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The State of California Could Have Stopped 8Chan: It Didn’t

November 4, 2019

By Robert Evans

Reported with Fredrick Brennan

Over the course of 2019, the website “8chan” has directly inspired four acts of terrorism around the world, killing 76 people and wounding 80. The mass shootings in Christchurch, Poway, and El Paso are well-known. The mass shooting in Halle, Germany, which killed two and injured two more, received less attention. Since 8chan was dropped by its service providers and taken offline after the El Paso attack, the Halle shooter was unable to announce his killing spree there. Yet the connection was still obvious: the shooter’s attack was livestreamed, like the Christchurch shooting. He identified himself as “anon”, a general term for chan users. 

The most direct connection between the Halle shooter and 8chan was hidden in the killer’s manifesto, in a joking reference he made to someone named Mark Mann. The shooter claimed Mann helped fund the attack. There is no evidence of this. But Mark Mann is an employee of NT Technology, an internet service provider owned by Jim Watkins, who also owns 8chan. Mann is Jewish, and the Halle shooter’s reference to him was almost certainly a cruel joke. The fact that Mann was referenced at all suggests the shooter was deeply familiar with the infamous image board.

8chan’s ability to continue inspiring attacks after its dissolution is disturbing. More worrying still is the fact that, over the last several months, Jim Watkins has waged a slow, grinding battle to bring the site back online. A number of volunteers, including 8chan’s former founder and the co-author of this article, Fredrick Brennan, have fought tooth and nail to stop him. But early in November the site, rebranded as “8kun”, came back online.

As I write this, 8kun has gone up and down for the past several days. It was dropped from its most recent host, a Russian ISP located two hours from North Korea, on November 3, 2019. It will come back online. If not via the normal web, than through peer-to-peer means like Tor. There was, however, a point at which the resurrection of 8chan could’ve been stopped — perhaps even forever. This is the story of why that did not happen.

The Stakes Involved

A discerning reader might ask: if the Halle shooting happened while 8chan was offline, does it really matter if it comes back up again? Will keeping it down reduce the number of shootings it helps to spawn?

There is no certain answer here, but there is evidence to suggest that yes, keeping 8chan offline is better for public safety. While the Halle shooting happened with 8chan offline, the shooter had presumably been a regular user of the image board for quite some time. It is reasonable to assume he was radicalized there. Since he went out of his way to copy several of the Christchurch shooter’s tactics, we can assume that manifesto had a significant impact on him. 

In the wake of the Christchurch and Poway shootings, anons went out of their way to declare the killers “saints” and share their manifestos to every corner of the Internet. The Christchurch manifesto was even printed and sold on the streets of Ukraine. With 8chan down, there has been no similar concerted effort to spread the Halle shooter’s manifesto, nor the home-built firearm instructions he sought to make viral. 8chan’s /pol board was unique within the fascist media ecosystem; no comparable community of a similar size exists. 

Outside of /pol, 8chan was also the host of the Q Research Board. It was the only place where the mysterious individual(s) known as “Q” could post and confirm his identity to his followers. With 8chan down, there were no Q drops for three months. During the brief time when “8kun” was online and functional, Q made four new drops, breathing life into the dangerous cult that exists around the conspiracy theories Q pushes. Qanon has already inspired a murder and a number of non-lethal attacks, including one on the Hoover Dam. In August of 2019, the FBI warned that conspiracy theories like Qanon encourage, “…the targeting of specific people, places and organizations, thereby increasing the risk of extremist violence against such targets.”

The Fight To Keep 8chan Offline

A number of journalists and activists, including me, have fought to keep 8chan in its grave. No one has put in more work than Fredrick Brennan. Since he is the man who founded and coded the website back in 2013, this is probably appropriate. The public face of this fight has been a social media campaign to name and shame the companies hosting and providing registration services to 8chan. This stopped the site from coming back online, but as long as Jim Watkins and his businesses own the servers 8chan’s data was stored on, they can continue their efforts to bring the site back, perhaps indefinitely.

