Crime | Media Matters for America

Crime

Issues ››› Crime
  • After Florida misogynistic killings, online incels call shooter “legend” and complain he “only killed two”

    Incels praise Tallahassee shooter by downloading his online footprint of misogyny and claim “there’s no stopping” hate-inspired rampages

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Beierle, a man with an online footprint of far-right misogyny and a police record of groping women, opened fire at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, FL, on November 2, killing two women before shooting himself. As reported by Buzzfeed, in his online videos, Beierle had openly praised Elliot Rodger, who went on a misogyny-fueled killing rampage in 2014 and has become a hero for the women-hating “incel” (involuntary celibate) community online. This is the fourth incident of violence connected to far-right extremism in the U.S. in just the past two weeks.

    In reaction to the shooting and reports of Beierle’s record of misogyny, members of the anonymous online forum incels.is -- a new domain established after the forum reportedly got suspended for violating its past registrar’s anti-abuse policies -- shared and gleefully consumed the content of Beierle’s YouTube videos; and at least one person claimed he downloaded Beierle’s video presumably as a contingency in case social media platforms took it down. The same poster claimed to have found the shooter’s website and promised to post it to the forum.

    Another poster claimed that comments on the shooter’s YouTube videos that denounced his misogyny are the sort of thing that radicalize white men.

    In their comments about the shooter's rants in which he condemned white women who date Black men, some posters underscored the intersection between misogyny and white supremacy: One claimed that Beierle’s “views on race mixing are not wrong,” and another questioned how many white incels would follow the shooter’s example in response to interracial couples. As shown in the screenshot, one poster is already using a picture of Beierle as the profile's avatar.

    A member of the forum characterized the shooter as a “legend,” while another complained that he "only killed 2" women:

    Another thread warned readers that nothing will stop sexually frustrated men from going on rampages. The thread featured “an open letter to cucks” (the far-right’s go-to insult against those perceived as weak for embracing political correctness) supposedly explaining “why you can’t do shit about people going ER,” using incel shorthand for Elliot Rodger.

    The poster warned “cucks” and “foids” (a dehumanizing term incels apply to women) that they will “NEVER, EVER, EVER” stop men who are frustrated sexually from seeing “blackpill content online” and getting inspired to go on killing rampages. “Blackpill content” refers to messaging telling men who consider themselves involuntary celibate that the world is stacked against them and there “can be no personal solutions to systemic problems.”

    Replies to the open letter looked like battle cries: “We’ll get down every one of you,” one user wrote; another, who bragged about having an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, posted, “Come and take me”:

    Other posters called on other incels to build "muscular physiques" that make them strong enough to "hurt others":

    A member of the forum speculated about whether an account that had posted “going ER” on November 2 in a similar forum for incels, Truecels.org, belonged to the shooter. Truecels includes a board called “hall of heroes” that honors -- among others -- Rodger, terrorist Timothy McVeigh, and Yamaguchi Otoya, a far-right assassin who killed the leader of the Japanese socialist party in 1960. Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes recently honored Yamaguchi Otoya by re-enacting the violent murder at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City.

    Accounts in these forums are anonymous, so anyone with an account can participate on different message threads. Members can also participate on Discord and Telegram chats after some vetting from the community. In the Truecels forum, posters also questioned whether the shooter had an account, expressing concern that screenshots of his profile could inspire a feminist “to stage a crisis to make it look like incels are violent … right before an election:”

    In just the past two weeks, four far-right extremists have gone on violent, hate-fueled attacks around the U.S. On October 24, 51-year-old Gregory Bush attempted to enter a predominantly Black church in Jeffersontown, KY, before heading to a Kroger grocery store where he shot two Black people, the first in the store and the second in the parking lot. Two days later, a man with a long record of posting right-wing content and threats online mailed explosive devices to prominent Democratic figures and the cable news network CNN. On October 27, a man who posted virulently anti-Semitic messages on the website Gab, known as a “haven for white nationalists,” went on a murderous rampage in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.

    Given the violent posts about women, racial and ethnic minorities, and religious groups that can be easily found in online forums, and the common thread of far-right content posting among attackers, it’s not far-fetched to think that the next far-right violent attack might be brewing online. On mainstream social media platforms like Twitter, extremism is not particularly difficult to find: The incels forum links to its an official Twitter account, and accounts that post anti-Semitic and white supremacist content fly under the radar undisturbed. And yet, right-wing media figures refuse to either connect the dots between far-right rhetoric and the extremism it inspires or take responsibility for mainstreaming and empowering extremists.

