Philippines justice dept 'gathering info' on 8chan linked to US shooting

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2019 01:26 PM | Updated as of Aug 07 2019 02:26 PM

People gather to pay their respects at a growing memorial three days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 6, 2019. Callaghan O'Hare, Reuters

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said his staff was gathering information on 8chan, a far-right online message board connected to 3 mass shootings, whose owner is supposedly based in the Philippines. 

"My staff is gathering more info before we decide if this is something for the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to look into," Guevarra told reporters. 

8chan, which promotes itself as a site devoted to the "darkest reaches of the internet," is home to posts from right-wing extremists, misogynists, and conspiracy theorists. 

Its owner Jim Watkins, a US Army veteran in his 50s, relocated to the Philippines in 2004, shuttling between Manila and his pig farm outside the capital, according to a 2016 report by website Splinter News. 

US cyber security firm Cloudflare terminated 8chan as a customer, after a gunman whom authorities believe had posted on the website about a "Hispanic invasion" killed 22 people on Saturday at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.

The site was also used by a shooter who in March attacked 2 mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and providing inspiration for a shooting of a man at a synagogue in Poway, California a month later. 

WHERE IS WATKINS? 

A certain "Jim Watkins" left the Philippines last May 9 based on Bureau of Immigration records, and the justice department is checking if he is the owner of 8chan or just a namesake, said Guevarra. 

The House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday demanded that Watkins testify about 8chan's efforts to tackle "the proliferation of extremist content, including white supremacist content."

In a reply, a copy of which was posted on Twitter, Watkins said, "I am on my way back to America as we speak." 

"Rest assured I am not an extremist. My telephone should work worldwide," he said.

Without help from Watkins, 8chan would have collapsed because it doesn't have paying customers, Splinter News earlier reported. 

"As long as they are not making imminent threats of harm against someone, their speech is protected political speech," Watkins was quoted as saying in the Splinter report.

The report said Watkins first learned about 8chan from his son, who had watched an Al Jazeera America documentary about the website's precursor, 4chan, and its founder, Fredrick Brennan. 

Brennan told the broadcaster that he came up with the idea for 8chan while high on mushrooms to relieve his osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic condition characterized by brittle, deformed bones.
 

Online message board 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan gestures while sitting with a pet dog during an interview in Manila, August 6, 2019. Peter Blaza, Reuters

Brennan described himself in a Reuters report this week as "naive and ignorant," likening the platform 8chan to Frankenstein's monster, with no limit to its extremism. 

"If I could go back and not create 8chan at all, I probably would," he told Reuters. 

If the Philippine National Police reaches out to him, Brennan said, "I will tell them anything I know."
 
The PNP on Monday said it was investigating 8chan.

Brennan, who holds a working visa, arrived in the Philippines in July 1, 2017, said Guevarra. 

- with reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse