The Tallahassee shooting was the third crime in a single week that was apparently preceded by a trail of online hate. Robert Bowers, the man suspected of killing 11 people and wounding six others in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday, appears to have posted threatening language about Jewish people and HIAS National Refugee Shabbat, a refugee aid group formerly known as the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, on Gab, a social network that has become a home for anti-Semitism and racism.
Cesar Sayoc, the man arrested last Friday in connection with bombs mailed to CNN and several critics of President Donald Trump, appears to have threatened Democrats on Twitter and Facebook. “Hug your loved son,Niece,wife family real close everytime U walk out your home,” said one tweet sent to former Vice President Joe Biden, apparently by Sayoc. It included an image of Biden’s home with a target superimposed on it.
The postings apparently made by Beierle, Bowers, and Sayoc were part of a pattern going back years. Elliot Rodger left behind a YouTube video in which he said women would be punished for not being attracted to him. And George Sodini, a gunman whose murder of three women at a gym outside Pittsburgh in 2009 appears to share similarities with the Tallahassee shooting, maintained a blog detailing his anger toward women for months before committing the crime.
These men share more than their apparent online histories of bigotry. All were part of communities, online or off, that seemed to reinforce their views. That’s why online hatred and harassment is so serious. It’s not just that an individual person’s online posts can be warning signs of future violence. It’s also that hateful posts, even by those who never commit crimes, create an environment where those crimes are encouraged, accepted, and even celebrated. [Continue reading…]