The owner of an online message board used by far-right extremists and white supremacists has been summoned to testify to the US Congress after the forum was linked to a mass shooting in Texas.

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Jim Watkins, an American living in the Philippines, has been called to give evidence about the “proliferation of extremist content, including white supremacist content” on 8chan, which has hosted discussions that are thought to have inspired suspect Patrick Crusius to open fire at a Walmart in El Paso on Sunday.

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Twenty-two people were killed during the rampage, making it the eighth deadliest mass shooting in US history.



Police officers are seen inside the Cielo Vista mall

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The moments after Texas shooting

Crusius, 21, is said to have referenced the terror attack on a mosque in Christchurch earlier this year, with a lengthy and hateful “manifesto” apparently written by that gunman having appeared on 8chan beforehand.

The suspect behind the San Diego synagogue shooting also allegedly wrote on the forum, and its links to the El Paso massacre saw a security firm designed to protect websites from digital attacks finally decide to abandon it.

Since then 8chan has struggled to stay online, with a number of web providers having cut ties, and its owner has now been sent a letter by the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

The letter to Mr Watkins, signed by Democrat committee chairman Bennie Thompson and Republican Mike Rogers, describes the Texas shooting as “at least the third act of supremacist violence linked to your website this year”.

8chan has gone offline after Cloudflare removed its protections
Image:
8chan went offline after Cloudflare removed its protections

In a reply also posted to a Twitter account linked to 8chan, Mr Watkins said: “Rest assured I am not an extremist. My telephone should work worldwide.”

He had earlier appeared in a video on YouTube, framed in front of the shadowy likeness of Benjamin Franklin, to argue that the forum provided a space for free speech.

“Think of 8chan as a large community of one million people that are now looking for a home,” he said.

Fredrick Brennan, the man who created 8chan in 2013, has called for the forum to be shut down.

Likening it to Frankenstein’s monster, he said: “If I could go back and not create 8chan at all, I probably would.”

Online message board 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan
Image:
Online message board 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan

Mr Watkins has also claimed that a “manifesto” allegedly written by Crusius had appeared on Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook, before it turned up on 8chan.

Facebook has said it has found “nothing that supports this theory” and that an account belonging to Crusius has been disabled, having not been active in more than a year.

President Donald Trump has placed some of the blame on the internet for the shooting in El Paso and another just a few hours later in Ohio over the weekend, saying it is “radicalising disturbed minds”.



Donald Trump reacts to shootings in Texas and Ohio







The internet is ‘radicalising disturbed minds’

But he has so far stopped short of calling for gun reform and instead focused on mental health, saying: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger – not the gun”.

Mr Trump is expected to be met by protests when he visits El Paso on Wednesday.

At least 31 people have died in total as a result of the shootings on Sunday.

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