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Ignore The Poway Synagogue Shooter’s Manifesto: Pay Attention To 8chan’s /pol/ Board

April 28, 2019

By Robert Evans

Translations: Русский

On April 27, 2019, at around 11:30 a.m. local time, a young man with a semi-automatic rifle walked into the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California. He opened fire, killing one worshipper and wounding three others. In the hours since the shooting, a manifesto, believed to be written by the shooter, began circulating online. Evidence has also surfaced that, like the Christchurch Mosque shooter, this killer began his rampage with a post on 8chan’s /pol/ board.

Although both of these attacks may seem different, since they targeted worshippers of different faiths, both shooters were united by the same fascist ideology. They were also both radicalized in the same place: 8chan’s /pol/ board.

This has been corroborated by posts on the board itself, where “anons,” as the posters call themselves, recirculated the shooter’s since-deleted post. In it, the alleged shooter claims to have been “lurking” on the site for a year and a half. He includes a link to a livestream of his rampage — which thankfully does not appear to have worked — and he also includes a pastebin link to his manifesto.

The very first response to his announcement was another anon cheering him on and telling him to “get the high score,” AKA, kill a huge number of people.

As I noted after the Christchurch shooting, this shooter’s manifesto is filled with “shitposting” — internet in-jokes meant to distract authorities and the media and make 8chan’s /pol/ board seem less threatening, and less worthy of serious concern. The fact that this is the second /pol/-related shooting in a house of worship in slightly more than a month should be enough to explain that this is false.

This article is not a dissection of the shooter’s manifesto. It is a dissection of the online community that moulded and spawned him.

What Is 8chan’s /pol/ Board?

8chan is a large website, which includes a number of different discussion groups about everything from anime to left-wing politics. /pol/ is one particularly active board on the website, and it is best described as a gathering place for extremely online neo-Nazis.

The overarching goal of /pol/, held by most of its members, is to radicalize their fellow anons to “real-life effortposting,” i.e. acts of violence in the physical world. This goal is well embodied by a post I found in a discussion of the Poway Synagogue shooting.

I’ve browsed /pol/ on an almost daily basis since the Christchurch shooting. It has not been difficult to find calls for violence. On Monday, March 25 of this year, I ran across evidence of anons translating the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto into other languages in an attempt to inspire more shootings across the globe.

This tactic can work, and today’s shooting is proof. The Poway Synagogue shooter directly cited the Christchurch shooter as his inspiration, saying he decided to carry out his attack roughly two weeks after that shooting. On /pol/, many anons refer to the Christchurch shooter, Brenton Tarrant, as “Saint Tarrant,” complete with medieval-inspired iconography.

In addition to talk of inspiring and carrying out mass shootings, many anons engage in what is called “siege-posting.” This is a reference to the book Siege, which is a collection of writings from American neo-Nazi James Mason. Siege was a major inspiration for the terrorist group Atomwaffen, among others. It urges autonomous terror attacks by individuals as a way to bring about the fragmentation and eventual destruction of American society. The goal is to spark a civil war that will allow for the violent realization of white nationalist/neo-Nazi goals.

Many anons on 8chan mock “siegeposting.” Others spend hours in detailed discussions about how to acquire explosives and artillery in order to better participate in what they believe to be the coming race war.

In his manifesto, the Poway Synagogue shooter, much like the Christchurch shooter, noted that he hoped his attack would inspire new gun control measures which would in turn spark a civil war.

Where Shitposting Stops

The Poway Synagogue shooter claims that Felix Kjellberg, the YouTuber PewDiePie, funded his murderous “operation.” This is an obvious lie, and appears to be a way for this shooter to tie himself to the Christchurch shooter, since that person began his rampage by saying “Subscribe to PewDiePie.”

The sheer density of in-jokes and references to obscure aspects of “channer” culture in both manifestos leaves one with the question: What can we take seriously?

The Nazi stuff. Take the Nazi stuff seriously.

This is a cropped version of a jpg of Tarrant I found on /pol/. The original included a quote from the Christchurch shooter, which I’ve removed. Nazism is the constant background noise on /pol/. The Poway Synagogue shooter’s manifesto was peppered with dumb jokes, but also included lengthy, detailed and deadly serious anti-Semitic raving. Conversations on /pol/ tend to go the same way.

In the wake of the Christchurch shooting, I was interviewed about 8chan by ABC Australia. The documentary they produced became a topic of discussion on /pol/. Some anons attempted to deny any white supremacist or neo-Nazi leanings on their site. Their fellow anons immediately put the lie to this.

