Why hate-filled internet users, including the alleged El Paso gunman, flock to 8chan

The suspected shooter in El Paso allegedly posted a document to the site.

The suspected shooter who killed 22 people and injured dozens more Saturday at an El Paso shopping center allegedly followed a path similar to that of at least two other recent mass shooters, by allegedly posting a screed to the dark recesses of the internet before pulling the trigger.

The El Paso suspect, who has since been arrested and is in law enforcement custody, reportedly posted a document on the online forum 8chan before the shooting.

The four-page document was filled with virulent, anti-immigrant sentiments, authorities said. The document allegedly decried what the author believed to be an ongoing "invasion" of Texas by Hispanic people, reportedly hoping that his then-planned attack would give immigrants additional incentive to return to their home countries.

Similar screeds were posted to 8chan before the recent terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Poway, California.

The owner of 8chan released a video statement Tuesday about the shootings, stating that the El Paso suspect did not originally post the document to 8chan himself, suggesting that it was instead uploaded by a different user.

Jim Watkins, the current owner of 8chan, posted a seven-and-a-half minute Youtube video explaining his company's stance, defending its practices, and speaking about what he called the "two tragedies" in El Paso and Dayton.

Speaking directly to camera, with a picture of a statue of Benjamin Franklin in the background, Watkins read a statement over the sounds of the military bugle song Taps.

Watkins said "the worst sort of monster shoots up random people," and called it "such a sad day and time in the history of the world."

"My company takes a firm stand of working with law enforcement, and within minutes of these two tragedies, we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigations," Watkins said.

"We are in compliance with the law. We have always been aggressively forthcoming to help law enforcement of it," he said.

His comments come two days after the original creator of 8chan said that the site had become such a menace to society that he was now calling for it to be disbanded completely.

"Shut the site down," Fredrick Brennan, the man who created 8chan in 2013 and cut ties with the site in 2015, said to The New York Times in an interview on Sunday after the El Paso shooting.

"It's not doing the world any good. It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it," said Brennan, who originally launched 8chan as an offshoot of the unrelated internet forum 4chan.

Watkins has repeatedly pushed back against calls to shut down 8chan after other recent shootings -- but on Monday, Cloudflare, one of the internet services companies that distributes the site, took action on their own and pulled the plug, leading to the site being down for much of the day.

In their statement announcing the move, Cloudflare said that "8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate," and pointed to the site’s role in other shootings in addition to the one in El Paso.

"Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Nearly the same thing happened on 8chan before the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand," the Cloudflare statement reads. "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. In a separate tragedy, the suspected killer in the Poway, California synagogue shooting also posted a hate-filled ‘open letter’ on 8chan."

The company defended its decision to cut off service to the site because "they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths."

"Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit," the Cloudflare statement reads.

Watkins rebuked Cloudflare and their decision, saying that it was wrong of Cloudflare to cut them off, but Brennan told ABC News that he agrees with Cloudflare’s decision.

“They’re right on the money. 8chan is lawless,” Brennan told ABC News on Monday. “They don’t care about the shooters. The administrators don’t have empathy for the victims, they think this is funny. The administrators don’t care at all. They tell their users to 'embrace infamy.' Like -- that is such a slap in the face to any normal, sane person.”

“I would say that a majority of the people that use 8chan are not the kind of, you know, white supremacist, neo-Nazi demographic,” Brennan said, but added that "at the same time, there is absolutely a subset of 8chan users who ... definitely, 100%, are white supremacists."

John Cohen, a former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and current ABC News contributor, said that while action against 8chan is good, it may not be permanent.

"While it is good that 8chan has been taken offline for now, I have no doubt that it will rise again or be replaced by some other platform," Cohen said.

Cohen said that while 8chan and 4chan, have both grown in recent years, they aren’t the first examples of hate-filled havens online. He described 8chan as a place where "virulent hateful rhetoric is combined with this sense of community."

Before he left DHS in 2014, Cohen said "there were online forums like Stormfront and others where people with similar attitudes would congregate online, but these types of forums [like 4chan and 8chan] really came into play in the past couple years."

"The number of people involved in these communities exploded," he said.

"These are people who tend to be anti-law enforcement, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and who tend to post messages not just of hate but of directed violence toward these groups that they hate," he said.

"What differentiates 4chan and 8chan from other online forums is the anonymity. It’s the level of violence that is promoted, and the racist, anti-government rhetoric that’s exchanged. What’s dangerous about these things is they become these places where people believe the alternate reality that’s promoted," he said, pointing to conspiracy theories that are promoted on the site.

"When you have these environments and you have a growing number of people in our country who are disaffected, who don’t have strong social contacts … the information exchanged on these sites can influence behavior of vulnerable people and that's why we're seeing an increase in violence," he said.

"It’s actually pretty scary," Cohen said.

Brennan said that the realities of the site have changed over time, pointing to instances where the online hate has spread into the real world.

“You know in the past, a lot of people brushed off 8chan and 4chan as, ‘Oh they’re just edgy teenagers making jokes,’” Brennan told ABC News.

“That might’ve even been plausible until we really started to see Charlottesville. Until we really started to see the shootings and all the gatherings in real life,” he said.