COMMENTARY

Expert panel on the Buffalo shooter and what he stands for: "He was not a lone gunman"

Buffalo killer didn't act alone, panel agrees: He was nurtured by the Fox-GOP "doom loop of racist discourse"

Published May 17, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial outside of Tops market on May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. Yesterday a gunman opened fire at the store, killing ten people and wounding another three. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial outside of Tops market on May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. Yesterday a gunman opened fire at the store, killing ten people and wounding another three. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Last Saturday,10 Black people were shot dead in Buffalo in an apparent white supremacist terror attack. The alleged shooter, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, specifically targeted a busy supermarket in a majority Black community.

Gendron's apparent goal was to kill as many Black people as possible in order to intimidate, terrorize and dehumanize not just the Black community in Buffalo but Black America more generally. His attack can also be understood as an assault on the very idea of multiracial democracy, and a brutal rejection of the premise that nonwhites should have the same rights and freedoms in the United States as white people.

Black America has centuries of experience with white racial terrorism but has never surrendered to it. In fact, Black Americans remain the foremost guardians of American democracy.

Payton Gendron apparently live-streamed his attack on the internet and also published a 180-page manifesto embracing a range of white supremacist, antisemitic and fascist themes, including the "great replacement" theory and its claims that Black and brown people are "replacing" white people in America and Europe and that whites must be protected from "extinction" and "genocide."

RELATED: Buffalo: This is where Donald Trump's race-war fantasies lead

In total, Gendron's manifesto reads like a catalog of the white racial paranoid fantasies, delusions and conspiracy theories that have become standard talking points for Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and numerous Republican elected officials, candidates, and other public figures. 

Gendron's act of terrorism is not surprising: It is the predictable if not inevitable result of a decades-long strategy by the Republican Party and larger white right to encourage and normalize political violence and terrorism against Black and brown people, Democrats, liberals, progressives, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, and anyone else deemed to be the enemy of their fascist, authoritarian project. 

As I wrote earlier this week, 

Donald Trump, the Republicans and the larger white right did not start the slow, long-burning fire of white supremacy in America. But they have gleefully thrown gasoline, grenades and other explosives on the fire and then danced around the flames as they spread. 

Fascism is an ideology based on racial authoritarianism and violence. As the conflict created by the Trump movement heats up, we are likely to see more terrorist attacks against Black and brown people and other targeted groups, attacks just as horrifying as the one last Saturday in Buffalo, or perhaps worse. There is a line inscribed in blood that leads from Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric to Jan. 6, 2021, to last Saturday in Buffalo. Where it will lead next? Unfortunately, we will soon find out as the next chapter in the new American neofascist nightmare is being written all around us in real time.

I asked a range of experts to offer their insights about Saturday's terror attack in Buffalo and what that event reveals about American society in this moment of democracy crisis, rising neofascism and other troubles. Their comments have been edited for clarity and length.


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Anthea Butler is a professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her new book is "White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America."

The shooting in Buffalo is another murderous white man killing people because of his supposed racial grievances. The manifesto, the body armor and the lethal weaponry are all signs of the impotence and ignorance of these white supremacists grasping for relevancy in a world that does not want their posturing for power.

Unless America comes to grips with this deep malevolence and pathology, it will be given over to these ill-fated losers who believe taking human life will make them better than the people they hate.

Until America comes to grips with the deep hatred, malevolence and pathology of the racism that eats away at this nation, this country will soon be given over to these ill-fated malevolent losers who believe taking human life will make them better than the Black, red and brown people that they hate so much.

Whether in the name of white supremacy or white Christian life, these people are destroying the fabric of the American society they claim to want to redeem but destroy further with every shooting.

Tim Wise is an author, activist and leading expert on white privilege and racism. He is the author of many books, including his most recent "Dispatches From the Race War."

Once again, we see how the doom loop of racist discourse — from 4chan to Fox News to the offices of several Republican members of Congress — is feeding hatred and violence and terrorism. The Great Replacement theory may have started out in the fever swamps of the far right, but it has now been thoroughly mainstreamed. Until and unless we put aside the deliberately naive notion of white racial innocence and the privilege that insulates white killers from being seen as terrorists, no matter how politically driven their actions, we will see more blood and chaos, and more confusion about how it could have happened.

Federico Finchelstein is professor of history at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York. He is the author of several books, including "From Fascism to Populism in History." His most recent book is "A Brief History of Fascist Lies."