Literal Nazi propaganda is outrageously easy to find on /pol/. Some of it has been updated for the internet age, and dressed in the garb of modern ironic fascism.

But a lot of it is classic OG Nazism (original Nazism), including a thread I found on April 3 of this year, that was just a long, in-depth discussion of which translations of Mein Kampf were best.

There are, of course, numerous other topics of discussion on /pol/. When Jussie Smollett’s charges were dropped, there was predictable outrage. When the Notre Dame cathedral burned, there were instant conspiracy theories that Muslims or Jews had been behind it. But no matter what else is discussed, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, hatred of LGBT individuals, and a desire to commit murder under the swastika are constant through-lines.

On Friday, March 29, just under a month before the Poway Synagogue shooting, I found a post from an anon who suggested several of the members should abduct a “known child sex predator who has connections to many other high level people who abuse kids.”

The first response to this idea was: “Shoot up a Synagogue. Be a hero.”

What Happens Next

When I began looking through /pol/ right after the Poway Synagogue shooting, I came across several claims that the shootings had been a “false flag” aimed at making the message board look bad.

When Bellingcat tweeted out a warning about shitposting and the shooter’s manifesto, in the immediate wake of the attack, probable anons even commented on the Tweet in an attempt to deny that a channer had been behind the attack.

This is a recognizable pattern that occurs in the wake of any crimes committed by members of the board. While the initial response to the Christchurch shooter’s massacre thread was riotous glee, in the days after the shooting many anons began to claim the attack had been a false flag. This actually sparked significant division and debate between the members of /pol/. In the below image, a user mocks other anons for being unable to “believe something in your favor is real.” Another anon responds, “As the evidence comes out, its [sic] quite clear that this was a false flag.”

In his manifesto, the Poway Synagogue shooter even weighed in on this debate, accusing other anons who called the Christchurch and Tree of Life Synagogue shootings “false flags” to merely have been scared: “They can’t fathom that there are brave White men alive who have the willpower and courage it takes to say, ‘Fuck my life—I’m willing to sacrifice everything for the benefit of my race.’”

There is no central organization behind 8chan’s /pol/ board, and barely even any moderation. But the community acts in certain predictable ways to defend itself during times like these. The pattern is regular enough to set your watch to. For example, when the ABC Australia documentary in which I discussed 8chan came out, some anon put a 15 bitcoin “bounty” (roughly $60,000) on my head.

It’s entirely possible this was just a joke, but jokes on /pol/ have a nasty way of turning into real-life violence. When I became aware of this I posted about the threat on Twitter. Anons then began claiming the death threat was fake, and I’d created it myself and posted it on their message board for some uncertain purpose.

Other anons did not bother with attempting denial. One included archived links to the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, Facebook page and massacre videos. He bragged to me that, “You can’t shut this down.”

The Poway Synagogue shooting is proof that “this” has not yet been shut down. Right now on 8chan, other anons are gleefully sharing links to this most recent shooter’s manifesto, and celebrating the fact that he succeeded in wounding a rabbi. In the coming days and weeks, the Poway Synagogue shooter will enter their pantheon of heroes, and become a “Saint” like the Christchurch shooter.

There is likely to be another shooter, another manifesto, and more cheering anons.

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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119 Comments

  1. Jock

    There are 2 options:
    1) Blame 4chan/8chan for all shitposter terror attacks, and also blame Islam for all Muslim terror attacks
    2) Not blame 4chan/8chan or Islam for anything.

    Anything else is dishonest.

    Reply
    • Chris

      “Fallacy of false dichotomy”

      Radical conservative religion combined with radical conservative politics are the genesis of around 99% of all terrorism and all terror related death.

      Why blame Muslims or GaMeRs when you can hit the nail on the head and just say “conservatives”?

      Liberals/progressives just don’t commit acts of terror any more.

      It’s purely a conservative illness.

      All conservatives are either terrorists, terrorist supporters or terrorist sympathizers. Yes all conservatives.

      That was easy!

      Reply
      • Steve

        “Radical conservative religion combined with radical conservative politics are the genesis of around 99% of all terrorism and all terror related death”

        Sure son sure. Islamic terrorists in Sri Lanka killed more people in one day than right wing terrorists have killed in years. You can add that to the 200+ killed in Nigeria right before Christchurch, the 2000+ dead in Nigeria in the 2 years leading up to that, and the thousands killed on a constant and ongoing basis by the Islamic state in it’s own territory, the 2977 killed on 9/11, 50 killed in Orlando, and all that is just the tip of the Islamic iceberg. Killings with fewer than a 100 or so victims by Islam don’t usually even make widespread news coverage anymore because they are so uncommon and mundane.

