August 4, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 511

As Tree Of Life Synagogue Shooter Bowers Is Sentenced To Death, Justice Demands Closure Of Gab – The Social Media Platform At The Center Of His Attack Where It Is Still Celebrated Daily, And Where Users Continue To Post Violent Threats Against Synagogues And Jews, Call For Assassinating Politicians, Overthrowing The U.S. Government

August 4, 2023 | By Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D.*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 511

The social media platform Gab is a breeding ground and a gateway for radicalization and violence. Law enforcement and those who study online hate are well aware of the content posted on Gab. Yet nothing has been done about it – not even after Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh with multiple firearms on October 27, 2018, shouting "All Jews must die" and killing 11 worshipers.

Bowers was an active consumer and disseminator of hate on Gab; minutes before his murder spree, he posted on it: "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in." His words are now a rallying cry for hatemongers on the platform, where he is canonized as a neo-Nazi "saint" whom others aspire to emulate.

Gab prides itself on being "the home of free speech online." But this really means that its users are free to openly call for murder, with impunity. A meme recently posted there claimed, "Jewish power hates free speech because when people are free to speak the truth, the most obvious truth is that Jews are a threat to our societies." As one woman posted on her account, "I joined Gab last year and first learned about the Jews... Now we name the Jew and hang swastikas and fight every day."

Most first heard of Gab after the Tree of Life synagogue attack, which became a rallying cry on the platform and fueled its use by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and anti-government types as a safe haven online. Every October 27, users celebrate the attack's anniversary with messages supporting Bowers and his actions, and with more calls to murder such as "Take a moment to reflect on his sacrifice today" and "[synagogues are] a justified military target in which Jews of all branches conspire to deprive our people of their birthright." Also, there are annual birthday celebrations for Bowers on the platform, which underline his "courage to take the fight to 11 kikes on his day of action" and his "inspiration to 1,000 more saints."

In a cowardly attempt to distance itself from the attack, Gab issued a semi-apology, stating that it "unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence" and that it was "saddened and disgusted by the news of violence in Pittsburgh." The statement has since been removed by the company, and not a day has gone by without countless threats on the platform to carry out attacks similar to the Tree of Life massacre.

Fast forward five years. On June 12, 2023, day nine of Bowers' trial, as he faced 63 federal charges and the government sought the death penalty against him, Gab's openly antisemitic CEO Andrew Torba was forced to testify. He told the court that the free speech for which he had established his platform can include antisemitic content "if it's protected by the First Amendment." Asked whether there are antisemitic posts on Gab, Torba answered, "I guess it depends on how you define antisemitism." Asked whether he personally posts "crazy" or antisemitic content on Gab, he lied and denied doing so.

In an ironic turn, some of the most ferocious neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Gab have now begun cannibalizing Torba just as they attack and express their hatred for Jews and minorities. Following Torba's testimony, an increased number of Gab users are mocking him on the platform. Their attacks include labeling him a "hypocrite narcissist" who "is a liar and spreads lies" and has "sold our meta-data to kikes." Gab, it was alleged, "block[s] or hide[s] anything that destroys" its own arguments, and "is a cash burning scam" on which "3rd party software has been profiling and databasing everything." Others added that since Gab is seeking investors, it is "selling out to kikes." "You can kiss your free speech goodbye," some asserted.

Still others have looked at Torba's ethnic origins, claiming he is Turkish and stating that "Torba is turkish, turks and jews always deceive Whites." This conspiracy theory most likely stems from Gab cofounder Ekrem Büyükkaya, who is based in Istanbul, and its former chief operating officer, Utsav Sanduja, who says on his Twitter account that he is an "India Analyst." Both had left the company in 2018 – Sanduja prior to the the Tree of Life attack, after Gab users threatened his life and that of his wife who worked at a synagogue, and Büyükkaya immediately afterward. READ MORE ABOUT GAB USERS TURNING ON TORBA HERE.

After Bowers carried out his attack on the Tree of Life, his friends on Gab went on with his mission, continuing to this very day. One of them, who has threatened attacks on Jews for years, boasted that he had been questioned by the FBI about his relationship with Bowers, and on his Gab account regularly shares his plan to "exterminate Jews," including – just last week – to soon target synagogues.  Another wrote that he'd been reading about the trial, and bragged that Bowers "was in my inbox all the time on my last Gab account" and used to "like" all his posts.

Many others on Gab are celebrating Bowers as a "political prisoner" who must "be freed," labelling his trial "utter hypocrisy and a miscarriage of justice." One user said he hopes one day to "liberate" Bowers from prison, and another promised, this week, "one dead Jew" for every day he is in prison.

Emphasizing Bowers' Gab connection, a post noted that "one of Gab's own goes on trial today," with a large photo of him captioned "ROBERT BOWERS DID NOTHING WRONG." After the verdict – guilty on all 63 charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death – was announced, another user summarized his significance to many users on the platform as "the hero of America and a guiding light to the movement and to all Gabbers."

It comes as no surprise that since the verdict, there have been daily calls on Gab for attacks on Jews: "an eye for an eye;" "we will fight to take our country back, all Jews must die;" and "[t]he Jews need to be rounded up and eliminated. Their assets seized. Their 'business' creations destroyed. Their legacy annihilated."

Posts in the few days preceding the verdict included the warning "We are coming for you, kikes. There will be nowhere to run. The days of the Jewish race are numbered." Another stated: "Don't worry, you f***ing hook-nose goblins. We will get every f***ing one of you in the end. The real upcoming holocaust will make your fake one seem like a f***ing tea party."

