The young man in jeans and sunglasses proudly shows off his gun in a YouTube video, then instructs his 1 million subscribers how to attach an extra clip to the gun belt and give a live chilling observation. back.
“Pretty cool for active shooter content, if you need more recording.”
It’s a typical video, one of thousands that teach military-style tactics and training to civilian gun owners, providing instruction on silencers and grenade launchers, how to fire from a vehicle or into buildings. Other sites sell ghost gun kits, gas masks, and body armor.
“You shouldn’t be scared about the NRA. You should fear us,” an online ghost gun dealer tweeted last week.
As Americans reel from repeated mass shootings, law enforcement officials and extremism experts are increasingly paying attention to the vast online space devoted to guns and rights. gun use: gun forums, tactical training videos, unregistered gun kit websites and social media platforms to date -gun owners completely exchange practical tips with talk about dark plots to get their weapons.
It’s an ecosystem rich with potential recruits for extremist groups to exploit the often blurred line separating traditional support for Constitutional rights from anti-government militant movements that support segregation. racism and violence.
White supremacists have carried out most of the deadliest attacks on American soil in the past five years, including a 2018 shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue and a rampage 2019, in which a gunman targeted Hispanics inside Texas Walmart killed 23 people.
The gunman who sparked last month’s riots in Buffalo, for example, claimed in a racist commentary that he was radicalized when the boredom of the pandemic led him to far-right social media group and tactical training videos he found online.
One of the companies cited by the gunman specifically sells gun accessories and runs popular social media channels with hundreds of training videos. The videos cover topics such as shooting from a car, attacking a building, using a respirator while filming, and night vision goggles.
“I think we’re going to see an increase in polarization and extremism research and innovation,” said Kurt Braddock, a professor and extremism researcher attacks of this type. “Until we can find a way to tackle this problem, this type of misinformation will continue to spread and with it the risk of increased violence and radicalization.”
Elected leaders in several states are considering how to address the internet’s role in fighting extremists. For example, New York lawmakers recently enacted legislation requiring social media companies to set policies on “hate behavior” and create mechanisms for users to report disturbing posts. afraid that they might read.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has begun an investigation into several platforms used by the Buffalo gunman who live-streamed his attack on Twitchowned by Amazon. Twitch stops streaming after about two minutes.
Federal authorities have also noted increased funding for domestic terrorism investigations, a challenge that FBI Director Christopher Wray last year described as “metastatic.” But there is little law enforcement can do beyond surveillance as extremists use the threat of gun control to recruit new members.
According to Callum Hood, research director at the Center against Digital Hate, a UK-based organization that studies extremism and online abuse, extremists argue that any Any effort to regulate firearms is the beginning of large-scale gun seizures.
“The message quickly became ‘the government is going to take your guns away and leave you untouched’,” says Hood. That is despite the obvious political challenges that even modest efforts at gun control in America face. Despite a long and growing list of mass shootings, gun rights have remained unrestricted in any significant way in the US for decades.
Instead of being threatened, guns are flourishing. Since 2000, the year after the Columbine rifle shooting in Colorado, the number of guns manufactured in the US has tripled. There are now an estimated 400 million guns in the US – more than one for everyone in the country – making the country one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world.
According to Braddock, gun manufacturers and industry groups like the National Rifle Association bear some responsibility for baseless conspiracy theories about American gun seizures.
“What is the first rule in sales skills? It is to create demand for the item. We think of guns as something different – and they are because they are tools of violence – but they are also items that are sold in bulk,” Braddock said. “They’re creating the illusion of demand.”
Contacted by the Associated Press, a website that sells ghost gun kits responded with a statement that “all questions” about gun regulation equated to “naked efforts to disarm traditional Americans.” system, weaponizing government against them and subjecting them to the ignorant and cruel tools of federal power. ”
While some creators of tactical training videos are posted on platforms like YouTube say their target audience is law enforcement, others say their subscriber base is mostly people who want to go against the government themselves.
Despite their alarms, law enforcement officials and extremism experts remain little wary of the growing online spaces for military-style weapons unless they find one. evidence of illegal gun sales or other crimes.
For their part, technology companies and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter says it has rules in place to prohibit threats of violence, hate speech and other content that is directly damaging. Some platforms also ban the sale of guns.
According to Amy Cooter, a militia expert, further restrictions on gun content or even extremism would only backfire. While efforts to ban users may be successful in the short term, they are bound to fail as those users move to other platforms with less censorship.
“If we want to reduce the size of the motion, de-platforming really works,” says Cooter. “But if we want to get rid of it, no. The most radical will find other ways to stay connected.”