Reporting by Mashable on August 5, 2019 identified Centauri Communications as the company that provided internet access to 8chan’s physical servers. In early September, 2019, Fredrick Brennan verified that Centauri’s servers were the second to last step on the traceroute for N.T. Technology, Jim Watkins’s company. Without Centauri, his business would not be online.  

Centauri is one of the few businesses that have not yet been shamed out of working with Jim Watkins due to his association with 8chan. In September, Brennan was able to verify through the California Secretary of State’s website that the business was listed as “SOS/FTB Suspended”. According to the California Franchise Tax Board, this means Centauri is “…not in good standing and loses its rights, powers, and privileges to do business in California.”

On September 6, Brennan reached out to Asad Ramzanali, the Legislative Director for California State Representative Anna Eshoo. He started to explain the situation to Ramzanali, in the hopes that he could get Rep. Eshoo to reach out to the Franchise Tax Board and the Attorney General and do something to stop the return of 8chan, perhaps by seizing Centauri’s servers. 

I’ve reviewed the chat logs between Ramzanali and Brennan. In them, Ramzanali appears engaged and helpful. Brennan informs him about one of the ways Watkins funds his operation, through PayPal donations to the website “jimisbad.com”. The PayPal link, which is still active, sends donated funds directly to N.T. Technology. 

Ramzanali expressed concern, but pointed out that he and his boss could not take action if the website was not hosted in California. 

Brennan was able to quickly show that “Jimisbad.com” is, in fact, hosted in California. Ramzanali expressed excitement, calling Brennan’s research “great stuff.”

Ramzanali set up a meeting with his boss, Rep. Eshoo, for Thursday, September 19. He told Brennan, “I’m pretty sure we’re going to get a final yes/no from my boss” after that. The meeting went well, and Ramzanali worked with Brennan to put together a letter from Rep. Eshoo to the California Secretary of State, Attorney General and State Controller. A copy of that letter is attached here in full. The letter officially requested the state “investigate two companies [Centauri and N.T.] operating in California despite lacking the proper authorizations to do so and take any legal actions you’re are [sic] authorized to take against these companies.”

The letter laid out the violent history of 8chan in a concise manner. It noted that both N.T. Technology and Centauri were “SOS/FTB Suspended” in the state, and that the vast majority of Centauri’s business came through N.T. Through the letter, Rep. Eshoo urged the recipients of her letter to “take the maximum possible actions you are authorized to take under California law against these companies.”

It was, in short, a good letter. But it was never sent.

When Courage Fails

One good marker of our absurd current era is the fact that elected officials now live in terror of nerds on an image board. On September 26, 2019, nearly three weeks after Ramzanali and Brennan began their correspondence, the former reached out to say that “bureaucratic issues” had delayed the approval of the letter. 

By that point, it was already obvious that Jim Watkins planned to bring 8chan back under a new name. Ramzanali asked about this, and Brennan walked him through what he knew of the plans to bring 8chan back online. After this, Ramzanali finally explained the reason for the delay on approving the letter: Rep. Eshoo’s office was worried about being “Swatted.”

“Swatting” is what happens when a group of misanthropes on the Internet finds the address for someone they dislike and calls in a fake tip of a kidnapping or some other crime, in order to get a SWAT team sent to their victim’s home. This has resulted in deaths before. During Gamergate, members of 8chan attempted to SWAT video game critics. The fear that it might happen again is not misplaced. 

On September 27, it became clear that 8chan would not be coming back online under its original name. There was confusion as to whether or not the new site “8kun”, might not actually host /pol at all. Rep. Eshoo’s office seems to have used this as an excuse to “hold off” on sending the letter:

The threat of swatting was mentioned again, and it seems likely that this fear was the main driving reason behind a lack of action. There is certainly a real danger here. But there is also danger in reporting on the violence spawned by 8chan.

I’ve received death threats as a result of my reporting on /pol. I continue to write about them. It is unsettling that an American member of Congress does not feel safe confronting these people, especially when the weaponized threat are the police, who presumably treat Congresspeople differently than they would, say, a random person of color or LGBT individual targeted by anons.

