Ex-white supremacist: White nationalism should be treated as global threat online

A former white supremacist who is now an anti-hate activist says that online platforms should treat white nationalism like other international threats from groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

Arno Michaelis pointed to Saturday's mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and an online manifesto being investigated in connection to the shooting that cited the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque attack earlier this year and included anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“White nationalism is an international threat as the El Paso shooter was inspired by the Christchurch shooter who was inspired by the Norway shooter,” Michaelis told Hill.TV, referencing the Christchurch shootings and the 2011 Norway attacks. 

“There’s very plain international connections that drive this kind of violence, so we need to start approaching white nationalism the same way we approach ISIS, al Qaeda, al-Shabaab and come down on them just as hard,” he added.

Michaelis said there is a little more leeway with white nationalist content due to the First Amendment, but he argued that there must be a threshold, especially when such rhetoric incites violence. 

"I’m a huge proponent of the First Amendment, it’s probably the best thing about our Constitution, but at the same time we have to be wary of when this free speech actually becomes planning of terror and I think that threshold has certainly been reached," he said. 

Michaelis maintained that he has personally worked with tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter on the issue, who he says "have dedicated a ton of time and energy and resources to combat white nationalism.” 

His comments come after web services company Cloudfare announced on Monday that it had terminated its service with 8chan, a forum website that has become notorious for hosting message boards filled with hate speech and racist-filled manifestos. This includes the manifesto linked to the El Paso shooter, who killed 22 people at a Walmart near the border.

In a statement announcing the news on Monday, CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince said the El Paso shooter appeared to post his anti-immigrant and racist screed to the site immediately before carrying out his rampage.

Prince emphasized that this was not an isolated incident, saying the El Paso shooter specifically referenced the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand earlier this year.

“The El Paso shooter specifically referenced the Christchurch incident and appears to have been inspired by the largely unmoderated discussions on 8chan which glorified the previous massacre,” he wrote, noting that the suspected shooter in the Poway, Calif., synagogue shooting also posted a hate-filled letter on the website before carrying out his attack in April.

Prince said the company did not take the decision lightly, but that 8chan had “repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate.”

The move comes as tech companies wrestle with how to treat hate speech and white nationalist content.

YouTube earlier this year announced new terms of service to combat hate speech and white nationalism on its platform.

Under its three-strike system, YouTube terminates accounts if they violate community guidelines three times over the course of 90 days.

—Tess Bonn