  • After Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and mail bomb spree, right-wing media figures defend attacks on George Soros

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures are continuing to attack philanthropist and liberal political donor George Soros and defending previous attacks against him barely one week after a man sent pipe bombs to Soros and other liberal figures, and another killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. While the two suspects specifically identified Soros as a perceived boogeyman in their social media posts prior to carrying out their terroristic attacks, irresponsible and careless right-wing pundits continue to attack the business mogul and push conspiracy theories about him. 

  • Breaking down Gab: What you need to know about the social media platform that is a "haven for white nationalists"

    The Pittsburgh synagogue gunman posted anti-Semitic messages on Gab. Gab is full of neo-Nazis and extremists.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, a mass shooting on October 27 left 11 dead in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Reporters unearthed violently anti-Semitic messages the shooter had posted on the platform Gab, using an account that has since been deleted. Legacy media and companies that enabled Gab to sustain itself online are starting to grapple with the prominence of hate speech on the site, but for Gab, extremism has always been a feature, not a bug.

    While activists had alerted some companies working with Gab that the site was transparently violating terms of service, it took a fatal mass shooting for payment processors Paypal and Stripe and cloud host Joyent to drop Gab. The site’s CTO has reportedly resigned, Gab was temporarily inaccessible, and its founder Andrew Torba is “working around the clock” for the site to remain online. Torba asked for prayers for his plight and in a particularly tone-deaf post characterized the site as being "under attack."

    Trolling and harassment have been part of Torba’s business model since Gab’s founding in 2016. Torba himself was sacked from the alumni network of a startup accelerator he was a part of after he engaged in pro-Trump online harassment of a Latino, and he was photographed next to Milo Yiannopoulos, a Nazi sympathizer who was booted off of Twitter after organizing racist harassment of Black actress Leslie Jones.

    Gab was born in reaction to social media platforms that ban hate speech, extremism, and harassment, explicitly meant to provide a haven to those whose extremist content had gotten them banned from other platforms, specifically Twitter. Since the beginning, Torba and Gab’s chief communications officer, Utsav Sanduja, claimed that free speech came above anything else, and that they included harassment under free speech, telling Mic in March 2017: “Political incorrectness is a First Amendment right. ... We support freedom of speech and reject the politically correct definitions of what constitutes 'harassment.' [Social-justice warriors] do not get to define the verbiage, lexicon, culture or societal politics of the internet. Gab ... will repeal this politically correct, censorship culture.”

    They knew extremism was what motivated users to go on their site. So much that, as Sanduja acknowledged in 2017, they were looking into removing the downvoting feature (a feature similar to reddit’s in which users can “upvote” or “downvote” posts so that posts can jump above others and get more prominently featured) because it was enabling targeted harassment and driving women away from the site. (During the email exchanges with Mic, Sanduja addressed journalist Melanie Ehrenkranz in a sexist manner.)

    Extremists embraced the platform as an opportunity, and white nationalist darling Tucker Carlson hosted Torba during his prime-time show on Fox to promote Gab, failing to mention the extremism that had already festered on the site.

    After Twitter enforced new rules in December 2017 that resulted in a purge of several “alt-right” accounts filled with hate speech, users on Gab welcomed Twitter refugees warmly.

    Prominent white nationalist Christopher Cantwell -- dubbed the “crying Nazi” following his teary reactions to the 2017 Charlottesville, VA, Unite the Right rally -- posted a message for newcomers with an anti-Semitic greeting, compelling them to not “worry about the racism” on the site, while recognizing that “it can be a little weird at first”:

    The racism that Cantwell called “a little weird” was rampant and uncensored on the site, until neo-Nazi Andrew Auernheimer (best known online as weev) became the first person to be banned from Gab. weev, who has now migrated to guest appearances on racist shows on YouTube, was banned after Asia Registry, which used to host Gab, threatened to boot the site over a post in which weev wrote: “Jews have cornered the whole Internet. … And I think the only way we’ll have any freedom of speech here is if someone teaches them a lesson.”

    Instead of acknowledging that extremism was a problem in the site, Torba claimed weev was among users posting extremism to “break the guidelines on purpose”; the idea was that they were trying to goad leadership into banning them to show they would break their commitment to free speech. A Gab user protesting weev's ban noted that the hashtag “gas the kikes” “is a constant statement on here and people are not getting banned.”

