The family of one of the 22 victims of the August 3rd, 2019 El Paso shooting has filed a lawsuit against not only the suspect of the shooting but also against 8chan – the website that the suspect posted his manifesto to – and Cloudflare, a security company that protected 8chan (and millions of other websites) from online cyber attacks.
According to El Paso lawyer James Scherr, who is representing the family of Angelina Englisbee, 86, it’s the first civil suit related to the incident.
“The family seeks this lawsuit to stop the hate, to send a message to people who are going to travel 600 miles or 1 mile to injure, maim or kill someone because of their national origin, their background, their religion, whatever the case may be, just because they live hate,” Scherr said in a press conference.
The suit specifically singles out three individuals and companies associated with 8chan as being somehow responsible for the El Paso terrorist’s killing spree.
These individuals include Jim Watkins, who is the executive of the company that runs 8chan, Matthew Prince, the co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare; and Fredrick Brennan – the original founder of 8chan, but who has since parted ways with the company and has been campaigning for the website to be take offline.
The suit claims that Patrick Crusius (the alleged shooter), Brennan, Watkins, Prince and Cloudflare “publically [sic] and privately encouraged, promoted, incited, encouraged and inspired ‘white racist nationalism’, ‘nationalism’, ‘Nazism’, and ideological racist fervor, as an unincorporated association, to unite together to fight this ‘invasion’ of minorities, particularly persons of Hispanic descent.”
El Paso police say that Crusius posted a hateful manifesto to 8chan at 10.15 am on August 3rd – and, while according to Jim Watkins it was promptly removed – the message board site remained associated with the incident and resulted in a media campaign to get the website shut down.
After the incident, Watkins was invited to defend 8chan in Congress.
“My company takes a firm stand with helping law enforcement and within minutes of these two tragedies, we were working with FBI agents to find out what information we could to help in their investigations,” Watkins said, after 8chan became the center of a media storm by association. “Our company has always worked with law enforcement to help them with their investigations. We have never protected illegal speech as it seems that we have been accused by some less-than-credible journalists.”
Scherr said he anticipates subpoenaing 8chan for evidence.
While the suit is looking for a jury trial to determine whether the defendants are liable for damages amounting to more than $1 million, Scherr suggests that the case is not one the Englisbee family is “looking at trying to settle or get money out of.”
“We’re trying to set a new standard that those people can lose everything financially they have that is attachable to them by law if they are going to do this type of activity,” the lawyer for the family said.
This also includes even the families of mass shooters he said, noting “many times, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
The suit casts an even wider net and claims Crusius’ parents and grandparents, with whom he was living at the time of the shooting are also partly responsible. Scherr said that, as a terrorist, “your own family can be held responsible for your actions if they were assisting you, encouraging, you, aiding you.”
While the broadcasting of horrific incidents is an increasing trend online, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has protected platforms and service providers from liability when it comes to lawsuits such as these.
Even Facebook and Twitch – which have previously streamed terrorist incidents live – have fallen short of being somehow blamed for the actions of the individual that perpetrated the attacks.