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8chan’s Owner Will Tell Congress His Site Is About Video Game Tips and 'Down-Home Recipes.' Oh, and Mass Shootings.

Jim Watkins was called to testify because his website has played host to the racist screeds of at least three mass shooters this year.

by David Gilbert
Sep 5 2019, 10:54am

Jim Watkins/YouTube

Jim Watkins, the owner of the hate-filled message board 8chan, will give evidence to Congress Thursday after being subpoenaed by the House Homeland Security Committee.

Watkins will tell the committee that his website is about preserving democracy and countering repressive regimes, a place where classic video games are shared and “down-home recipes are traded.”

Oh, and, every now and then, someone shares the details of their plan for a domestic terror attack.

Early Thursday morning, Watkins published his opening address to the committee, in which he described the website he has run with his son Ron since July 2016:

“[8chan is] a one-of-a-kind discussion board where anonymous users shared tactics about French democracy protests, how to circumvent censorship in repressive countries, and the best way to beat a classic video game. In this hodgepodge of chaotic discussion, down-home recipes are traded, sorrows lifted, and a small minority of users post hateful and ignorant items,” Watkins says in his prepared statement.

What Watkins didn’t mention is the reason he's been called to give evidence to the committee.

READ: 8chan extremists are going dark. Here’s why that’s dangerous.

“This is at least the third act of white supremacist extremist violence linked to your website this year,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) wrote in a letter to Watkins last month, in the wake of the El Paso mass shooting. “Americans deserve to know what, if anything, you, as the owner and operator, are doing to address the proliferation of extremist content on 8chan.”

The committee was referring to the fact that, moments before the massacre in El Paso on August 3, the suspect posted a four-page rant to 8chan attempting to explain his actions. In March, the man who allegedly killed dozens of people at two New Zealand mosques posted a screed to the site just before the attack. Weeks later, the suspect in the shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, did the same.

READ: Congress Wants to Talk to 8chan's Owner About Extremism. He Says He's Too Busy.

Watkins’ statement does address the three incidents, giving detailed descriptions of the amount of time each of the posts remained on 8chan. He says the site relies on a global network of human moderators, rather than algorithms, to flag and delete content.

He claims that so far in 2019, the site has deleted 92 discussion boards, banned 47,585 users and deleted 132,874 comments, while also complying with 56 U.S. law enforcement requests.

Watkins also claims in his statement that the site “is offline voluntarily” at the moment, though he again failed to mention the fact that the site was taken offline in the wake of the El Paso shooting because web infrastructure companies like Cloudflare pulled their support.

Watkins says his website “may come back online, but only when 8chan is able to develop additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law." These tools include a way to restrict certain parts of the website during a state of emergency, such as a mass shooting.

This would see certain boards put in a read-only mode until it is deemed safe enough to enable posting again.

Watkins’ son Ron tweeted last month that the site would be offline until “at least September 5.”

READ: "Nobody really knew him": Everything we know about the suspected El Paso shooter

Watkins will give evidence to the committee behind closed doors on Thursday, and he will be talking to committee staff members staff rather than directly to lawmakers. A transcript of his evidence is expected to be released later on Thursday.

For the hearing, Watkins said he has retained the services of lawyer Benjamin Barr, who is heavily involved in the right-wing Project Veritas group.

Cover: Jim Watkins/YouTube.