Jim Watkins, the Philippine-based owner of controversial online forum 8chan, took to YouTube on Tuesday to defend his website from critics who have pilloried the site in the wake of last Saturday’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.
On Aug. 3, a gunman named Patrick Crasius killed at least 20 people with an assault rifle at a Walmart store in the Texas border city. According to multiple reports, the suspect is believed to have posted a 2,300-word “manifesto” on 8chan before the shooting in which he railed against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
In a seven-and-a-half-minute video uploaded to a YouTube account named “Watkins Xerxes,” Watkins, accompanied by a mournful version of Taps that plays throughout, denied that it was Crasius who posted the manifesto on 8chan.
“First of all, the El Paso shooter posted [the manifesto] on Instagram, not 8chan,” Watkins says. “Later someone uploaded a manifesto [on 8chan]. However, that manifesto was not uploaded by the Walmart shooter. I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but it was not uploaded by the murderer.”
However, a spokesperson for Instagram has denied Watkins’ allegations, saying that Crasius’ account has been inactive for more than a year, according to CNET. The company officially disabled the shooter’s Instagram account on Saturday.
The New York Times this week reported that at least three mass shootings – including the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque attack that claimed 49 lives in March – were announced on 8chan before they occurred.
That fact has led site founder Fredrick Brennan, also based in Manila, to call for the site’s shuttering.
In his Tuesday video, Watkins goes on to attack journalists who have accused 8chan of serving as a recruitment platform for white supremacists, saying the company has worked with law enforcement since the El Paso shooting and that they have never protected “illegal” speech.
“My company takes a firm stand on helping law enforcement, and within minutes of these two tragedies, we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigations,” he said.
“We have never protected illegal speech, as it seems that we have been accused of by some less than credible journalists,” he said. “We have responded with vigor and integrity every single time that a threat of violence has been posted and information for it has been [given when] requested by law enforcement.”
Watkins’ use of the term “illegal” is a key distinction given that “hate speech” per se is not illegal under US law, and the site has a well-documented history of hosting racist, homophobic, and misogynistic content.
He also denounced the decision of web services company Cloudflare to cut off its service to 8chan following the El Paso shooting, a move that led to the online forum’s disappearance from the internet.
Calling the Cloudflare’s decision “cowardly,” Watkins said it was “clearly a political move to remove 8chan… it has forced a lot of people to find other places to talk. This silenced them effectively.”
The Philippine National Police and the Department of Justice are currently investigating if 8chan’s operation is based in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Watkins has been summoned by the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to testify before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee to explain how he plans to address the proliferation of extremist content on 8chan, reported Gizmodo.