How 4chan Doxxing Led To The Arrest Of A College Professor

A month after Eric Clanton was identified on 4chan, he was arrested for having assaulted a Trump supporter at a demonstration in Berkeley, California

Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Jun 14, 2017 at 5:00 AM ET

While last month’s arrest of 28-year-old college professor Eric Clanton for suspicion of assault may have gotten significant coverage following the demonstrations in Berkeley, California, his name still remains relatively unknown. But Clanton’s name is one that a 4chan message board dedicated to political incorrectness has been pushing to broadcast to a larger audience for quite some time. On this message board — one with a strong penchant for white supremacist ideology — users had identified the California community college professor as the same masked person who was shown on a YouTube video hitting and injuring a supporter of President Donald Trump over the head with a bike lock.

Despite the publicity mongering on social media from members of this highly vocal community, it didn’t seem likely anything would come of their efforts. Then, in late May, Berkeley police arrested the 28-year-old philosophy professor, charging him with four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, causing great bodily injury to one individual, and obscuring his identity to evade identification. More than a month after the demonstration took place, Clanton became the first Berkeley protester to be charged with felony crimes during the multiple clashes that have played out in recent months.

In an interview with the local newspaper Berkeleyside last month, one local police officer said that the agency’s homicide team had handled the case due to the severity of the assaults. The police department, which maintains an active social media presence, had received dozens of tweets with its Twitter handle reporting Clanton by name and photograph.

With Clanton heading to trial on Wednesday, here’s a look at how a 4chan message board that frequently perpetuates racism and sexism may have brought about an unlikely arrest.

A clash between pro-Trump demonstrators and anti-fascist counter-protesters, known as “Antifa,” unfolded at a Patriots’ Day rally in Berkeley attended by roughly 1,000 people. These demonstrations inevitably turned violent, with reports of bloodied and pepper-sprayed Trump supporters having appeared on social media. There were also reports of violence against anti-fascist protesters.

Berkeley police made 20 arrests, Clanton not among them.

A shaky video clip surfaced on YouTube that showed a man getting hit in the head with a U-shaped bicycle lock. When contacted by Vocativ on Twitter, Adam Roberts, an independent photojournalist who regularly crowdfunds his trips to film protests, said it was the worst injury he has seen in his filming experience. Roberts, who filmed the clip, has attended over 20 demonstrations since Trump’s campaign began, including the Republican National Convention and the inauguration. An audible sound could be heard when the lock hit the victim, who bled profusely as bystanders assisted him. It’s difficult to see the masked person who brought the lock down on the victim’s head, as the alleged assailant was shielded by another person in the dense crowd, a “black bloc”-style tactic.

After days of searching across multiple threads using footage and still photos from the protests, one 4chan user who appears to be based in Canada offered up a photo of Clanton found on Facebook. The user shared the link to Clanton’s now-defunct Twitter account, which used his real name.

The doxxing soon intensified. 4chan users hurried to share screenshots of what appeared to be his OKCupid profile, a link to his dead grandfather’s obituary with the names of his parents and siblings, and photos of him from his other social media accounts. Posters used amateur computer software programs to superimpose uncovered photos of Clanton’s face over photos of a partially-masked person taken at the demonstration. One user claimed a “general facial shape match,” as well as other matches in eyebrow shape, sunglasses, skintone, and facial hair, to prove Canton was the masked person. (It was far from anything resembling exact science.)

To stoke the flames even more, someone surfaced a video of Clanton, who was introduced as an anarchist, lecturing about “restorative justice.”

Internet-based doxxing efforts are nothing new within the community of far-right online trolls looking to serve up their own form of justice. It’s something those active within these communities have come to affectionately refer to as an example of their “weaponized autism.” On 4chan, using “autistic” as a slur to insult one who is seemingly obsessed with something is a common joke. Know Your Meme defined “weaponized autism” as “an expression referring to the impressive capabilities of socially awkward, tech-savvy internet users, typically associated with those who frequent imageboards like 4chan and 8chan.”

In the past, 4chan users have disseminated doxxing guidelines, created shared documents dedicated to identifying and monitoring Antifa activists, and worked to get people, including those openly identified as activists, fired from their jobs for protesting “alt-right,” far-right, and right nationalist-centric events.