Brennan did not hear from Ramzanali, or anyone from Rep. Eshoo’s office, for more than three weeks. During this time, Watkins and his team escalated their efforts to bring 8chan back online. They cycled through a variety of hosts, including Alibaba Cloud and Zare, using fake names in order to try and slip through the cracks. “8kun” was only kept offline through the diligent work of worried volunteers.

On October 22, 2019, Ramzanali finally reached out to Brennan again:

He asked if 8kun was still being operated via Centauri, and hosted in the same data center in San Francisco. Brennan told him that, yes, it was, and once again begged Asad and Rep. Eshoo’s office to send the letter.

The last message Fredrick Brennan received from Ramzanali, or anyone else at Rep. Eshoo’s office, came two minutes later, at 6:44 PM Philippine Standard Time on October 22. 

At 11:07 AM Philippines time the next day, roughly sixteen hours later, the Twitter account “Is It Wet Yet?”, which is operated by Watkins’s employees and exists to track the resurrection of 8chan, made this post:

Note: This tweet is timestamped in EST

The picture showed the 8chan servers (among other things) in the back of a car. Their current location is unknown. But 8kun’s new hosting company appears to be VanWaTech

The CEO of VanWaTech is Nick Lim, the founder of BitMitigate, who briefly provided security services to 8chan after they were dropped by Cloudflare. BitMitigate was taken offline after its service provider objected to being associated with 8chan.  On October 28, less than a week after 8chan’s servers were loaded into the trunk of that car, Nick Lim posted this:

Since Lim is based in Vancouver, Washington, and 8kun’s new host is named “VanWaTech”, there’s a good chance those servers were relocated somewhere in the vicinity of Vancouver. We can’t confirm that for certain at this time. All I can definitely say is that the State of California missed a potential opportunity to put this problem to rest.

We have reached out to Rep. Eshoo’s office for this story, but have not heard back as of press time. We will add any statements once they arrive.

Robert Evans

Robert Evans has worked as a conflict journalist in Iraq and Ukraine and reported extensively on far-right extremist groups in the United States. He's particularly interested in the ways terrorist groups recruit, radicalize and communicate through the Internet. He has a podcast on the HowStuffWorks network (https://www.behindthebastards.com) and you can contact him via revanswriter@gmail.com or Twitter: https://twitter.com/IwriteOK

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19 Comments

    • Donny Brook

      Interesting piece, and certainly a missed opportunity.
      But I don’t understand the reference to the “State of California” in the title. Rep. Eshoo represents a part of California, but she’s a member of the federal government, not the state government.
      She has no power over any state office or agency.

      A question: when Eshoo’s office started dragging its heels, why didn’t you contact other representatives (California has 52 others) or California state agencies (lots of those, too)?

      Reply
  1. Matthew

    You’re barking up the wrong tree. Society has radicalized these young men, not some website. To the extent a website did help radicalize somebody, what are we talking about? Free speech and free association. You’d infringe on the Constitutional rights of the vast majority of innocent people because of a tiny fraction of bad apples. Recent shooters also posted on Facebook and Instagram. Should we shut down the entire internet? Shame? Blacklisting? This is McCarthyist hysteria, largely motivated by ideological resentment and desperation, because the left is losing the culture war and a real one is coming. “The Right currently enjoys an asymmetric advantage” when it comes to memes, or the spread of political ideas. https://www.warrensmemeteam.com

    Conservative, right-wing thought enjoys an asymmetric advantage because we’re right. Leftists censor and hide (eg. on Reddit, NYT, WaPo) precisely because their degenerate, self-serving, hypocritical nonsense does not hold up under open scrutiny.

    Even if you were to succeed in stifling free speech, you still wouldn’t accomplish the goals you seek. We live in a wicked society. That’s the root problem. As wickedness increases, as the interbellum hour-glass empties, there will only be greater imbalance, more friction, pressure, suffering, anger, and consequent violence. Wickedness demands destruction – that’s justice.

