The Buffalo Atack: The Cumulative Momentum of Far-Right Terror.

AuthorAmarasingam, Amarnath

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 14, 2022, an 18-year-old committed one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. (1) The alleged gunman, Payton Gendron, killed 10 African-Americans and wounded three with a rifle at a Tops Friendly Markets. (2) The shooter was wearing military gear and a helmet with a GoPro Hero 7 camera attached. (3) After exiting his car, the gunman shot four people outside of the store, three fatally. (4) Upon the gunman's entry into the store, a security guard fired multiple shots at him, but they did not have an effect on his bulletproof armor. (5) The perpetrator then killed the security guard before shooting other victims throughout the store. (6) In total, 11 of those he shot were Black and two were white. All 10 who lost their lives were Black. (7) Once the police arrived, the gunman put the rifle to his neck and appeared to be about to commit suicide, but the police talked him into dropping his gun before arresting him. (8)

The weapon in the shooting was a second-hand Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle that was purchased from a licensed dealer and then illegally modified so that high-capacity magazines could be loaded into it. (9) In the months before the attack, Gendron used a private Discord server as a personal diary chat log to document his attack planning. (10) In the chat log, Gendron noted that he had two backup weapons--a legally purchased shotgun and another rifle. (11) He also explained how he planned to deliberately load heavier rounds to penetrate the glass at the front of the supermarket before loading lighter rounds to target shoppers. (12)

Aside from the Discord chat log, a 180-page manifesto published by Gendron has emerged, which discusses the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques shooter, the extreme far-right Great Replacement theory, and explains that the Tops Friendly Markets was selected because it was frequented by large numbers of Black residents within driving distance from his hometown. (13) It also appears that the gunman had plans to continue driving down Jefferson Avenue to shoot more Black people and to possibly attack another location if he had not been stopped. (14) Gendron had originally posted the manifesto to Google Docs at 8:55 PM U.S. Eastern time, Thursday, May 12, two days before the attack. (15) It was subsequently posted to 8chan "moe" (a) and 4chan (b) as well, the latter credited by Gendron with initially influencing his racist views. (16) The shooter used the camera on his helmet to livestream on the video livestreaming platform Twitch for about 30 minutes, including his drive to the store and the first two minutes of the attack. (17) The stream was seen by 22 users before being taken down, (18) but as will be outlined below, many more would eventually see it. Approximately 30 minutes before the attack, Gendron invited a number of Discord users to join his private, invite-only server; it was then that other people were given access to view his diary chat log for the first time. (19) Fifteen users accepted the invitation before the attack started. (20)

Since Gendron's arrest, he has pleaded not guilty to all 25 charges brought against him by the Erie County Court in Buffalo, New York, which includes one count of a domestic act of terrorism, 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime, three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. (21) On June 15, 2022, the Department of Justice also added federal hate crime charges, which, if Gendron is convicted of, could mean life imprisonment or the death penalty. (22) On July 14, 2022, a federal grand jury indicted Gendron on 27 counts, including 14 hate crimes charges and 13 firearms charges. On July 18, he pleaded not guilty to all 27 counts. (23)

The details presented in this article are considered allegations based on court documents filed by prosecutors and press reports, as well as materials (including Gendron's manifesto and Discord diaries) obtained by the authors. As of the time of publication in July 2022, these allegations have yet to be proven in court, however.

The first section of this article investigates the perpetrator's pathway to violence, taking particular account of his growing social isolation and immersion in internet "chan culture" before turning to address the influence that a long continuum of previous extreme right-wing terrorism had upon his thoughts and deeds. It also charts his own self-stated inner compulsion to commit a mass atrocity as well as his own struggle with suicidal ideation. The article then explores the perpetrator's tactics, techniques, and procedures in preparing and conducting the attack and--of particular concern to counterterrorism practitioners--the lengths to which he went both in planning his attack and disseminating what he learned to others. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of the Buffalo attack and more broadly the ongoing chain reaction of extreme right-wing terrorism for counterterrorism practitioners.

