House Homeland Security Committee subpoenas 8chan owner

House Homeland Security Committee subpoenas 8chan owner
© Stefani Reynolds

The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday subpoenaed the owner of 8chan, the internet messaging board linked to three mass shootings this year, to testify before Congress.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonUS ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Hillicon Valley: Democrats seize on whistleblower complaint to push for election security | Google taps GOP Senate aide to lead lobbying | Warren calls for congressional tech office MORE (D-Miss.) and ranking member Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Extremists find new home in online app Telegram MORE (R-Ala.) issued the subpoena of Jim Watkins in order to support its ongoing probe into extremist content online.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Today the Committee on Homeland Security issued a subpoena to Jim Watkins, the owner of the website 8chan,” the leaders of the committee, which has partial jurisdiction over the issue of domestic terrorism, said in a statement.

“At least three acts of deadly white supremacist extremist violence have been linked to 8chan in the last six months,” they said. “We have questions on what is being done to counter this trend so we can be sure it is being properly addressed. Receiving testimony from Mr. Watkins is critical to our oversight on this matter."

The subpoena demands that Watkins appear before the committee on Sept. 5. But Watkins lives in the Philippines, which would complicate the subpoena process. 

Watkins, who has owned 8chan since 2015, told lawmakers in an email last week that he was planning to visit the U.S. In a video posted online this week, he said he is in Reno, Nev., and plans to speak to the committee.

“It’s a shame I’m being blamed for this,” he said. 

Watkins did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment through 8chan's official Twitter account.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 8chan was still down after several of its web infrastructure services cut ties with the company over its connections to extremism.

8chan and other fringe networks have come under enormous bipartisan scrutiny in recent months after the sites have been linked to a string of attacks allegedly carried out by white supremacists and extremists with ties to fringe online communities.

The suspected El Paso, Texas, shooter who killed 22 people and injured dozens of others in a Walmart this month allegedly posted an anti-immigrant manifesto to 8chan before carrying out his attack.

Shortly after that shooting, Rogers and Thompson asked Watkins to testify. He replied that he would join a phone call with the lawmakers.

The House Homeland Security leaders previously asked Watkins to "provide testimony regarding 8chan's efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content, including white supremacist extremist content, on your website," noting that the manifesto tied to the El Paso attack echoed similarly hateful and racist screeds posted before the massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Poway, Calif.

Staffers with the House Homeland Security Committee are working on legislation to confront the growing issue of domestic terrorism over August recess. The bill could create a bipartisan commission of experts tasked with drawing up recommendations to deal with the "intersection of homeland security and social media," a committee spokesperson told The Hill.

--Updated at 4:28 p.m.