House Homeland Security Committee calls for 8chan owner to testify

House Homeland Security Committee calls for 8chan owner to testify
© Greg Nash

The top members of the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday called for the owner of fringe social networking platform 8chan to testify before Congress about the controversial website, which has been implicated in three mass shootings this year.

"The Committee on Homeland Security respectfully requests your presence to provide testimony regarding 8chan’s efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content, including white supremacist extremist content, on your website," Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonSenators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS Hillicon Valley: TikTok faces lawmaker anger over China ties | FCC formally approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Silicon Valley lawmakers introduce tough privacy bill | AT&T in M settlement with FTC Cyber officials tout reforms with one year to Election Day MORE (D-Miss.) and ranking member Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Red-state governors races pose test for Trump Trump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race Overnight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid MORE (R-Ala.) wrote in a letter to Jim Watkins, the website's owner.

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The congressional panel has the power to subpoena a potential witness, but Watkins lives in the Philippines, which could pose a challenge for lawmakers.

Thompson and Rogers have for months been raising concerns about 8chan, an anonymous messaging board known as a breeding ground for white extremist and neo-Nazi ideologies. This is the most significant action the lawmakers have taken against the website to date.

Their demand comes a few days after the El Paso, Texas, shooting that left 22 people dead and two dozen injured. An anti-immigrant manifesto allegedly tied to the gunman was posted to 8chan shortly before the attack.

Similarly hateful messages were posted to 8chan before the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooting in which a gunman massacred 50 worshippers at two mosques and before the attack against a synagogue in Poway, Calif. 

Users have been known to praise white extremist shooters before and after shootings on 8chan's notorious /pol/ board, regarded as a hotbed for some of 8chan's darkest users. 

The website was founded by Fredrick Brennan in 2013 and gained popularity in 2014. But Brennan sold 8chan to Watkins, a U.S. army veteran who lives in the Philippians, in 2015.

Watkins runs the site with his son, Ron. 

In a rare move, Watkins spoke out in a video posted to 8chan's Twitter on Tuesday. In it, he blamed the shootings over the weekend — one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, Ohio — on "insanity" and disputed characterizations of 8chan as "lawless."

"My company takes a firm stand in helping law enforcement," he said, noting that 8chan worked with law enforcement after the Texas shooting.

8chan is currently offline after multiple web services severed ties with the company. Watkins said they are still working to revive the messaging board. 

"Americans deserve to know what, if anything, you, as the owner and operator, are doing to address the proliferation of extremist content on 8chan," Rogers and Thompson wrote in the letter.