8chan owner says he has returned to the US following El Paso shooting

8chan owner says he has returned to the US following El Paso shooting
© Stefani Reynolds

The owner of 8chan, the fringe messaging board that has been linked to a string of mass shootings this year, told lawmakers that he is coming back to the U.S. this week as Congress escalates its scrutiny of his website.

Jim Watkins, who has owned 8chan since 2015, told lawmakers in an email on Tuesday that he would be back in the U.S. by the next day.

His trip comes shortly after 8chan was implicated in its third mass shooting this year. The suspected shooter who killed 22 people and injured dozens others in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, allegedly posted an anti-immigrant manifesto to 8chan before carrying out the attack on Saturday.

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House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonBipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS MORE (D-Miss.) and ranking member 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.) in a letter on Tuesday asked Watkins to testify about his website before Congress.

"I am on my way back to America as we speak," Watkins wrote in response. He posted a screenshot of the email to Twitter, claiming it had been marked as spam when he sent it to the lawmakers.

"Today, I will be at my son’s school preparing him for the first day of school."

Watkins, who currently lives in the Philippines, added that he would be hopping on a plane with "several transfers on the way."

"I am always available to talk to you by telephone," he wrote. "Rest assured I am not an extremist. My telephone should work worldwide."

Watkins did not immediately respond to The Hill's follow-up questions about the timing of his trip. A House Homeland Security Committee spokesman said it's too soon to anticipate next steps.

Thompson and Rogers in the letter 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," pointing out that the El Paso manifesto echoed similarly hateful and racist screeds posted before the massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Poway, Calif.

8chan is currently offline after several of the services keeping it afloat severed ties with the company.

On Sunday night, Cloudflare, a major web security firm, set off a wave of activity when it stopped providing services to 8chan, effectively shutting down the website. On Wednesday, the parent company of the firm that stepped in to help 8chan announced that it would also no longer provide its services.

Epik, a web hosting firm known for helping extremist and hate websites stay online, said in a statement that it did not believe 8chan was capable of monitoring and enforcing its own rules.

"Upon careful consideration of the recent operating history of 8Chan, and in the wake of tragic news in El Paso and Dayton over the weekend, Epik has elected to not provide content delivery services to 8Chan," Epik CEO Rob Monster said in a statement. "This is largely due to the concern of inadequate enforcement and the elevated possibility of violent radicalization on the platform."

Watkins and his son Ron, who runs the platform, have said they're working to restore 8chan's services.