How does a person who could not imagine killing someone just a few months earlier go on to carrying out a fatal terrorist attack?
I’m talking about John Earnest, 19, who is accused of shooting four people and killing Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, at a California synagogue outside San Diego.
Earnest spent time on social media site 8chan consuming white supremacist ideology all while being praised and indoctrinated by other neo-nazis who encouraged his radicalization on the site. They pushed others on this site to undertake acts of violence, which they call real-life effort posting. Earnest said that after reading the hate, he decided to carry out an attack. He planned the attack for four weeks.
I have a hard time believing that an everyday citizen could go from law-abiding to committing a terrorist attack in a matter of months. I can’t comprehend how this could happen.
This is a difficult situation because we live in a society where we try to leave people alone to live their lives but at the same time, we are pressed to catch the perpetrator before they commit an act of violence.
The shooter who murdered 51 people during a shooting spree in March at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, posted on 8chan hours before the attack that he was about to commit a mass shooting.
Before the California shooting, Earnest posted to 8chan a link to his anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and white supremacist manifesto. After his post, 8chan users cheered him on, hoping he would get a “high score.” More than 100,000 people visit the 8chan site every week. Its most active forum has more than 12 million posts.
So, would censoring a hate site like 8chan fix the problem? It’s not feasible because they would just take their hate message to another site or to the Dark Web. In the meantime, you end up punishing people who just want to spew their hate. However vile that speech is, it’s the person’s constitutional right.
The guarantee of free speech is that once granted, you are going to be offended.
Free speech does not entitle you to plot attacks against others, but if you want to sit in a chatroom and talk about the people or a particular group you hate, you have every constitutional right to do that.
But what do you do when your speech rises to the level of threats? How do you deal with an online site designed to shield a hater’s identity?
Where is the line drawn between hate speech without a threat and a direct call to a specific act of violence upon a specific person or group? Very difficult to nail that line down. If carried too far, an insensitive jerk who just wanted to vent hate ends up behind bars.
I have listeners who text message: JayMac should die. I also have listeners who text: I’m going to come down and kill you. The former are haters who just want to vent their vile. I have contacted authorities about the latter. I’ve split hairs with my own life on the line. That’s where I draw the line.
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