Content Warning: This story includes slurs referring to individuals' race, sexual orientation, religion and other sensitive material.
An onslaught of death threats, sexual harassment and exposure of personal information from obscure corners of the internet has become a routine expectation for some UNC students who engage publicly in activism.
But with the recent discovery that the online account most involved in posting about UNC students is also the account most frequently interacted with by Robert Bowers — the alleged murderer of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last month — fears of what may be coming to Chapel Hill have become more vocalized.
“We joke around about them being basement dwellers like, living in their mom’s basement,” said Alyssa Bowen, a graduate student in the UNC Department of History. “But I think a lot of that is just to mask this anxiety we have, because any of these men could have been Robert Bowers.”
The specific account that has focused in on students like Bowen uses the alias “Jack Corbin” on numerous social media websites like Gab, which was created in 2016.
Corbin has over 2,000 Gab followers, where he promotes discriminatory murder and conspiracy theories, praises past hate crimes like the Orlando nightclub shooting and advocates white supremacist activity throughout the country, including in Chapel Hill.
“I’ll be protected by 100 cops, who will be beating the f*** out of Antifa and arresting them,” Corbin wrote months ago about his interest in coming to a Silent Sam rally. “Oh but if Antifa ignore me, then I’ll just start promoting White Nationalism on campus. They can’t win no matter what they do now!”
An analysis done by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that before his mass shooting spree, Bowers reposted and replied to Gab posts by Corbin, whose real identity is unconfirmed, more frequently than he did any other user.
Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said the type of rhetoric that Corbin commonly spreads has become more accessible than ever before through the internet, providing a universal platform for public posts and one-on-one discussions.