Sunday, April 28, 2019


A 19-year-old named John Earnest has been charged with a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, in which one person was killed and three were injured. Earnest appears to have wanted the shooting to go viral:
A user identifying himself as John Earnest posted a white nationalist open letter to the far-right message board 8chan. He also used the username "JohnTEarnest" to post the letter on a document hosting site....

The link to the anti-Semitic note was put online shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday and posted to 8chan, along with a link to a Facebook page and says "a livestream will begin shortly."

There is no active link to a livestream on his Facebook page. The post also includes a link of songs the poster planned to play during the stream.
If you read the New York Times piece on the shooting by Charlie Warzel, you might conclude that going viral was the shooter's main goal. This is the wrong conclusion to draw. Warzel writes:
Mass Shootings Have Become a Sickening Meme

... The Poway attack seems to be another horrifying entry in a lineage of hate crimes carried out for a captive audience of digital onlookers. Worse yet, these online communities appear to be incentivizing the darkest impulses of their worst users. Like the Christchurch massacre, the Poway shooting is ... tailored for the internet.... Indeed, it seems real-world murderous hate crimes have become a message board meme of sorts. And like any online meme, the creation cycle only seems to be accelerating, refining itself and, horrifyingly, increasing in frequency. Online, it plays out like some game, but its effects are morphing into the real world and spreading violence.

... Both white nationalist violence and mass shootings have long histories in America, yet the copycat nature of the recent sprees feels different — specifically, in the way they hail a very niche, very targeted audience, attempting to delight fellow extremists.
Reading this, you'd be likely to conclude that racist massacre plotters are making their plans primarily in the hopes of impressing their online friends. But when you actually read Earnest's manifesto -- Google "Earnest manifesto Pastebin" and you'll find it -- you see that his goal is to set off a race war, not to get a lot of likes, or the 8chan equivalent.

Earnest believes his fellow posters at 8chan's /pol/ board are likely heroes of the revolution he seeks, but the point of it is to effect change -- i.e., genocide -- in the real world. He writes:
There has been little done when it comes to defending the European race. As an individual I can only kill so many Jews. My act of defense is not so much about my high score—that is how many Jews I can ‘Do not pass go, do not collect 200 shekels’ straight to fucking hell. But rather the statement that I made. There is at least one European man alive who is willing to take a stand against the injustice that the Jew has inflicted upon him.... I do not seek fame. I do not seek power. I only wish to inspire others and be a soldier that has the honor and privilege of defending his race in its greatest hour of need....

We need martyrs. If you don’t want to get caught because you have children who depend on you, you can simply attack a target and then slip back into normal life. Every anon [i.e., 8chan poster] reading this needs to carry out attacks. They won’t find us. They won’t catch us. There are too many of us, and we are smarter than them.

... You should be more afraid of losing your entire race than this life you now live. The most dangerous kind of man is not one who has nothing to lose, but one who has everything to lose. Every single White man has everything to lose by doing nothing, and everything to gain by taking action.

... Every anon reading this must attack a target while doing his best to avoid getting caught. Every anon must play his part in this revolution and no man can be pulling his punches. This momentum we currently have may very well be the last chance that the European man has to spark a revolution.
The shooter says he wants fame and virality in order to spread the message of genocide, not as ends in themselves. In fact, he encourages undocumented acts of terrorism, and claims he committed one of his own.
I scorched a mosque in Escondido with gasoline a week after [Christchurch shooter] Brenton Tarrant’s sacrifice and they never found shit on me.... You can even shoot up a mosque, synagogue, immigration center, traitorous politicians, wealthy Jews in gated communities, Jewish-owned company buildings, etc. and get away with it as well.... Don’t leave DNA (use clothes you’ve never worn before and a mask—dispose of these after). Don’t bring any electronics which can be used to track you. Don’t leave a paper trail. Don’t take too long doing it, and never speak of it (all electronics are bugged).... As more of these happen, we will no longer need to film it. I do believe that it is best at this stage that I make a statement and people know that I did this. We are in the early stages of revolution.
We shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that virality is the main goal of white nationalist mass shooters who are radicalized online. We should recognize that online communities, particularly 8chan's /pol/ board, are where many of these people congregate, and where they find affirmation for their belief that racist violence is appropriate. That's the point of a very good post at Bellingcat by Robert Evans:
The overarching goal of /pol/, held by most of its members, is to radicalize their fellow anons to “real-life effortposting,” i.e. acts of violence in the physical world....

In addition to talk of inspiring and carrying out mass shootings, many anons engage in what is called “siege-posting.” This is a reference to the book Siege, which is a collection of writings from American neo-Nazi James Mason. Siege was a major inspiration for the terrorist group Atomwaffen, among others. It urges autonomous terror attacks by individuals as a way to bring about the fragmentation and eventual destruction of American society. The goal is to spark a civil war that will allow for the violent realization of white nationalist/neo-Nazi goals.

Many anons on 8chan mock “siegeposting.” Others spend hours in detailed discussions about how to acquire explosives and artillery in order to better participate in what they believe to be the coming race war.
I don't think Warzel would disagree with this, but I question the way he stresses virality. We shouldn't look at the Poway shooter as a murderous adolescent who tried to "run up a high score" because he thinks real-life murder is an online game. We should think of the /pol/ the way we think of ISIS and Al Qaeda online communication. We don't talk about ISIS online videos as if they're meant to impress peers in an extremely online culture -- we see them as recruitment videos for an army. What's happening on the white-supremacist right is exactly the same. These killings aren't being done for in-group glory, or for the lulz.

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