Software developer Fredrick Brennan, 25, has called for the site he founded known as 8chan to be shut down after learning that El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius had used the online forum to publish his manifesto before killing 22 people. Brennan turned over control of the site to Jim and Ronald Watkins in 2016.
At least three mass shootings can be directly tied to 8chan: Christchurch, New Zealand, Poway, California and El Paso, Texas. “Whenever I hear about a mass shooting, I say, ‘All right, we have to research if there’s an 8chan connection,’” Brennan told the New York Times.
Brennan developed 8chan as an imageboard where anyone could post images and comments anonymously without censorship. Started in 2013, 8chan stands for either “infinite chan” or “infinity chan,” with the number eight symbolizing infinity.
8chan was briefly shut down after web security company Cloudflare pulled its access after the El Paso shooting, but is now back online. “It’s not doing the world any good. It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there,” Brennan said.
Here’s what you need to know about Frederick Brennan and 8chan.
1. Brennan Was Born With the Condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta
Brennan was born in Albany, New York in 1994 with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a hereditary condition that makes the bones extremely weak and prone to break. OI is commonly known as “brittle bone disease.” Brennan’s mother and brother also have OI.
The condition is very rare and there are several different types of OI. Only 25,000-50,000 people in the U.S. have OI. “Broken bones that occur from little or no trauma are often the first indication that an infant or child may have OI,” the OI Foundation’s website explains.
According to the foundation, individuals with OI who receive good medical and supportive care can expect to have a normal lifespan. Brennan, who uses a wheelchair and goes by the online nickname of “Hotwheels,” describes himself as being “somewhere in the middle of severity.”
Brennan’s interest in computers directly resulted from living with OI and dealing with a troubled childhood in which his parents divorced and he and his brother were placed in foster care as teenagers.
Brennan was also limited to activities that wouldn’t cause him injury. “When I was a kid, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, you know, like kid activities,” he told Al Jazeera. “Behind the keyboard, it doesn’t matter that physically, my body doesn’t work properly. Everybody is the same behind the keyboard.
Brennan calls OI one of the most painful conditions in the world and told Al Jazeera he’d broken 120 bones by the time he was 19. “By all accounts, broken bones are just as painful as in healthy children — and most kids only break one bone in their entire childhood, much less over one hundred.”
2. Brennan Came up With the Idea of 8chan After Eating Psychedelic Mushrooms
Brennan recalled that as a 12-year-old he was on 8chan’s predecessor, the imageboard 4chan, “all the time.” As a teen, Brennan began to consider the forum to be like a family, with thousands of anonymous relatives. “Maybe [4chan] wasn’t really a family, but it definitely made me feel a sense of normalcy,” he told Tortoise.
4chan offered its users anonymity but moderators could remove content. After witnessing censorship on 4chan, Brennan came up with the idea of 8chan while taking psychedelic mushrooms with his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend. He envisioned a site similar to 4chan without moderation, even if he personally opposed the content.
The debate over 4chan’s censorship came to a head during “GamerGate,” a 2014 online controversy where misogynistic gamers fought against feminism, cultural diversity and political correctness in video games. Posts deemed as inappropriate or offensive were deleted from the site’s message boards.
8chan took off when gamers who’d been evicted from 4chan migrated over to Brennan’s 8chan after realizing they could post without any constraints. But along with gamers came other individuals who now use 8chan as an online bulletin board to spread hate and recruit individuals attracted to alt-right, neo-Nazi and white supremacy philosophies.
3. Brennan Began Calling for 8chan’s Closure After the Christchurch Attack
In 2016, Brennan turned 8chan over to U.S. Army veteran Jim Watkins and Watkins’ son, Ronald. “I no longer have anything to do with 8chan—any 8chan questions post April 2016 I don’t know the answers to,” Brennan wrote on his Twitter profile.
Brennan formally cut all ties with the site in December 2018 and began calling for 8chan’s closure after the March 15, 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. “It was very difficult in the days that followed to know that I had created that site,” Brennan said to The Wall Street Journal . “It wouldn’t surprise me if this happens again.”
Brennan is married and living in the Philippines. Now a devout Christian, Brennan says he wants nothing to do with imageboards, preferring instead to create online fonts. “Another 8chan shooting?” he tweeted on Saturday. “Am I ever going to be able to move on with my life?” he wrote on Twitter, after the El Paso shooting.
Brennan wasn’t always supportive of reining in his 8chan creation. In a 2015 interview with Ars Technica, he defended his site and said that “anonymity should not be taken away from everyone just because of a few bad apples.”
“If you shut down 4chan, shut down 8chan, you’re just pushing it under the rug,” he said, adding, “Underground, it’s just gonna get worse.”
4. Brennan Wrote an Essay Supporting Eugenics & Sterilization of the Disabled & Published it on a Neo-Nazi Website
Brennan previously identified as a supporter of eugenics, a belief in selectively breeding intelligence and certain physical traits to improve the human race. Brennan, who now says he does not believe in eugenics, revealed that his thoughts on eugenics stemmed from his own feelings of physical suffering rather than racism.
In 2014, Brennan wrote “Hotwheels: Why I Support Eugenics.” The essay suggests that the U.S. government should offer a cash incentive to couples at risk of passing on genetic problems to their children if they agree to sterilization. “Allowing more cripples like myself to be born when society at large knows how it can be stopped is a great crime,” he wrote. Brennan said genetic counselors could offer couples with a “debilitating, genetically dominant disease” $100,000, while any couple with recessive genes would be “offered a smaller sum, like say, $10,000.”
“Genetics used to be a lottery, but we know exactly how to stop a large amount of suffering in the world by preventing children with inheritable genetic conditions from being born using completely humane methods,” Brennan said.
Brennan also shared that his mother and brother have osteogenesis imperfecta, called his father “a deadbeat” who collected welfare and slept with his sons’ caretaker and then put both boys in foster care.
According to Brennan, the only place that accepted his essay for publication was the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, however, he clarified that he was “far from” being a neo-Nazi and did not support neo-Nazi views. “I am simply asking for compassion from an ignorant society that falsely believes it is unethical to give genetically defective people incentives not to reproduce. I am simply arguing for a world full of healthy, happy children who can play outside with their friends without breaking their legs.”
5. The Anti-Defamation League Calls 8chan the “Septic Tank of the Internet”
When interviewed on CNN Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called 8chan the “septic tank of the internet,” and described it as a “cesspool” because it gives a platform to easily spread hateful and racist views. Greenblatt explained that 8chan is used to share everything from violent extremism to child pornography.
“At the ADL we really see that the frontline of fighting hate is really the internet,” Greenblatt said, adding that preventing hate and violence is “just a few clicks away.”
Brennan told the BBC that Watkins and his son aren’t running 8chan properly. [Watkins and his son] are not trying hard enough (to stop the shootings). There’s so much more they could do.”
He also expressed regret for creating the site. “If I could uncreate it, sitting where I am right now, sure, I would press that button.”