This new terrorist attack is clearly fascist, not only because it is self-defined as such by its perpetrator, who also called himself a racist and antisemite, but also because it embodies key elements of fascism, such as the use of extreme violence and even physical elimination in the name of racism and white supremacy. Fascism is not new in America. What is new is the fact that these fascist domestic terrorists are a part of a broader coalition which Trumpism as a movement epitomizes so well. Participants in this extremist coalition might not share similar methodologies for dealing with "enemies," but they share similar ideas about how homogeneous America should be, and similar paranoias about domination and "replacement" fueled by old racist fantasies.


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"Replacement theory" is the new name for old fascist racism. Thus, the killer is a fellow traveler of this alliance between fascists, wannabe fascists, right wing populists and conservative enablers. In the past, many of these actors regarded these terrorists as toxic, as bad politics and bad optics, but now they have shortened the distance between ideas supported by terrorists and their own fanatic aspirations rooted in xenophobia.

Matthew Sheffield is an expert on right-wing news media, messaging and communication strategies. He is also the editor and publisher of Flux and host of the "Theory of Change" video podcast.

Although its more naive members may not be aware of this, the Republican Party has always counted on the votes of racists. In the 1970s, they decided to peel off segregationist Democrats, and they've been a valuable part of the GOP ever since.

This was a deliberate choice that the "conservative" movement made. Rather than becoming more moderate and expressing their values through policies that could gain majority support, the American right embarked on a minoritarian strategy. They decided rather than gain casual voters from the middle, they would fire up voters from the far right.

The only way the GOP has been able to sustain itself has been to whip up its voter base with fear-mongering about immigration and Islam, taking messaging cues from the far right.

This has been the strategy ever since. But as the percentage of white religious fundamentalists goes down every year, the only way the GOP has been able to sustain itself has been to whip up its shrinking voter base into ever more erratic fits of frenzy. The key to doing that, for a number of years, has been fear-mongering about immigration and Islam. Almost invariably, GOP elites have taken their messaging cues from the furthest right. In 2016, it was documented multiple times that the Trump campaign copied and pasted memes that were generated on neo-Nazi message boards.

The hateful conspiracy theories apparently spouted by the Buffalo killer originated on white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites, but they have been elevated to nightly propaganda instruction thanks to Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and others, all at the behest of Rupert Murdoch, who we recently learned has apparently employed a white nationalist to write his memoirs.

Undoubtedly, some Republican elites believe in the hateful and violent rhetoric that their colleagues spout, but it's also the case that many of them believe it brings them money and power. There is no moral difference. If you ape the messages of racists, if you repeat their tropes, your reason for doing so is of no import. You are a racist yourself, because you communicate the same things they do.

David Rothkopf is a columnist for the Daily Beast and USA Today, host of "Deep State Radio" and author of many books on politics and foreign policy. His next book is "American Resistance." He was formerly editor and CEO of Foreign Policy and a senior official in the Clinton administration.

He was not a lone gunman. While his family and community bear responsibility for how this monster went astray, that is a small fraction of the story. A decades-long, heavily funded effort to twist our interpretation of the Second Amendment to make assault weapons freely available across the U.S. put the gun in his hand. Fox News and 4chan and other extremists put the words for his manifesto in his head. Trump and others in the GOP provided him with the validation to believe that his racism and violence were acceptable. Jan. 6 and the Proud Boys and Kyle Rittenhouse and MAGA offshoots everywhere made him feel like he was part of a movement. Decades of right-wing institutionalization of hate and division within our society led to this gruesome mass murder, and they will lead to the next and the next and the next.

Jared Holt is resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, where he focuses on domestic extremist groups and their use of digital technology. He was previously an investigative reporter at Right Wing Watch.

The tragedy in Buffalo follows a grim and heartbreakingly predictable pattern. In recent years, killers in El Paso, Pittsburgh and Christchurch have been driven to commit atrocities in the name of "great replacement" conspiracy theories popular with white supremacists. It is impossible to separate those racist theories from the bloodshed they have inspired. And like other killers in recent years, the suspect in custody appears to have used the internet to broadcast his ideology and violence to an audience of fellow believers, likely hoping to inspire copycats and solicit "sainthood" from others in the white supremacist movement.

Though the Biden administration has made some progress in addressing the threat domestic extremism poses to national security, it is working uphill against a Republican Party seeking to exert minority rule over the country by agitating its most extreme elements, aided by its accompanying array of media outlets like Fox News. Hosts on Fox News, including Tucker Carlson, and opinion makers on the right have played a large role in mainstreaming extremist ideas like the "great replacement" theory. That doesn't mean they directly have blood on their hands, but the damage those figures have done in legitimizing these violent ideologies rather than attempting to smother them is horrifying.

Stephanie Foggett is a research fellow at the Soufan Center, an independent nonprofit offering research, analysis and strategic dialogue on global security challenges and foreign policy issues. She is an expert on global terrorism and counterterrorism, online extremism, the Islamic State and the rise of white supremacy.