    After white nationalist Paul Nehlen -- who ran as a Republican in a 2017 attempt to unseat Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) -- became the second person to be banned, it became clear that Gab’s application of its own rules was arbitrary. Despite obvious guideline violations, it wasn’t Nehlen’s often violent posts or his blatant white supremacy that got him sacked from the site. It was the politics over his revealing the true identity of the white supremacist known online as Ricky Vaughn, to which Gab’s leadership reacted inconsistently. First, Torba shrugged off what was being called a doxxing (revealing someone’s contact information to enable their harassment), only acting to remove Nehlen from the platform after the overwhelming support for Vaughn among Gab users made supporting Nehlen’s presence on the site untenable.

    Nehlen doxxing one of his critics was consistent with other doxxing operations -- in which trolls organize to spread the contact information of a person they want to make the target of harassment -- going on undisturbed at Gab in ways identical to on anonymous message boards 4chan and 8chan. For example, after Judge William Young ruled in favor of upholding current Massachusetts gun regulations that ban assault weapons, pro-gun trolls on Gab set their sight on Young and doxxed him in retaliation. Another instance of organized harassment on Gab was an “operation” in which trolls targeted progressive voices on Twitter, instructing each other to use Twitter reporting mechanisms against a list of progressive accounts in what they felt was retaliation for their own banning from Twitter in the first place. Torba not only tolerated such operations, he encouraged them, calling followers to engage in fraudulent mass reporting on Twitter in the name of causing chaos.

    For those of us tracking extremism on the site, the ways in which it served as an alternate universe where public opinion was supplanted by hate speech, became obvious. On any given day, activism took the form of white supremacy and users would fearmonger about diversity. Under the site’s “groups” feature, extremists openly organized under explicitly racist categories.

    More specifically, Gab offered racist interpretations of current events daily. After HuffPost reported that an anti-abortion activist was in fact a white nationalist, posters on Gab reacted with a shrug, complaining that “ethnonationalism” was “socially controversial,” and saying they hoped mainstream media reports like that would help “more people become white nationalist or identitarian.” On April 20, posters openly celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday, as evidenced by the site’s popular topics that day, and the reactions to the verdict that declared Bill Cosby guilty of assault were an intersection of racism and misogyny. On International Women’s Day, a sample of Gab takes included complaints that women had abandoned their “one job” of raising the next generation by joining the workforce, as well as statements like, “Women only belong in one place, and that’s in my basement shackled to the radiator; only to occasionally be let out so they can make me a sandwich.”

    The site’s extremist content often went beyond hateful words and into explicit exaltations of violence. Before he was banned, Nehlen prompted a discussion of a caravan of Central American immigrants in 2017 that included talk of armed militias, killing “every last one” and using them as “target practice.”

    Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin openly called for shooting Middle Eastern refugees and blamed Jewish people for waging “a psychological war” to push for the right of refugees to come to the U.S.: “All it would take to stop this is a few bullets.” And that wasn’t the first time Anglin had posted about shooting up Jewish people, but Gab leadership told a journalist asking for a reaction that he hadn’t crossed a line.

    Another post that did not raise to the level of crossing a line for Gab was Anglin’s slur-laced, homophobic endorsement of corrective rape for lesbians.

    However, even for someone as toxic as Anglin, unregulated speech on Gab was seemingly starting to get too toxic. In March, he complained that the trolling and abuse he was subjected to by fellow posters on Gab was made more burdensome by the site’s lack of a block button. Anglin felt that Gab’s mute button wasn’t enough.

    Gab’s Sanduja responded to Anglin, seemingly taunting him to leave the site if he didn’t like it. Anglin claimed he used to encourage “people to use this site” but that posters replying to “every post” he made by “promoting terrorism” and “posting gay porn” was causing him to stop. Sanduja responded to Anglin’s tantrum and his troll supporters by exchanging slurs with them. After a user seemingly insulted his ethnicity by alluding to a type of visa foreign workers with specialty occupations use, writing “typical H1B monkey,” Sanduja responded, “You’re welcome for the free speech, Stormfag” (in reference to Anglin’s site the Daily Stormer).

    Gab’s leadership has always downplayed evidence of the extremism that festered on the site, potentially to avoid scaring away investors; leaders once told Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill that they thought “some of Gab’s Nazis are actually fake Nazis, who are just trying to make Gab look bad.” Neither Torba nor Sanduja offered proof of this claim, relying instead on the conspiracy theory that progressive organizations were supporting fake Gab accounts that post extremism to give the site a bad image, a theory that echoes somewhat the “false flag” reaction the far-right has faced with instances of right-wing extremism.

