After police say a man stormed into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed at least 11 people, a social media account with the suspected shooter’s name began to circulate online.
Police have identified the suspect in the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill as 46-year-old Robert Bowers. Six people — including four police officers — were also reported as injured in the shooting at the place of worship for Jews.
As news broke of the shooting, some on social media noted that Bowers had an account on the social media site Gab.
What is Gab?
Andrew Torba, founder of Gab, said that he created the website because of “the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly,” Newsweek reported. The site was founded in 2016.
Vox reported that the platform has become a virtual gathering place for some members of the alt-right, a movement of white nationalist, anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups.
The Gab logo resembles Pepe the frog, a meme that has been adopted by some members of the alt-right, as noted by VICE.
But Utsav Sanduja, Gab’s Chief Operating Officer, told VICE that it is simply looking to protect the free speech of its users.
“We’re very worried about people’s rights,” Sanduja told VICE. “A lot of political speech is being labelled as hate speech and is simply being wiped off the map.”
What did the account identified as Robert Bowers say on Gab?
An account with the same name as the suspected shooter contains many disparaging posts about people of Jewish faith, as seen in an archive of the account.
The account shared a message that said “Jews are waging a propaganda war against Western civilization.”
The account associated with Bowers also appears to indicate that he was about to attack the synagogue.
The final message on the account — sent out on Saturday just a few hours before the shooting — says “HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) 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.”
Has Gab responded?
Gab suspended his account Saturday afternoon, and then, in a post on Medium.com, the social media platform wrote that it “unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence” and is working with law enforcement.
“Shortly after the attack, Gab was alerted to a user profile of the alleged Tree of Life Synagogue shooter,” the statement read. “The account was verified and matched the name of the alleged shooter’s name, which was mentioned on police scanners. This person also had accounts on other social networks.
“Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately. We first backed up all user data from the account and then proceeded to suspend the account. We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession.
“We are ready and willing to work with law enforcement to see to it that justice is served.”