The horrific act of violence committed on May 14 in Buffalo should be investigated as an act of domestic terrorism. The perpetrator's actions were racially motivated and he left behind an online manifesto describing his ideology and his desire to engage in an act of terrorism in support of this cause. It is important that we recognize this violence as domestic terrorism and that we contend with the violent ideology behind it.

The perpetrator's 180-page document leaves no doubt about the violent ideology that inspired his act of violence. In his own words, he describes himself as a white supremacist, a racist and a terrorist. The document makes for disturbing reading and is clearly inspired by other acts of domestic and international white supremacist terrorism. In the name of white supremacy, it justifies political marginalization, political violence and ultimately the extermination of entire groups of people. In his writings he espouses the "great replacement" conspiracy theory and sets out a roadmap for genocide against nonwhites.

We must push back against claims that the perpetrator was a lone actor. He emerged from a transnational white supremacist online ecosystem, intended to inspire collective violence.

An important takeaway after reading his document is that we must push back against any claims that the perpetrator was a lone actor. He states, "I am the sole perpetrator" in his document. For me, the 180-page document says otherwise. He clearly intends to inspire others to violence, through both his words and his deeds. Furthermore, he states very clearly that he himself was inspired to violence by others, and names several white supremacist and far-right terrorists from the U.S., Britain, Norway, Italy and New Zealand as having motivated his own act of violence. His political ramblings clearly draw from a transnational white supremacist online ecosystem, intended to inspire collective violence in the name of the same racist cause.

The perpetrator says he was radicalized online and gained his ideas "mostly from the internet." Parts of his manifesto draw heavily from the writings of the terrorist behind the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand. Other areas of his manifesto include clippings, cartoons and memes he has pulled from his online activities, as well as common talking points which have now permeated the U.S. mainstream referencing "white genocide" and "great replacement." Today, violent white supremacist ideology is packaged in podcasts, videos, cartoons and memes through an online ecosystem that is normalizing hate and targeting young audiences globally. From his livestream of the attack to his online manifesto, the perpetrator clearly wants to contribute his violent content back into the white supremacist online ecosystem, in order to radicalize others and inspire more acts of violence. 

Jean Guerrero is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of the recent book "Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda." Her essays and other writing have been featured at Vanity Fair, Politico, the Nation, Wired, the New York Times and The Washington Post.

This latest white terror attack is devastating. The shooter, per his own Discord logs, didn't want to kill anyone. But he felt obligated to do so based on disinformation that radicalized him into believing that the survival of white people depended on him committing a racist massacre. The disinformation included anti-Black content from the same white supremacists (such as Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor) whose ideas were mainstreamed in the U.S., via Breitbart, by Trump's senior adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller in 2015 and 2016. 

GOP politicians and Fox News host Tucker Carlson have been normalizing the "great replacement" theory, which deliberately confuses demographic change with white genocide. Right-wing propagandists will frame the attack as the act of an incomprehensible lunatic to distract from their voluntary, clear-eyed complicity. Blaming mental illness is a convenient way to avoid examining the real causes of these white terror attacks and to ensure that they continue to take place.

Right-wing propagandists will frame the attack as the work of an incomprehensible lunatic — to distract us from their complicity.

The only way to avoid full-blown race war now is, first, to hold Republicans accountable for their scapegoating politics and, second, to insist on examining other causes of white extremism, such as toxic ideas of masculinity that promote violence. Any discussion of national security that does not center domestic white terrorism, such as conversations about the U.S.-Mexico border, are deliberate distractions to protect the status quo, in which communities of color live in constant terror of massacre.

Teddy Wilson is a journalist with a decade of experience covering the Christian right and the conservative movement. Previously he was the U.S. investigations editor at openDemocracy, a research analyst at Political Research Associates and a staff reporter at Rewire News Group.

While it is important for academics and researchers who study radicalization and extremist violence to read and analyze the "manifesto," which should arguably be referred to as a "confession" to avoid using terminology that bestows any implicit intellectual weight, I have serious doubts that these writings will reveal any important new understanding of the white supremacist movement. There is nothing ambiguous about the movement's goals, or particularly complex or nuanced about its ideology.

There were warnings about the rise of right-wing authoritarianism years before right-wing populist demagogues such as Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump exploited cultural grievances to achieve political power. There were warnings about the increased activities of far-right violent extremists years before the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and Proud Boys led the Jan. 6 insurrection. There are now warnings about the growing threat from white supremacist terrorism. Ignoring these warnings will continue to cost lives. We are now on a path toward a white supremacist terrorist mass casualty event — another Oklahoma City.

Read more on the Buffalo shooting, and what led to it:


By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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