Over a warm August Saturday in America, twenty-nine people died in mass shootings. We do not yet know what motivated Connor Betts, who slaughtered nine outside a Dayton, Ohio bar. Patrick Crusius made sure the world would know why he murdered twenty at an El Paso, Texas WalMart.
Across the Internet we are hearing that Crusius was radicalized online, that he had marinated his brain in the fevered rhetoric of the modern white-supremacist right, that he was an inevitable byproduct of the Trump administration. These complaints have been strident, shrill and repeated. They are also entirely justified.
Most attempts at terrorism wind up bad political performance art. There are a hundred Richard Reids for every Gavrilo Princip and a thousand Sara Jane Moores for every Leon Czolgosz. A few enterprising authors have used terrorism to promote their writing: Ted Kawczynski and Anders Breivik come to mind. Brandon Tarrant’s Christchurch rampage has proven uncommonly successful. Tarrant has not only sparked interest in his book: he has inspired others to follow his lead.
The Poway shooting suspect — who also by his own admission attempted to burn down a California mosque in March 2019 — allegedly killed one and injured three in the April attack on a local synagogue. He used 8chan to share an anti-Semitic letter and a failed livestream, and he later admitted that he had been radicalized on the site.
None of this even mentions 8chan’s connections to GamerGate, the coordinated “swatting” efforts that occurred there, and the whole mess with child pornography. The site’s forums are a cesspool of unpopular-because-they’re-vile beliefs and hate-motivated discussion. The type of content that has no place in civilized society.
For Cloudflare, a service which provides protection from DDoS attacks, the third time was not the charm. Though 8chan took down the Crusius manifesto within moments of the shooting Cloudflare decided enough was enough. Their blog announcement stated:
We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time. The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit.
While generally maintaining a “hands-off” approach regarding content, this was not the first time Cloudflare has removed a controversial customer. In August 2017 Cloudflare terminated its relationship with the Daily Stormer after editor-in-chief and infamous troll Andrew Anglin claimed Cloudflare secretly supported his views. (A few days earlier Godaddy suspended “The World’s Most Genocidal Republican Website” after Anglin called Heather Heyer a “fat, childless, 32 year-old slut.”) But as their blog notes, any victory for anti-racism and good taste was short-lived.
[T]hey quickly came back online using a Cloudflare competitor. That competitor at the time promoted as a feature the fact that they didn’t respond to legal process. Today, the Daily Stormer is still available and still disgusting. They have bragged that they have more readers than ever. They are no longer Cloudflare’s problem, but they remain the Internet’s problem.
It is also hard to deny that the Crusius manifesto contains tropes and complaints which are commonly found on the darkest corners of the White Supremacist Internet. That is because any discussion of immigration’s social and economic costs has largely been contained to free speech-friendly sites. And simply by giving those discussions space those sites are immediately labeled the darkest corners of the White Supremacist Internet. On Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — three sites which between them draw over 60% of American social media traffic — inconvenient statistics and unflattering observations will quickly get you disinvited from the party.
The National Immigration Forum cites a Gallup poll showing that support for increased immigration levels has actually increased during the Trump administration. But that increase is from 21% in 2016 to 30% today. Other polls cited suggest 75% of Americans believe that immigration levels should stay where they are or be reduced. While they may not support Crusius’ actions, it appears a majority of Americans share at least some of his concerns. It is unclear how long they will remain bullied into submission by accusations of racism and xenophobia.
So what is to be done?
Everybody wants easy answers nowadays. I have none. Go ask some syphilitic Kalmyk and maybe he can tell you who to hate. I have warned for years this would come: I take no joy in being right. I can tell you that silencing these angry young men will not quell their anger. You can blame Gab and 8chan for White Supremacist violence: lots of people blame rap for various dysfunctions in the Black community. In both cases it is a convenient dismissal of serious underlying problems, one which lets you look concerned without actually doing anything. But it does nothing to address those issues. And if Brandon Tarrant’s “Gun-Toting Crusader” meme proves as contagious as the “School Shooter” role created by Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold, we are in for a long series of angry young White man deciding that if they will not be heard they will be felt.