    “The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. “Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does.” They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.” -Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

    “Insofar as infidelity [literally “lack of faith”, translated from Danish] gains the upper hand at any particular time, it thereby approaches its own destruction. Morality is undermined, and consequently little valued. All the secret ties which unite families and states are loosened; everything sacred is scorned; and the spirit of persecution becomes associated with it, as it was formerly with superstition; but this condition bears with it the germ of its own downfall, and if the mental powers are not able to overthrow it, it ends in great revolutions and regenerations of the social system, which, as is well known, are accompanied by such throes that they must be considered as the tremendous punishment of degeneracy.”

    -Hans Christian Oersted, The Soul in Nature

    Reply
    • JK

      Interesting theories, Matt, but please, try applying your arguments to things like ISIS forums and Al Qa’idah websites. See those get shut down by tech companies all the time, sometimes within minutes of being created (in the case of ISIS Twitter accounts, for example), and nobody sheds a tear or suggests that this will just drive more of them underground or whatever. 8chan isn’t just a website or a forum for exchanging political ideas- it’s a haven of pedophiles and budding domestic terrorists.

      “Conservative, right-wing thought enjoys an asymmetric advantage because we’re right. Leftists censor and hide (eg. on Reddit, NYT, WaPo) precisely because their degenerate, self-serving, hypocritical nonsense does not hold up under open scrutiny.”

      ^This is absolutely hilarious projection. Every idiot spewing idiot ideas is convinced the negative reaction he gets must be because he’s right. In reality, your ideas are rejected because they have been shown to lead to terrible consequences for everyone involved, consistently, virtually every time they have ever been implemented.

      It is in fact right-wing ideology that cannot hold up to scrutiny and criticism, which is why its adherents need to cloister themselves away in forums they absolutely control, and it is also why they are constantly railing about things like leftists in academia, because historically it is when secular academia started questioning and challenging their precious “traditions” that the right got so upset.

      And as for the “degenerate” comment, well- if you ever want to find a group where everyone from ordinary ex-cons to sex offenders and pedophiles are overrepresented, you can’t go wrong with the White Nationalist movement. Nearly all its major leaders were perverts or pedophiles, many of them convicted.

      It’s amusing to watch the group of sexually frustrated monkeys collected around a message board associated with anime and child porn convincing themselves they are the guardians of some great civilization, and that it is the “normies” (more accurately: functional people) who have it all wrong.

      Reply
      • Matthew

        JK,

        8chan/4chan are sites dedicated to free speech, not any particular ideology, unlike an ISIS forum. 8chan wasn’t recently targeted because of child porn. That’s another strawman. 8chan was targeted because of the shootings by just 3? people out of a user base of tens of thousands. Here’s the thing tho, mass shootings have been spiking for more than a decade before any shooter posted on 8chan. Again, you are barking up the wrong tree.

        The projection is yours alone. On 4chan, where I call home, leftists are free to post on /pol/ along with anybody else. Some do. Conservative speech dominates because it is valid and robust. Leftism is defeated on the battlefield of ideas, not by autocratic fiat (censorship) or programmed groupthink (upvote), as on “establishment” (leftist) media sites. We are the counter-culture and we are winning. If the left actually could reject conservatism on the merits they wouldn’t need to hide so thoroughly.

        As for the consequences of conservatism, history speaks for itself. Tradition (traditional conservatism), exists, as such, because it is continuously selected through time (“natural selection”), because it works. Whereas degeneracy/excessive liberalism is historically anomalous, short-lived, and precedes great destruction.

        The rest of your comment is more slander and strawman; par for the course. We *are* the guardians of some great civilization. We embody the same principles that have formed the foundation and glue of Western society since forever, aye the same principles of every healthy society; morality, mutuality, masculinity and femininity (eg. gender roles), family, etc. And when this society fails, we will be the ones who rebuild.

        “After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has
        been banished returns…The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results. Societies of people sharing the same views are formed…The idea of RETURN is based on the course of nature. The movement is cyclic, and the course completes itself.”

        I Ching, Chapter 24

        Reply
        • JK

          Your responses are amusing and display the typical ignorance of actual history that leads people down the path you’re travelling. It’s funny how you invoke history and science you poorly understand (specifically natural selection), and yet the only source you quote is an ancient religious text.