Gendron's Radicalization: Takeaways for Counterterrorism Practitioners

Unlike most previous attackers, the Buffalo shooter left a wealth of writing behind, which provides an important window into his planning, ideological commitments, as well as what he wanted his legacy to be. His official manifesto is 180 pages, the large majority of which is directly copied and pasted from the manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 and injured 40 at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019. (24) The rest of the manifesto is a kind of meticulous instruction manual for others who want to follow in his footsteps, outlining everything down to the best socks to wear during a mass shooting. Unlike previous attackers, however, the manifesto is also accompanied by a 673-page Discord diary or chat log, (c) where Gendron posted several times a day between November 18, 2021, and May 12, 2022, two days before the attack. It is important to note that while the diary is not akin to his manifesto, Gendron instructed those in his Discord network to make it public after the attack. Seen in this light, the diary serves an important purpose: to give future attackers a window into his emotional journey, how he was almost caught a few times, his self-doubt, his suicidal ideations, and his months-long dedication to carrying out the attack. According to Gendron's discussion of his own radicalization, there are several key nodes that are worth unpacking: his growing isolation from friends and family, the impact of 4Chan and "Chan" culture, the influence of Brenton Tarrant and the Christchurch massacre, and his growing sense that he "can't even turn back" from his attack plans.

Growing Isolation and Chan Culture

While much of Gendron's writings seek to inspire future attackers and to explain why he is planning an attack, and meticulously outline his choice of weapons, shooting practice, and livestreaming tools, elements of his personal life are mentioned throughout. On May 5, 2022, nine days before the attack, he engaged in a longer reflection regarding his radicalization. He noted that people generally made him feel "so uncomfortable" and that he had "probably spent actual years of my life just being online." (25) He mentioned several of his friends and cousins growing up, and good times he had with them, but noted that he had lost touch with almost all of them. He described being somewhat heavily involved in gaming and gaming communities over the years and noted that "the problem with video games is that it leaves you with a false sensation of progress. In reality, you haven't changed anything in the real world. Plus, it can be addictive when it is your only escape." (26) With respect to his years in school, he noted that he was never close with his classmates, and that he had had some "bad experiences with black people," such as getting in trouble for calling a Black student the N-word in sixth grade and being harassed by another student. "These experiences didn't make me racist against blacks though," he wrote, "maybe uncomfortable around the majority of them, since I only relate them to trouble." (27)

According to Gendron's own account, his turn toward racism was linked to his immersion in 4Chan. He became convinced by the "facts" he encountered on 4Chan and incorporated into his manifesto and Discord logs a barrage of screenshots relating to Holocaust denial, purported Jewish control of the world, the contribution of white people to America's economy and culture, random charts about the supposed contribution of Black people to the crime rate, IQ differences, and the need for racial segregation. He argued that there are genetic differences between Blacks and whites, and that Blacks were having more children than whites because they were receiving "700000 dollars from government support." (28) One of the ways he justified his anti-Black racism, and the attack itself, was through the adoption of pseudo-scientific theories of race, such as those pushed by Michael Woodley, (29) Robert Sepehr, (30) and others. (31)

Much of what Gendron presented in his writings was provided with no context or citation and was simply a rehashing of racist tropes that have circulated on 4Chan for some time. Spending more time on 4Chan led to a seamless incorporation of anti-Semitism into his growing anti-Black racism. As he wrote, "Then I saw how the Jews brought them over as slaves, how Jews funded leftism and how they teach us to be ashamed of our heritage." (32) According to Gendron, it is through 4Chan that he became more deeply immersed in the discourse around the Great Replacement theory and a belief in 'white genocide.' The term "great replacement," coined by French writer Renaud Camus, neatly encapsulated the long-running belief in extreme far-right thinking that the white race was...

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