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. cyber security firm Cloudflare has terminated 8chan as a customer, after a gunman whom authorities believe had posted on 8chan about a “Hispanic invasion” killed 22 people on Saturday at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.

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, California.

“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.

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.

The site’s owner, army veteran Jim Watkins, is also based in the Philippines. Reuters made repeated attempts to reach Watkins, without success.

‘RABID CONSERVATIVE’

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.

Brennan said he had no qualms about selling 8chan to Watkins who seemed liberal, fun-loving and “pretty chill”. He said he stopped communicating with Watkins after his character changed and he became “a rabid conservative” supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Brennan said he sold the site for both financial reasons and after being overwhelmed as its administrator and having to deal with child pornography, which he had wanted to ban.

“It was getting so difficult to try to control. It’s like letting the mental patients run the asylum,” he said.

“I was having too much mental stress dealing with it.”

He added: “It was pretty difficult to be 8chan’s administrator so there is some sympathy I have for them. Of course, that sympathy has its limits.”

Brennan said he had contacted El Paso police offering help in confirming the shooter’s manifesto, based on 8chan archives.

“Whenever there’s a shooting and the details are still fuzzy, I am always worried there’s gonna be an 8chan connection,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Martin Petty, editing by Ed Osmond)

Trump denounces white supremacy after shootings, cites video games and internet

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the shootings in El Paso and Daytonin the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday called for urgent action to prevent gun violence and said all Americans must “condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio killed 29 people and wounded dozens.

Trump, whose rhetoric has frequently been condemned as stoking racial divisions, laid out a number of policy options but did not mention his own past remarks.

“These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” Trump said in remarks at the White House. “Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

On Saturday, a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in what authorities said appeared to be a racially motivated hate crime. Just 13 hours later, another gunman in downtown Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people.

Trump said mental health laws should be reformed to better identify mentally disturbed individuals and he called for capital punishment for those who commit mass murder and hate crimes.

He said he had directed the Justice Department to work with local authorities and social media companies to detect mass shooters before they strike. He said the Internet, social media and violent video games had helped radicalize people.

Earlier on Monday, Trump had urged lawmakers in a tweet to put strong checks in place on potential gun buyers, suggesting action could be tied with immigration reform. In his remarks at the White House, however, he did not mention immigration.

(Reporting by Roberta Rammpton and Susan Heavey; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Bill Trott)

House Republicans move to reprimand King over white supremacy comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives moved on Monday to strip congressman Steve King of his committee assignments after the Iowa Republican gave a media interview in which he questioned why white supremacy is considered offensive.

The decision by the House Republican Steering Committee to remove King from his posts on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees must be ratified by the full caucus of House Republicans.

The move comes as several House Democrats filed censure motions against King after he told the New York Times in an interview published last week: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

King, who has a history of making statements that critics have condemned as racist, said in a statement that his comments in the Times interview were “completely mischaracterized” and the committee’s decision was “a political decision that ignores the truth.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that King’s remarks were “beneath the dignity” of the party and the country.

“Let us hope and pray earnestly that this action will lead to greater reflection and ultimately change on his part,” McCarthy said.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called on King to resign. King was first elected to Congress in 2002 and won re-election in November with just over 50 percent of the vote, sharply lower than the 61.2 percent he polled in 2016.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said in a statement: “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Texas university removes ‘white supremacy’ statues overnight

Workers remove Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan statue from the south mall of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2017.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The University of Texas at Austin removed the statues of three Confederate-era figures from a main area on campus on Monday, saying they had become symbols of white supremacy and that they were taken down overnight to avoid confrontations.

Violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 when white nationalists protesting against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee clashed with anti-racism demonstrators. One woman was killed when a suspected white nationalist drove his car into a crowd.

President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events has drawn widespread anger from across the political spectrum. Trump did not immediately condemn white nationalists and said there were “very fine people” on both sides, prompting several chief executives to quit his business councils in protest.

“Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation,” University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves said in a statement.

“These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

Fenves announced the removal of the statues shortly before midnight on Sunday. By about 3 a.m. local time on Monday, they had all been taken down, said Cindy Posey, director of campus safety communications. It was done at night as a safety measure to avoid confrontations, she said.

A growing number of U.S. political leaders are calling for the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy, saying they promote racism. Supporters of keeping the statues in place contend they are a reminder of Southern heritage and the country’s history.

The statues of three Confederate figures and a former governor removed from the university’s main mall were “erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation” and “represent the subjugation of African Americans,” the university president said.

The statues include depictions of Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy’s army, of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston and of Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan.

Those three will be moved to the school’s Briscoe Center for American History, where they will be accessible for scholarly study, Fenves said.

Onlookers watch as Confederate statues are removed from the south mall of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2017.

Onlookers watch as Confederate statues are removed from the south mall of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Spillman

Workers also removed a statue of former Governor James Stephen Hogg, who led Texas from 1891 to 1895, years after the Civil War ended in 1865. It will be considered for re-installation at another university site, Fenves said.

Several cities have targeted Confederate symbols in response to the violence in Charlottesville. They include Baltimore, Maryland, which removed four monuments to the Confederacy in a pre-dawn operation last week, and Birmingham, Alabama, where the mayor vowed to seek the removal of a Confederate monument in his city.

On Saturday, Duke University removed a statue of Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)