          “Western society” is nothing but an ideological construct. You have no idea what values were embodied by anything that could be called Western society, and your concepts of morality, gender roles, etc. changed dramatically over the ages. If you actually knew the values and norms of any historical European society (or any historical society for that matter), you would probably recoil in horror at any number of practices considered totally normal at the time. You do not have to go back very far either- Victorian Britain was full of practices which would offend your ideas about gender roles, “tradition,” “degeneracy,” and so on.

          The only reason why you can continue believing in this nonsense is because you lack the adequate historical knowledge about these societies and thus are vulnerable to bullshit fairy tales about some bygone Golden Age.

          But by all means, keep screaming about how your ideas are robust and stand the test of time (as though they were not enforced by a system of repression and censorship far more authoritarian than anything you have ever known in your life). One day you’ll either pull your head out of your ass and realize what this con of an ideology has cheated you out of, or you’ll just die alone without having contributed anything positive to the world whatsoever.

          Reply
        • JK

          Shorter answer: Imagine being so stupid and historically ignorant you think that “conservative ideas” stand on their own merit in a free market of ideas when in fact the freest country in the world literally jailed comedians as recently as the 1960’s over jokes they told.

          Reply
          • Matthew Brooks

            Free speech selects for conservatism. That doesn’t mean conservatism selects for free speech. You’re confusing 2 different things. There’s a saying on /pol/ – “Hard times create strong men; strong men create good times; good times create weak men; weak men create hard times”. Order rises from chaos. Once order is restored, it does not preserve chaos alongside it. Order allows liberty, sure, within reason, but there is such a thing as going too far. Conservatism in practice prohibits certain “speech” that is obscene, corrupt and corrupting (a gay pride parade, for example).

            I’ve quoted 3 sources so far, not 1, and I don’t need a source for reason. Tradition by definition is something continuously selected through time. If tradition didn’t work that way, the path of least resistance would have selected something else instead.

            The core morality of humanity has not “changed dramatically over the ages”. For example, since the beginning of time, as in other healthy mammals, females consistently assume a domestic role (“nesting”), breastfeeding and nurturing young. Since “formula”, contraception, “women’s lib”, and other myopic, misguided ideas, women have increasingly divorced themselves from this primary biological realization. Today tens of millions of mothers separate themselves daily from their young children to go work with strangers. It is no surprise modern women are less happy than those of previous generations. It is also no surprise incidence of childhood mental illness has skyrocketed.

            John Calhoun did an experiment with mice for the NIH showing a similar breakdown in maternal behavior once mouse society became overpopulated, attendant with other deviance/degeneracy;

            “He described the onset of several pathologies: violence and aggression, with rats in the crowded pen ‘going berserk, attacking females, juveniles and less-active males.’ There was also ‘sexual deviance.’…A large proportion of the population became bisexual, then increasingly homosexual, and finally asexual. There was a breakdown in maternal behavior. Mothers stopped caring for their young, stopped building a nest for them and even began to attack them… Calhoun coined a term—“behavioral sink”—to describe the decay.”
            https://nihrecord.nih.gov/sites/recordNIH/files/pdf/2008/NIH-Record-2008-07-25.pdf

            Sound familiar?

            Here are some other relevant links;

            “Decline and modernization (1828–1908)…series of constitutional reforms led to a fairly modern conscripted army, banking system reforms, the decriminalization of homosexuality, the replacement of religious law with secular law and guilds with modern factories.”

            Then, “Defeat and dissolution (1908–1922)”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Empire#Decline_and_modernization_(1828%E2%80%931908)

            “Between World Wars, Gay Culture Flourished In Berlin…I think there probably had never been anything like this before and there was no culture as open again until the 1970s.”
            https://www.npr.org/2014/12/17/371424790/between-world-wars-gay-culture-flourished-in-berlin

            Then the Nazi rise to power and Germany’s destruction in WW2.

            There is a pattern here; weakened (loosened/liberalized excessively) internally, defeated externally.

            And indeed, the societies promoting feminism, homosexuality, hedonism, etc. today are the same ones promoting open borders, welcoming Muslim migrants, allowing terrorists into their homelands.

