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Robert Bowers, Pittsburgh shooting suspect, was avid poster of anti-Semitic content on Gab

Last Updated Oct 28, 2018 12:03 AM EDT

The suspected Pittsburgh synagogue gunman regularly posted anti-Semitic threats, memes and conspiracy theories on a social network often associated with conspiracy theorists and extremists — including an ominous warning posted just hours before the attack. Robert Bowers was a regular user on Gab, a website that had promoted itself as a haven for free expression that major social networks will not allow. 

In a statement, Gab confirmed the authenticity of Bowers' account and condemned the rampage. By Saturday night, Bowers' Gab page disappeared soon after shooting, and social network said its domain host told said it had violated its contract and would be suspended.

The Department of Justice said Saturday that it would be pursuing hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, and said charges could lead to the death penalty. 

Screenshots from Bowers' Gab profile are still archived. Bowers joined Gab in January 2018, according to his profile, which said at the top of the page: "jews are the children of satan."

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Robert Bowers

Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation

The profile shows that Bowers posted or recirculated dozens of anti-Semitic messages in the past few weeks. Those included two cryptic warnings hours before he allegedly opened fire in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue.

On Friday, Bowers posted a link to a page from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish nonprofit that aids refugees. The HIAS link listed congregations across the country that held Shabbat services this month for refugees — including several synagogues in Pittsburgh. 

"Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided," Bowers wrote.

In a post on Saturday morning, about two hours before the shooting, Bowers wrote: "HIAS 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."

In the weeks before the shooting, Bowers posted constantly about Jews, including denials of the Holocaust and conspiracy theories about Jews destroying the planet and secretly supporting the migrant caravan heading toward the U.S. border. Many of the posts included slurs for Jews and cartoons with stereotypical depictions of them.  

Bowers also posted messages implying that Jews are manipulating President Trump or thwarting his agenda. 

"Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation," Bowers wrote Thursday.

Bowers said in one post that he did not vote for Mr. Trump and had never "owned, worn or even touched" a Make America Great Again hat.

What is Gab?

Gab calls itself a "social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online." It has become a refuge for individuals and organizations restricted from major social networks like Facebook and Twitter, often for expressing views that violate their guidelines.  

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Gab.com

The site does not explicitly endorse any extremists views, and its user guidelines prohibit threats of violence. The guidelines do not, however, include any direct references to hateful speech. 

Gab has repeatedly run into controversy for users posting bigoted and extremist content, with little or no filtering from the site. It became a de facto source for Alex Jones' InfoWars conspiracy theory show after other social platforms banned it. In August, Microsoft threatened to drop Gab from its hosting services over two anti-Semitic posts from a user who said Jews should be raised as "livestock" and that he wanted to destroy a "holohoax memorial." The posts were removed.

In its statement about the Pittsburgh shooting, Gab said it was "saddened and disgusted" and had reached out to the FBI and other law enforcement about Bowers' posts. "Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence. This has always been our policy," the site said.

Gab also pushed back on any claims that it is responsible for Bowers' actions, and it spread blame on other social networks for allowing fueling violent and extremist posts. 

"Social media often brings out the best and the worst of humanity," the statement said. "From live streamed murders on Facebook, to threats of violence by bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr. that went unaddressed by Twitter, and more. Criminals and criminal behavior exist on every social media platform."

Gab took a more combative stance on Twitter, going after other social networks as well as news outlets covering Bowers and the shooting. In several tweets, it chided other platforms like Facebook and Twitter for not releasing a statement and for their prior failures to take action against users who went on to commit violence. It also insisted that the speech on Gab does not influence real world violence.

"Words are not bullets and Gab isn't going anywhere," Gab wrote in one tweet.

But Gab posted Saturday night that its domain host, Joyent, would be suspending them due to violating terms of service. Gab also claimed Paypal had kicked it off their platform.

"Big tech can not stop us. The mainstream media can not stop us," Gab wrote in a response to being banned. 

Gab did not immediately return a request for comment from CBS News.