One user wrote on his Gab account that Bowers' attack was justified, while others called his actions "acceptable" and added that he was acting in self-defense. Still others posted poems: "Hail to you night and day, O brave hero, your fame spread far and wide to all places on earth."

As Bowers' sentencing became imminent, posts in support of him on Gab ramped up. One user expressed his hope for "justice" for Bowers, stating that "self defense is not a crime, nor is saving the lives of children by neutralizing members of a satanic, child-raping murder cult congregating in your community. Freedom for Robert Bowers!" Replies to the post included: "May his words of 'Fuck your optics, I’m going in.' be our clarion call. Bowers is a man who lives and dies by the sword in love for our people. And unlike many of the edgy right wing posters who called it a fed-op he actually took action."

In the moments after Bowers's sentence was handed down, users on Gab posted their outrage, along with further threats. Dubbing the verdict a "miscarriage of justice for killing 11 kikes," they called for a "federal holiday" honoring Bowers, whose actions were heroic and "deserved a parade." Another stated, "F*ck the Jews" and predicted that Bowers "will be a martyr.'

This wave of intense support on Gab is similar to what happened immediately following the attack, when users began adopting Bowers as their avatar and devoting entire fan accounts to him. The "Robert Bowers @ SquirrelHillKilla" account – which is still active – features a profile picture of a skull with a swastika-stamped forehead; its avatar is Bowers with a "Kill Jews" headband. Its "About" reads "Screw your optics, I'm going in," and it shares messages such as "Pro tip: If you are going to #killjews you have to practice." Another stated: "Robert Bowers is JUST ONE of many in our vanguard for racial salvation. These patriots are the tip of spear and edge of the knife."

On the surface, Gab looks like many other social media platforms, where people post pictures of their kids, homes, food, and pets. But if you look a little closer, you see swastikas, pictures of Hitler, and, over and over, words such as "Jew," "Blacks," "expel," "eliminate," "lynch," and "hang," and other explicit calls for violence. You see posts depicting Jews as vermin fit for killing, and comments such as "if [only] I had a button that could kill every Jew." As one user wrote recently, "I think at this point the best thing is to actually exterminate these filthy lying pigs."

Posted all over Gab are many statements such as "the only good Jew is a dead Jew" and that they "should be gassed and baked," along with exhortations to "make ovens blaze again." Bowers himself had posted these statements on his Gab account, as revealed during the trial – including 152 uses of the word "Jew."

For a better understanding of Gab users, just review the many polls posted on the platform that provide insight into their ideology. In response to one poll asking about political identification, 66% answered "White Nationalist/NatSoc." In response to another about ideological affiliation, 90% said "Nazis." In another, about "values," 99% said theirs are "Aryan," and in yet another, 95% of respondents favored a ban on Jewish employment in "vital institutions in White countries." Responses to other polls included demands for Jewish assets to be seized and Jews to be expelled, as well as sterilized, tried, and executed.

There have been multiple attempts to penalize Gab, including an investigation launched two days after the Tree of Life attack by Pennsylvania's then-attorney general Josh Shapiro, now governor. However, the probe was dropped the following year, which only emboldened the company. Nevertheless, leading cyber companies severed ties with it at that time – including, according to Gab itself, "more than 25 service providers" such as PayPal and GoDaddy. These companies set a standard that should be followed.

The mainstream companies that continue to serve Gab should now be pressured. They include the ICANN-accredited domain registrar Epik, and Google and other search engines that bring users directly onto the platform. Gab also relies heavily on the California-based cyber services provider Cloudflare, which in January 2023 was awarded a $7.2 million contract by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to provide services to the U.S. government.

National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released in May, could provide more opportunities to act against Gab. It calls on Congress to "hold social media platforms accountable" for "spreading antisemitism" and to "remove special immunity for online platforms." It also underlines the president's call for "fundamental reforms" to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Although this strategy is a positive move, it fails to address the problem of bad actors – such as Gab.

To date, Gab remains free to serve as a breeding ground for violence, and Robert Bowers showed what can happen when nothing is done to stop it. As his trial concludes with his conviction and sentencing, justice should be extended to include the closure of the platform on which he spewed his hatred and where likeminded extremists continue to congregate, making threats from behind their fake account names and avatar pictures and planning more attacks.

Many other neo-Nazi and white supremacist Gab users besides Bowers are involved in criminal activity – and over a dozen of them have been arrested. They have, among other things, incited violence against minority groups including Blacks, Jews, and gays; threatened a Black city council candidate; threatened to kill election workers and their children after the 2022 midterm election; threatened to kill Black men dating white women, blow up IRS agents, and kill former Democratic politician Beto O'Rourke and supporters; and threatened the FBI.

There are precedents for shutting down Gab. For example, in 2019, Cloudflare, which provides services that help keep websites operating, including to Gab, stopped serving the 8chan message board after the August 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting, stating that the gunman "appears to have been inspired" by content on it and "posted a screed to the site immediately before beginning his terrifying attack." 8chan immediately went offline. In 2017, Cloudflare did the same to the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website; it too went offline. While both have since reemerged, the suspension of services was a start. Cloudflare should now terminate its services to Gab.

Torba thinks he has gotten away with providing a space that gives rise to murder. Shutting down Gab can provide further justice.

*Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D., is Executive Director of MEMRI.

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