Congress Subpoenas 8Chan Owner to Testify About Website's Connections to White Supremacist Violence

The owner of 8Chan, Jim Watkins, appears on a YouTube livestream from Reno, Nevada on August 11, 2019
Screenshot: YouTube

8Chan has become an incredibly popular place for violent white supremacists to post their manifestos before a mass shooting. Now Democrats in Congress want to hear from 8Chan’s owner, Jim Watkins, and they’ve issued a subpoena for him to testify on Capitol Hill on September 5.

The news of the subpoena, first reported by Politico, comes as Watkins has denied 8Chan had any role to play in the recent attacks linked to white supremacist ideologies. Three attacks have been associated with the site over the past 6 months, including the El Paso Walmart attack that killed 22 people, the Poway synagogue attack that killed one person, and the Christchurch mosque attacks that killed 51 people. All three suspected gunmen posted open letters or manifestos about their attacks to 8Chan before carrying them out.

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The House Homeland Security Committee, under Democratic Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, previously sent Watkins a letter dated August 6 requesting that the 8Chan owner appear and testify. It’s not clear if Watkins declined to come voluntarily, but the House Democrats have now issued a subpoena that will legally require him to come.

8Chan has been offline for over a week, ever since it was dropped by Cloudfare, though Watkins says the site is offline voluntarily. The latest YouTube video posted by Watkins on August 11, 2019 is geotagged at the Sands Regency Casino Hotel in Reno, Nevada.

“We’ll bring it back online after I talk to Homeland Security,” Watkins says in the YouTube video livestream. “I want them to understand we have nothing to do with this crazy violence that’s been happening. I want them to understand what’s been going on.”

Watkins is upset that 8Chan was implicated in the recent Norway mosque attack that thankfully didn’t result in any deaths. The New York Times erroneously reported that the Norway attacker had posted to 8Chan before that attack on Saturday, but the website was already offline by then. The Times later issued a correction, blaming it on an editing error.

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“This is a horrible thing that’s going on and I think almost everybody is for mental health screenings and making sure you’re sane before you can get a gun,” Watkins said on the YouTube livestream.

Watkins assured 8Chan fans that the government had not forced him to pull the website offline, but acknowledges that without Cloudfare, the site will not have any defense against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS is an incredibly common method of inundating a website’s servers with phony traffic requests so that it takes the website offline.

The House subpoena, which has been posted online, indicates that Watkins’ testimony will happen at 9:30 am ET in Washington if they can get him to appear. It’s not immediately clear if Watkins has a lawyer nor whether he’ll fight the subpoena in any way.

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Police in the Philippines, where Watkins usually lives, have reportedly opened an investigation into the website. Watkins purchased the site from its founder Fredrick Brennan in 2015. Brennan has recently called for 8Chan to be shut down over its connection to mass shootings.

“We have questions on what is being done to counter this trend so we can be sure it is being properly addressed,” the House Homeland Security Committee said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Receiving testimony from Mr. Watkins is critical to our oversight on this critical issue.”

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Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog