8chan owner Jim Watkins said that his site “believes in the exceptional promise of the First Amendment” and vowed to help law enforcement as needed, according to prepared remarks submitted late Wednesday to the House Homeland Security Committee.
Watkins appeared Thursday morning in person before the committee in a closed-door deposition alongside his lawyer, Benjamin Barr.
The fringe message board has been under renewed scrutiny in recent months after hateful screeds were posted on it, some of which have been linked to suspects in the three mass shootings.
Growing public pressure has put 8chan’s future in doubt. After the shooting last month in El, Paso, Texas, the San Francisco-based web infrastructure company Cloudflare barred 8chan from using its services, and the site has remained inaccessible since.
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Watkins wrote that 8chan remains “offline voluntarily” and will only return when it can “develop additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law.”
The statement goes on to say that 8chan maintains a “full commitment” to free speech and cited examples of innocuous activity, including discussions of video games and recipes. However, any user of some of the site’s more well-known boards, such as the politics-focused /pol/, can routinely find a wide variety of hate speech.
Barr, Watkins’ lawyer, has previously represented other conservative activists including Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe. Project Veritas is a right-wing activist group that conducts sting operations against politicians, journalists and groups like Planned Parenthood and then releases videos and print material about their efforts, which critics claim are misleading or taken out of context. In 2017, the group tried and failed to trick The Washington Post into publishing a fake story about then-Senate candidate Roy Moore.
In a statement, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., ranking member of the committee, thanked Watkins for his testimony.
“He provided vast and helpful information to the committee about the structure, operation and policies of 8Chan and his other companies,” they said. “We look forward to his continued cooperation with the committee as he indicated his desire to do so during today’s deposition.”
Barr did not respond to requests for comment.
8chan’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, who now has an adversarial relationship with Watkins and hopes to keep the site offline, poked holes in Watkins’ testimony when it was released online Wednesday night.
“8chan had no rule about ‘emergency speech,’” Brennan said in a tweet, quoting Watkins’ prepared statement.