FBI Warrant Against 8Chan
by Susan Basko, esq.
The FBI was granted a search warrant against 8Chan, a right wing troll message board. John T. Earnest is a young man who went to a synagogue in Poway, California, and shot and killed people. Several days before the killings, he posted a manifesto onto pastebin. Shortly before the killings, he posted a link to the manifesto onto 8Chan. Earnest stated that he had been a lurker on 8Chan for a year and a half, and learned a lot.
According to the FBI application for the search warrant, the agent states that several users of 8Chan reported to the DOJ about Earnest's final postings onto 8Chan.
ANALYSIS OF THE PURPOSES OF THIS SEARCH WARRANT: The FBI wants to know how and by whom John T. Earnest was "radicalized" on 8Chan. Earnest comes from a family that is not racist or antisemitic, but rather, an educated California open-minded family. Earnest was an accomplished classical pianist and a nursing student. He was a highly unlikely person to turn into an antisemitic domestic terrorist. His most "radical" connections seem to have come on 8Chan, which, by his own admission, was the location where he came upon his ideas that led to the shootings.
This search warrant is trying to find the identities of Earnest's contacts on 8Chan by obtaining the IPs and metadata of those commenting on Earnest's posts. However, those on 8Chan are likely to be using VPNs and/or Tor, so IPs may not actually be available.
One thing to always keep in mind is that a person who may appear to be agreeing with a person who is posting bad ideas or bad plans may be fake-agreeing with the goal of drawing out the person or getting the person to give more details of their plan. If an observer acts shocked or disagrees sharply, usually the person will not divulge details. This is a very standard technique in gathering information and one we can assume was in practice on 8Chan among some of those interacting with John Earnest. Not everyone who acts as if they agree is actually in agreement; some may be trying to elicit further details.
This is not the first time a person heavily involved in a troll message board has been involved in a terroristic shooting. William Edward Atchison, a young man who was an admin on Encyclopedia Dramatica and active on Kiwi Farms, two right wing troll/ hate/ defamation websites, killed school students and then himself. At that time, I called upon the DOJ to investigate how white people are being radicalized online by troll hate websites. It seems that the goal of this search warrant is to try to gain some insight into how and by whom this inspiration to kill is occurring.
I have read the entire manifesto written by John T. Earnest and posted on pastebin. I also read the public statement posted by his parents, apologizing and vowing to assist the FBI in its efforts to find out how and why their son was radicalized into hating and killing Jews. These are attitudes and actions that Earnest's parents say go against their beliefs and against how they lived their lives and what they taught their children. I am intentionally not posting the manifesto here, since it may inspire others who are easily influenced or gullible or mentally imbalanced. In the manifesto, Earnest admits that his beliefs and actions run contrary to how he was raised. He also notes that he is giving up a good life and a promising future to engage in the killings.
There is a very real question of the mechanism by which an accomplished young man from a seemingly normal family became radicalized into an antisemitic killer. John T. Earnest himself wrote that he learned by lurking on 8Chan for a year and a half.
The search warrant asks 8Chan to turn over the IP addresses and any other information regarding people who were interacting and commenting on Earnest's postings. Just below is the main pertinent part of the application for the warrant. Further below is the full application for the warrant.
Below are excerpts from the warrant application from page 10 and on, that explain the motivation of the FBI in asking to get the IP and metadata on those who commented on John Earnest's 8Chan post. The headings are written by me to explain each excerpt from the warrant application.
WHAT THE FBI WANTED -- John Earnest's IP info, all postings made from that IP, all postings made by people responding to Earnest's posts or commenting about them, and all IP and metadata related to those comments:
D. Basis for Information Sought. Agents seek IP address and metadata information about Earnest's original posting and the postings of all of the individuals who responded to the subject posting and/or commented about it. Additionally, agents seek information about any other posting coming from the IP address used by Earnest to post the subject posting.
WHAT EARNEST WROTE - his 8Chan farewell address, a link to his manifesto on pastebin, and a link to the facebook location where he planned to livestream the shootings using a GoPro camera:
As discussed above, Earnest made a posting in which he thought to draw attention to his forthcoming attack on the Chabad of Poway, share his views through his open letter, and offer people the opportunity to observe the attack itself.
WHO RESPONDED (See my notes above about how a person who appears to be sympathizing may be pretending to sympathize to try to elicit more details. Never take online conversational roles at face value.):
Several people responded, both individuals who were taken aback about the posting as well as people who were sympathizers.
HOW THAT MIGHT IMPLICATE THEM:
As a result, some of the individuals may be potential witnesses, co-conspirators and/ or individuals who are inspired by the subject posting.
HOW COULD THAT POSE A DANGER OF ANOTHER ATTACK:
Based on agents' training and experience, following attacks such as those conducted by Earnest, other individuals are inspired by the attacks and may act of their own accord. For example, as described above, Earnest himself was inspired by the Christchurch event in New Zealand.
COMMENTS MAY BE EVIDENCE OF EARNEST'S MOTIVATION:
Regardless of the nature of the comments, the evidence sought to be seized as described in Attachment B is relevant as evidence of Earnest's bias and motivation in committing the hate crimes set forth in Attachment B.
POTENTIAL WITNESSES, CO-CONSPIRATORS, OR INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE INSPIRED:
Even comments made in response to the subject posting or about it are relevant to Earnest's motivation for his violent attacks to the extent that as explained above, some of the posters may be potential witnesses, co-conspirators, or individuals who are inspired by the subject posting.
JOHN EARNEST SAID HE WAS INSPIRED BY 8CHAN:
As discussed above, Earnest stated in the subject posting, "I've only been lurking for a year and a half, yet, what I've learned here is priceless."
EARNEST INSPIRED OR EDUCATED BY THOSE WHO COMMENTED ON HIS THREADS:
This information suggests that Earnest was inspired and/or educated by individuals who commented on his threads.
IP AND METADATA SOUGHT ON ALL COMMENTERS FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION:
Based on this information, there is reasonable cause to believe that the information sought, specifically IP address and metadata for all commenters, constitute evidence of his motivation in committing the offenses described herein and are thus relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation, information that may be sought by an order issued pursuant to l S U.S.C. § 2703( c) and ( d).
MAY LEAD TO IDENTITY OF PEOPLE WHO INSPIRED OR EDUCATED JOHN EARNEST:
That is, the information may lead to the identity of individuals who inspired and/or educated Earnest or are aware of his motivation in committing the attacks.
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