Robert Bowers, the man charged with murdering 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend, was, like other right-wing and far-right activists, a user of Gab, a social media site that has, in the name of free speech, proudly and defiantly welcomed neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and others kicked off of larger social media platforms for promoting hatred. Bowers’ bio on Gab called Jews “the children of satan.”
In his posts on Gab, Bowers professed special enmity for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization that works with refugees. In his final post before the shootings, Bowers declared, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Although Gab CEO Andrew Torba has claimed the site has a “zero-tolerance policy for terrorism and violence,” RWW’s Jared Holt reported earlier this month that the site featured “posts encouraging the murdering of journalists and members of ethnic minorities, all set into feeds peppered with swastikas and demands for a new genocide.”
The Gab account of Patrick Little, who ran for the U.S. Senate from California as a Republican this year, included “nonstop neo-Nazi rhetoric,” Holt reported in April. Among Little’s posts: “Jews have no seat at the table in matters of white self-determination,” and more alarmingly:
We must now, before mobs start hunting Jews, make a database of all ZOG Jews, with their pictures and prints. [Among white nationalists, ZOG refers to “Zionist Occupation Government,” or “Zionist-Occupied Government.”]
When Israel is destroyed & the ZOGs of the west are overthrown, we’ll have to ensure that they aren’t hiding among us to subvert us again. If you have betrayed this country, you will not escape justice. There’s only 1 lawful punishment for high treason.
As RWW reported a week ago, Gab and white nationalists were ecstatic when Trump declared himself a “nationalist.” Torba himself celebrated, saying “Trump said he’s a nationalist so the Overton Window is officially smashed, feel free to tell everyone you are an American nationalist now.” (The Overton window is a concept that there is a window of acceptable public discourse: Trump’s rhetorical attacks on immigrants and others—and his attacks on “political correctness”—have moved the Overton window to the right, making room for white nationalists and encouraging the public expression of bigotries that had until recently been marginalized from most political conversation.)
In August, Right Wing Watch and ThinkProgress collaborated on a report on the ways payment processing companies facilitate purveyors of hate. It called Gab “a ‘free speech’ social media platform that quickly became a haven for white supremacists who have been banned from more conventional sites like Twitter.” The report noted:
Members of Gab Pro can use Stripe processing to profit from the website by offering subscriptions to paywalled content. Indicated by their blue check marks on the site, Gab Pro members are neo-Nazis Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer, failed Senate candidate Patrick Little and “Crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell, just to name a few.
As outrage about the killings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue spread over the weekend, Torba made an appeal on Gab for President Trump to stand with his site the way it had stood with him:
“I don’t brag about this, but in 2016 across all of my accounts I had BILLIONS of impressions supporting and defending him and America. Can we get one tweet defending Gab.com, our work with law enforcement to bring a terrorist to justice, and our defense of free speech online for all people?
Is that too much to ask?”
Torba says that Gab has suspended Bowers’ account and turned information on him over to law enforcement. On Sunday, the day after the Tree of Life massacre, PayPal banned Gab from using its service. The social media site, which has previously faced being cut off by a payment processor, went down at least temporarily on Monday.
On Sunday evening, Torba went on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s show to denounce “attacks from the mainstream media” and “coordinated collusion from Silicon Valley.”
“Gab is not going anywhere,” he told Jones. “We are not afraid. We will not bow down to the mainstream media. We will not cower.”
Torba delivered a similar message on placeholder text saying,” We are the most censored, smeared, and no-platformed startup in history, which means we are a threat to the media and to the Silicon Valley Oligarchy.” Torba said Gab is “working with the DOJ and FBI to bring justice to an alleged terrorist,” he wrote. He pledged, “Gab isn’t going anywhere.”