        Killings by right wing terrorists are almost always lone wolf attacks or involve at most a few people whereas attacks by Islamic terrorists involve large highly organized groups carrying out Jihad. Despite your silly attempt and completely false claim, there is very little comparison between the highly isolated right wing terror incidents and the daily systematic large scale terrorism of Islam.

        Reply
        • lucky

          Islamic terrorists _are_ right wing radically religious conservatives, the alt right and ISIS are the same people in their respective cultures.

          Reply
      • Andrew

        This is just plain ignorance and you know it is. You’re being deliberately naive.

        It’s very very easy to type into google “left wing terrorism” you get about 22,500,000 results.

        Try it and come back to me when you can be honest.

        Reply
    • bill

      4chan/8chan are tools. They are places where nutters hang out. Islam is a religious teaching. These are not the same thing.
      Mainstream Muslim religion does not teach violence. There is no mainstream 4chan/8chan. They are the fringe.

      Reply
    • Jack

      Logical error on your part: No one is blaming 4chan/8chan for these terror attacks.

      The writer clearly claimed that if you’re looking for what rhetoric fuels these terrorists, it can be found on that message board. It doesn’t make any claim that this rhetoric is the purpose of those boards, and does delineate between various sorts of users, noting some extremist users. It also delineates between the sorts of boards found on 8chan. The article clearly states that there is no organization to the boards that they are simply a meeting place for any anonymous user. It notes that the boards lack moderation.

      The article is also clear that if there’s any ideology behind all this that can be blamed, it’s Nazi ideology (whether Neo-Nazi or “OG Nazi”).

      Again, all of these points are made abundantly clear in the article.

      There is also a logical fallacy in your proposition. No rational person would blame “Islam” for terror attacks when the issue is not even about interpretation of the faith but the fact that faith is used as a political tool. It would be akin to blaming the sport of soccer for hooliganism. Nothing in the sport tells fans to vandalize, but some fans do it in the name of allegiance to specific football clubs.

      But this is extremely basic anti-terrorism stuff that I’m surprised that still has to be mentioned in modern day political discourse, but hey, I’m a nice guy and took the time to spell things out.

      Reply
      • Steve

        “The writer clearly claimed that if you’re looking for what rhetoric fuels these terrorists, it can be found on that message board”

        And the rhetoric that fuels Islamic terrorism is found in the Quran and it fuels it on a much greater scale. When somebody from 8 chan or 4 chan goes on a Jihad and takes over more than a 1/3 of Syria and Iraq killing everyone who opposes them, or destroys something the size of the world trade center, you be sure and let me know. Groups like ISIS are doing exactly what the Quran tells them to do. If we are going to continue to allow the Quran to exist the threat posed by 4 chan and 8 chan is miniscule in comparison.

        Reply
    • Alex Goode

      False equivalence. You are comparing a very small and particular part of the internet to the whole broad spectrum of the Islamic faith.

      No one is blaming ‘the entire internet’ for these terror attacks, so it’s absurd to ‘blame Islam’. But it’s perfectly legitimate to blame certain Imams, mosques and online spaces for the radicalization of young Muslims, in the same way that it’s legitimate to look at the role 4chan/8chan has played in this case.

      Reply
      • Steve

        Try actually reading the Quran sometime. Jihadists are simply doing as it instructs. So called “moderate” muslims are the ones pretending it doesn’t say the things it says. Those moderate muslims with never save you when Islam comes to power in a geographic area either. They never wind up in charge and they themselves will be imprisoned, tortured and killed as hypocrites and apostates if they attempt to interfere with the practice of Islam as intended. They couldn’t even save themselves from the Islamic state much less Christians or any of the other non-believers or infidels.

        Reply
  2. dwest

    While I am not opposed to anyone believing what they please, what I am opposed to is when those beliefs tread across boundaries of individual liberty to impose some twisted version of “justice” in response to hate and regurgitated propaganda. Only a weak minded fool swallows that stuff and only COWARDS prey upon unarmed people. If the Poway shooter proves anything, it proves such predators are gutless turds the instant a member of that congregation returned fire.

    Reply
    • Sonoma

      I really do think a civil war is just around the corner, something akin to the troubles in northern ireland. The amount of violence from these far rights loonies is only gonna rise and we need to prepare for it

      Reply
      • Steve

        Like the “far right loonie” who tried to assassinate Republican US congressman Steve Scalise on a baseball field?

