8CHAN: Exploring the Online Safe Space for White Nationalists

As white nationalism is driven from society as the ideology of scum, websites such as 8Chan have only grown as the online safe havens for its radicals. From the mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand to the synagogue shooting in San Diego, California, the platform has gained notoriety for being the host of far-right manifestos, the party grounds for attack celebrations and the community hub for hatching up terrorist plots. And what’s the kicker? The west’s counter-terrorism experts haven’t even heard of it.

During Wednesday’s congressional hearing on domestic terrorism, America’s highest intelligence officials within the FBI, DOJ and DHS admitted to being unfamiliar with the platform’s far-right association. “Do you have any recommendations about what can be done to address the violent hate speech and incitement of violence found on fringe sites like 8chan and Gab,” asked Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Al), the House Committee on Homeland Security’s leading rightwing member, according to Vice News. The room was met with silence. “Y’all don’t have any suggestions for us?” Rogers continued. “That’s scary. We can’t make good policy without good advisement.”

To help catch intelligence members up to speed, 8chan was founded in 2013 as another spin-off from the infamous forum site 4chan. Instead of hosting traditional topics in naked pictures to political debates, the site acts as the dark zone for fetishes the likes of hardcore anime, tickle and child porn, conspiracy theories and racist safe-spaces linked to radicalised terrorists and their supportive online followings. The platform has only one rule: “Do not post, request, or link to any content that is illegal in the United States of America and do not create boards with the sole purpose of posting or spreading such content.” Essentially, a ban on child porn which still falls through the cracks. Everything else is fair game, allowing us to see both the expected pro-whiteness views and their fundamental goals.

As described by the Christchurch shooter, these crowds often revolve around the alt-right’s “meme culture” as a means to push the underlying philosophy of “accelerationism”. This is a bipartisan belief the SPLC defines as “the idea that violence should be used to push Western countries into becoming failed states”. Unlike certain Marxist interpretations which value violent worker revolutions as a means to overtake capitalism, 8Chan’s far-right believe western culture requires terror plots which will “give rise to radical, presently unthinkable changes” after the fallout of the “race war”. 

It honestly manifests itself as the same ideology of Thanos, that fictional purple alien villain from the latest Marvel movies, whose central belief is that waging genocide on half the population will force the other half to reconsider their divisive existence amid the fallout. It echoes the framework of “Siege”, another famous far-right manifesto published by neo-Nazi writer James Mason, which advocated the mass murder of Jews and non-whites to discomfort society into a new era. The problem, of course, this kind of ideology forever leads to circular violence.

The far-right’s desired “one big sacrifice” only causes further sacrifices leaves the flawed justification of a possible peaceful future left buried beneath the body piles. “Stability and comfort are the enemies of revolutionary change,” the Christchurch shooter wrote. “Therefore, we must destabilize and discomfort society where ever possible.” By their admission, continual coordination on these platforms is a necessary tool to execute their plans. As famously noted by Richard Spencer, a leader of the alt-right, the tool of free speech absolutism itself is a “radically pragmatic” means to achieve their world, allowing intolerant actions are allowed to happen based on their freely exchanged commands.

It makes sense why the 8Chan underbelly groups praised the likes of Charles Manson, a cult leader whose crimes have now inspired neo-Nazi groups, famously influenced his followers to murder Hollywood celebrities including actress Sharon Tate. One man’s free speech is the court system’s conspiracy to commit murder, and murders want to keep the sociopath train rolling. These meme terrorists, from radicalisation to incitement, are effectively members of this same cult, operating under anonymity and offering haven to adherents where others offer cash. Should pro-terror shitposters get away with conspiracy if the quid-pro-quo is merely ideological? If not, where are the government officials ready to act?

In recent months, President Trump’s administration has quietly disbanded DHS groups designed to investigate white terror groups across the nation. According to sources within the DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), a firm used to help local police catch discovered terrorists, these department “restructuring” cuts will only enable more attacks in the upcoming future, leaving the public to wonder whether these so-called counter-extremist experts care what happens within their own borders. 

Given the platform’s association, 8Chan would fall under the guise of truly supported federal investigations.“What we’ve seen in the last four to five years is the homegrown violent extremist threat, where someone can get on the internet and self-radicalize,” Michael McGarrity, assistant director for counterterrorism at the FBI, told Vice. “We’re seeing that same type of threat in the domestic terrorism world, where individual actors — lone wolves — can find their ideology to justify their actions online. A significant amount are racially motivated extremists who support the majority of the white race.”

“8chan is, in many ways, acting like a digital hate group,” argued Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, who spoke with Vox. “It speaks to this ecosystem where people are able to leverage their hateful propaganda and ideas within their concentrated echo chamber.” This echo chamber structure is central to 8Chan’s problem. It’s evident that California’s shooter, just six weeks after Christchurch, played quite the copycat of his fellow 8channer during his attack.

The Atlantic reports the terrorists both live streamed their attacks, used the same file-sharing programs to upload the manifesto and invoked the same “Subscribe to PewDiePie” dog-whistle — all as a means of using media attention to spread their combined message. These individuals purposefully forfeited their own identity to that of the online cult, which the shooter credits for his radicalisation. “I’ve only been lurking for a year and a half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless,” the Poway Synagogue shooter wrote. “It’s been an honour.” Media coverage, however, simply reprints these memes and messages without critical thought.

It doesn’t ask what exactly drives such forfeiture into becoming an honour? As described by Vox’s Aja Romano and Emily Stewart, these manifestos often read as “74-page shitposts —filled with memes and jokes that very online people will understand,” meaning it creates an underground club where these nerds can become super best friends. “It’s meant to confuse, to distract, but also to signal to white nationalists that he is one of them.”

“The ultimate goal of including the memes seems to be a show of solidarity with the manifesto’s primary audience: the ‘insiders’ who understand that while the copypasta is a joke, nothing about the extremist ideology is,” they continue. “The memes inserted into the manifesto serve to bolster fellow extremists’ enthusiasm, making them feel even more unified as people who “get” the references and subscribe to the racist views. Ultimately, the memes help turn the manifesto itself into a radicalizing force.”

8Chan isn’t going to disappear overnight. It’s clear the site administrators see no issue with the content, but the government’s inaction destroys the crocodile tears of radicalism being charged at political opponents and their disfavoured religious targets. There’s no simple solution, but demands for further investigations into these groups, unimpeded by needless budget cuts, team restructures and a refusal to meet with experts on big tech, is the least that can be offered. 

“If you keep joking about something like this long enough, eventually somebody is going to do it for real,” argues Robert Evans, a journalist at the investigative platform Bellingcat. “It’s a neo-Nazi gathering on the internet. At this point, they’re not joking on 8chan about the Nazis, they unironically want the country to collapse into a civil war so that white nationalist murder gangs can execute everyone who’s not Aryan.” As people are dying across mosques and synagogues, and while governments remain unclear where the enemy is, these online jokes are on us.

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