            “German intelligence warns…’We have to accept that we have hit squads and sleeper cells in Germany… There are hundreds of these reports, some from refugees themselves.'”
            https://www.politico.eu/article/german-intelligence-warns-of-is-hit-squads-among-refugees

            “Iranian-Backed ‘Sleeper Cell’ Militants…poised to launch a large-scale attack on the American homeland”
            https://freebeacon.com/national-security/iranian-backed-sleeper-cell-militants-hibernating-u-s-positioned-attack

            “Intelligence agencies believe Iran has organised and funded sleeper terror cells across Europe”
            https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/21/iran-backed-terrorist-cells-ready-strike-uk-tension-escalates

            “ISIS supporters have posted…messages warning of the countdown ’till the zero hour’”
            http://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/digital/2015/05/18/-Countdown-to-zero-hour-ISIS-supporters-on-Twitter-post-Italy-threats.html

            “They want something that happens everywhere at the same time”
            http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/german-jihadist-returns-from-syria-and-gives-testimony-a-1067764.html

            “’We saw the future of this threat in Brussels and Paris,’ said the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, adding that future attacks will be on ‘an order of magnitude greater’”
            https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-27/fbi-chief-warns-terrorist-diaspora-will-be-coming-to-the-west

    • Gerhard

      Nice sentiment, but governments will always be under pressure to shut websites down when they’re perceived as a recruiting tool or inspiration for violent activity, just as places of worship or community centers would be, whether of the left or right persuasion. There is nothing wrong with a free marketplace of ideas, but when a message board moves into the territory of “doxing,” “swatting” or incitement to violence for any political stripe it will naturally attract the ire of authorities.

      The real red line is where online venting transitions into offline criminal activity, and that’s what authorities are looking to identify in its inception.

      But I actually agree with some of the state comments here..the writer has got to find a more effective way to help shut the website down than to chase ineffectual bureaucrats with fuzzy jurisdictions despite their good intentions..the article just serves as a reminder of what dealing with such a process usually frustratingly entails.

      Reply
    • Lerianis

      100% correct. Like it or not, the only thing that 8chan and 8kun are? Message boards. Nothing more and nothing less.

      You cannot shut them down simply because you do not like what people are saying on them. You CAN monitor them and if someone makes a specific threat against a specific person or specific place?
      Come down on them like a Hammer of God.

      Reply
  2. Ulianov for the People!

    So, when you bellingcat pseudo journos but nothing more than propagandists whores will have the balls to call out facebook and twitter? Because there were many terrorist acts announced and live streamed there, and still now there are several terrorist pages and groups acting freely on those sites, but until this moment you said nothing about them, ohh no, the real problem is small platform who had nothing but some freedom of speech and the same problems with terrorism than twitter and facebook, but you choose to hit the small one, why is that? Why the double standard? Why don’t you fight to take down the big ones too? (((I wonder why))).

    Reply
    • Gerhard

      So if Bellingcat admit that Twitter and Facebook host extremist content from time to time before identified by authorities, you’ll let them off the hook? Kay.

      Is this the new Russian angle to attack Bellingcat’s integrity (media whores, on CIA’s payroll) that you cooked up in your Glavset staff meeting?? If so, try something else.

      Reply
    • Gerhard

      So how would Russian authorities respond if 8cham or its ilk became a mere “medium” to discuss the overthrow of the Putin regime?

      Reply
  3. Your Majesty

    Frederick Brennan founded wizardchan, an incel forum that’s been atributed to radicalizing Elliot Roger before he went and commited a mass shooting.

    Nice sources you got there.

    Reply
    • some guy TT

      the whole point of Brennan is that he realized he was horribly wrong and is now trying to make amends.

      Reply
  4. Tracey Thakore

    Regarding, “Matthew,” the “hopeless victims of mental illness,” their neurosis developes as their brain doesn’t.
    These people are criminally insane.
    They don’t think like a normal human being.
    They are not, “radicalized,” their behavior stems from an innate belief fueled by a changing and developing society.

    Reply

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