    This mindset explains why financial pressures have been the only incentives that have made Gab’s leaders act against extremism on their site. Torba has always framed pressure from his third-party providers to regulate Gab’s content as “censorship” to free speech, going on like-minded Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet repeatedly to complain. He’s apparently aware of the ways violent neo-Nazi groups like the Atomwaffen Division use Gab and has done nothing.

    Back in August, Gab’s hosting provider, Microsoft Azure, gave the site 48 hours to remove two virulently anti-Semitic posts made by defeated neo-Nazi congressional candidate Patrick Little (who also ran as a Republican in a primary and is verified by Gab on the site). Little was suggesting raising Jewish people “as livestock,” and vowing to attack Holocaust memorials in the U.S. with a sledge hammer. After Azure’s pressure, the site removed the posts in contention, but before the site was taken offline, Little was still on Gab, where he reacted to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting by urging his followers to blame the victims.

    In an email statement to its users a full day after the synagogue shooting, Gab disavowed and condemned “all acts of terrorism and violence” but also condemned the press by saying, “We refused to be defined by the media’s narratives about Gab and our community.” In the statement, Gab’s leadership continued to take no responsibility for the extremism the platform has enabled since its inception by saying, “Criminals and criminal behavior exist on every social media platform.”

  • Right-wing media rush to blame “incivility” from Democrats and the media for bombs targeting Trump critics

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Beginning Monday, October 23, several prominent Democrats and CNN were targeted with improvised explosive devices sent to them in manila envelopes. In the face of these apparent assassination attempts against leaders of one political party and a media organization -- many of whom Trump has spent years viciously attacking -- right-wing media opted to pin the blame for the attempted bombings on their would-be victims' "incivility."

    Fox’s Sean Hannity: “We can’t, of course, forget about Congresswoman Maxine Waters repeatedly calling for Republicans to be stalked, harassed, confronted” in public.

    Fox’s Laura Ingraham: “I found [it] disgusting” that “other networks” blamed Trump’s rhetoric for the attempted bombings, “yet we had Holder, … Hillary, Booker, Maxine Waters, … and Joe Biden” previously criticizing the president.

    Rush Limbaugh addressed Hillary Clinton while talking about the bombs he said were “supposedly” sent to Democrats, saying, “Mrs. Clinton, it's your party, forgive me, that is encouraging this kind of thing. … Mrs. Clinton herself who said that being uncivil at this point in time is entirely proper.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said comments by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Hillary Clinton “plays into” their being targeted by explosives. Later, Kilmeade also blamed Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and pop star Madonna for their rhetoric.

    Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I’m not saying it’s just Democrats," but “we saw what happened to you and your family in the restaurant, we have Maxine Waters that’s calling for” harassment, and “Hillary Clinton was saying that we won’t be civil.”

    Newt Gingrich said that cable news had “earned” the nickname “the enemy of the people” and rhetorically asked, “The culture of [CNN’s] building is so relentlessly hostile that what are you going to call them?”

    Washington Free Beacon’s Elizabeth Harrington said in a Twitter thread that “Hillary Clinton literally said there can be no civility a week ago” and that “her rhetoric is part of the problem.” Later on Fox News, Harrington doubled down on blaming Clinton for “stoking this” and said that the media also have “culpability in driving up this division, this rhetoric.”

    Fox contributor and Federalist writer Mollie Hemingway: “A lot of people on the left have been calling for incivility” and “mob violence,” and “our media are not contributing to civility.”

    Fox's Harris Faulkner: “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, though, called for the attacks of those people with whom you don't agree.”

    Fox Business’ Charles Payne complained that a Clinton adviser “was just on TV Sunday promoting in your face incivility.”

    Republican National Committee spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany misleadingly claimed that a CNN anchor endorsed a play "depicting the assassination of the president" and claimed that the network is "culpable for the rhetoric" that led to the attempted bombing spree. (The play was a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar that featured a Trump-resembling lead. The lesson of that work is that political violence is bad, and it’s common to base the titular role on real-life politicians.)

    Ryan Saavedra also tweeted comments from four Democrats -- three of whom received bombs in the mail. Donald Trump Jr. liked the tweet, but Saavedra later deleted it.

    Hollywood conservative James Woods blamed “Democrat #mob behavior of late” for false flag conspiracy theories about attempted bombings of Democrats.