        Let’s be blunt: If the right wanted civil war, it would simply erradicate the left. The American right has 20 times the guns the left does and currently all Trump would have to do to keep the military out of it and let the right do as it pleases is nothing whatsoever. The right clearly doesn’t want that though. Instead it’s leftist nutjobs trying to kill congressman while they play baseball, hitting protesters in the head with steel bike locks, burning limos and attacking “fascist” institutions like Starbucks and McDonalds at the innaugeration in DC, etc, etc etc.

        Reply
        • EM

          Nah sorry bro this is just tough guy cosplay from a bunch of fools who wander around an empty field on a Sunday afternoon wearing civil war memorabilia and acting like revolutionaries.

          The idea that the American right could eradicate the left if they felt like it but they just don’t want to is delusional.

          And if you think Trump would tell the military to stand down and let it happen you’re even more delusional.

          Reply
      • EM

        These wannabe militias are comically unorganized and incompetent. Those clowns from the Bundy ranch who took over some nature preserve in Oregon a couple of years ago and ended up getting one of them killed are a perfect example.

        I remember they were live streaming on Facebook because they forgot to bring can openers, water and toilet paper. So they ended up begging random members of the general public to go to Walmart so they can drop that stuff off at their big insurrection.

        This isn’t like earlier conflicts in the twentieth century where one side has all the weapons and power. That’s a good thing! They know perfectly damn well that one out of every two houses in this country has a loaded gun and if they want to start some shit they’re going to get shut down right quick.

        That’s why they hide in the shadows, only go out in public in a group setting and always pack heat when they’re in public in their group settings cuz they’re scared shitless and they know they’re massively outnumbered.

        Reply
  3. Lloyd Casey

    The most dispicable and sorrowful fact is that so many do not give a toss if it occurs to someone else’s religion in an another land, sadder still some were my friends but no longer.

    Reply
  4. Turgid Beatrice

    wait, why did the post have “OFFICIAL THREAD OF THE SAN DIEGO SHOOTER” written on it? how did they even do that, you can’t add custom CSS in a post unless you’re a mod. and why does it say “BEFORE IT WAS DELETED” right in the thread? were people supposed to post in a thread they knew would be deleted? what’s going on here? none of this adds up!!

    Reply
    • FBI

      It was a screen capture of the thread before it was deleted. The pic was edited and reposted.

      Reply
    • Rapier 1

      Have you heard of Photoshop? It’s the great program that hers pellets do things like as text and other things to screenshots. You should check it out. You’ll be amazed.

      Reply
    • skiv

      If you’re being sarcastic:

      I applaud your efforts, well done.

      If you’re serious:

      It’s a JPEG and clearly had those words shopped in later. Dumbass….

      Reply
  5. Johnny Truant

    Can’t re-educate channer trash, you gotta round ’em up and give ’em the good old Mussolini. Preferably with high-tensile speargun line, that stuff can run the gamut of up to 600lbs of holding up fat, nasty chantrash.

    Reply
    • Steve

      You’re the one who sounds like a Nazi to me. Good luck rounding them up when they are all posting through TOR and various VPNs based on foreign countries with no logs of anything too. Let me know how that works out for you.

      Reply
  6. Yves

    Because everybody except 8chan thought Smollett should have gotten off. You lose me there.

    The “outrage” was widespread, with good reason.

    Reply
  7. Notme

    > We should take 8chan very seriously
    > Immediately posts frog pictures and anime as proof

    Siiiigh.

    Reply
    • tunaktunaktun

      That’s literally the purpose of shitposting as defined by the article author – to distract from more malicious content

      Reply
  8. Erin

    I posted this article in a Facebook group and there someone is convinced that this article represents that this man comes from the Left politically because of what was written about 8chan discussions. What was the intention originally when writing this article and what do you think the terrorists political agenda was?

    Reply
  9. CK

    I was doxed on 8Chan 2 years ago. I still don’t answer my phone. Things took a dark turn with threats of violence, etc.

    Reply
    • Steve

      So, basically, you got some crank calls. Meanwhile how many people have Islamic radicals actually killed in the last couple months alone? Christ they just killed more people in one day in Sri Lanka than right wing terrorists have killed in years.

      Reply
      • Bea O'problem

        Yes, but it was “those” people with lots of white Christan privilege, they were probably the decendants of colonists anyway. False equvalance

        Reply
  10. Your Name

    If I were an OK writer with a large audience and had something timely, researched, and personal to say about /pol – would I even want to shine light on it?

    Reply
    • Steve

      I don’t know, do you want the /pol audience to increase or not, because it just did.

      Reply

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