The vitriol against Clanton continued, with new right-wing online pundits, like Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec, taking up the cause. “[The posters] invented a facial recognition system and essentially turned into an intelligence agency to figure out who this guy was,” Posobiec said in a video about the incident. “It’s incredible. Nothing beats weaponized autism.”

Independent bloggers posted everything they could find about Clanton’s life online. Users posted Google Street View images in which they claimed Clanton was pictured in photos taken outside his publicly-listed home address. Within the course of the next month, they even posted about alleged Clanton sightings.

Clanton hired Dan Siegel as his attorney. Siegel, a lawyer for 47 years who is well-known within the Berkeley social justice community, told Vocativ later that Clanton reached out to him after his employer, Diablo Valley Community College, informed him he would need to speak with the Berkeley Police Department’s detectives before he could return to work.

Mentions of Clanton’s name peaked on Twitter, with more than 36,000 tweets of his name posted to the site.

It’s because of this kind of aggressive doxxing practice that anarchist and anti-fascist outlets have taken to releasing privacy and safety guides. At one anti-fascist event in New York attended by Vocativ in February, attendees were required to cover their cell phone cameras and were warned of potential infiltrators.

On that same day, the local Antifa posted on its Facebook page reminding people to protect their privacy and elaborating on how the social media site can be a “privacy nightmare.”

“While we truly appreciate all the love shown to us through our Facebook page, we ask that our supporters refrain from liking or commenting on any of our posts,” the post read. “This is for our supporters’ own safety; many white supremacists frequent Antifa pages with the intent of stalking/doxxing supporters’ profiles.” Berkeley Antifa did not respond to Vocativ’s request for comment following Clanton’s arrest as of press time.

A Reddit post was noticed by the 4chan community. The post was seemingly created with a “burner account” and appears to be from a friend of an individual who has been identified online incorrectly as having committed assault at a protest. The poster said that despite having been at the protest, this “friend” had not assaulted anyone. The circulation of this post on 4chan seemed to add to some users’ certainty that they’ve properly identified the culprit.

Though it’s impossible to say for certain if the original poster is actually friends with Clanton, Clanton himself or connected to him in any way, those who were already already sure of Clanton’s guilt jumped on the statement as further evidence.

Diablo Valley Community College released a statement that said it had received numerous inquiries regarding an individual who had allegedly assaulted another person at an April 15th protest. It stated that this individual is not a current employee.

The school wrote that it would fully cooperate with the Berkeley Police Department in any investigation of a violent crime. Chrisanne Knox, the marketing and communications director at Diablo Valley Community College, told Vocativ that in addition to the messages visible on the school’s Facebook and Twitter pages, many posts had been “hidden” due to vulgar language or because the names of staff members had been included. (She did not specify how many had been hidden when asked.)

Siegel told Vocativ that he called to speak with a Berkeley Police Department detective about his client on May 1.

“Look, if you want Eric, let me know,” Siegel said he told police.

After he was found in an Oakland home, Clanton was arrested. Siegel described the police as having knocked down doors, handcuffing people, and pointing guns at people at an address listed as Clanton’s in government documents. When he was not located at the initial address, Siegel said police found him using a Stingray device.

Clanton was charged with four counts of assault. Given the prior international coverage of Berkeley riots, local media turned out in full force. Joining them were many members of the public, some of whom were clearly of the “alt-right” mindset set out to further “troll” Clanton in real life. These were young people who carried “Kekistan” flags — Kekistan is a fictional country created by 4chan users — and attempted to livestream court proceedings. Clanton plead not guilty and posted bail a short time after.

Siegel called this kind of treatment “pretty extreme.” He said it’s reflective of the same tactics that were initially used to identify and intimidate Clanton.

Later that day, Diablo Valley Community College released another statement, which acknowledged that Clanton “has been a part-time temporary faculty member at Diablo Valley College and last worked for the college in December 2016.” It said the school is cooperating with police in the investigation.

A YouTube video that purported to show Clanton at an event for remembering/writing to anarchist prisoners surfaced on YouTube three days before his preliminary court hearing.

On Twitter and other online forums where Clanton’s arrest was being discussed, many shared their hopes that the video violated the terms of his bond. These were some of the more polite conversations going on in regard to the former professor.

“They seem to be amused by the idea, which of course is their idea, that if he were to go to prison he would be attacked and raped by the Aryan brotherhood, though there’s a lot about that particular threat that suggests that he would be raped by African American prisoners,” Siegel said. “They get a kick out of making this rape threat.”