Shooting at New York Supermarket Was Likely a Hate Crime, Investigators Say
An 18-year-old man is in police custody for allegedly killing 10 people and wounding three in a mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store on 14 May. Authorities called the shooting an act of “racially motivated violent extremism.” The white shooter is suspected of targeting a primarily Black community, and he allegedly livestreamed a video of the attack on social media platform Twitch, according to Reuters.
While details about the attack, the alleged attacker, and his motivations are still emerging, here’s what we know so far.
At about 2:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, a heavily armed man wearing tactical gear and body armor arrived at a Tops Friendly Markets supermarket in Buffalo. He had an assault weapon with an anti-Black slur written on the barrel. Before even entering the building, he opened fire. Three victims were killed outside in the parking lot. He entered the grocery store and exchanged fire with Aaron Salter, 55, a retired Buffalo police officer and a security guard at the grocery store, according to the Associated Press (AP). Salter struck the attacker at least once, but the shooter’s body armor was not pierced. Salter was shot and killed.
The assailant continued shooting after entering the store. Shonnel Harris, an operation manager at Tops, told The Buffalo News that she heard more than 70 shots. The gunman returned to the front of the store where he was confronted by Buffalo police. He threatened to kill himself, but patrol officers persuaded the gunman to surrender.
Of the 13 people shot, 11 were Black.
The shooting suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, drove more than 200 miles from his home to carry out the attack, police said, and he researched the local demographics and arrived a day in advance to conduct reconnaissance.
Gendron allegedly wrote a 180-page statement in which he describes himself as a fascist and a white supremacist. Swaths of the document appear to be directly lifted from a previous manifesto written by Brenton Tarrant, the shooter who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tarrant released his manifesto prior to his attack in 2019.
Gendron’s alleged statement credits Tarrant’s white supremacist ideology, manifesto, and livestreamed attack as the start of his “research into the problems with immigration and foreigners in our White lands,” and that he started browsing Internet forum 4chan while bored during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The connection between chan sites and violence is concerning not only because of the chans’ tangible connection to specific far-right attacks but of the widespread community support that exists within these online subcultures—in which violence is both trivialized and glorified,” according to the authors of Memetic Irony and the Promotion of Violence within Chan Cultures, a report released in December 2020 by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST).
Not all communities are positive. Many, particularly online, use the coded language of memes to spread hateful or extremist ideology under the guise of humor. https://t.co/ywYtHUFavW— Security Management (@SecMgmtMag) May 13, 2021
According to a May 2021 article from Security Management, “chan culture appears to simultaneously glorify, trivialize, and gamify violence—challenging users to achieve ‘high scores’ by committing acts of real-world violence. On some chan sites—including 4chan, which attracts approximately 27.7 million unique visitors per month—Christchurch shooter Tarrant has been lauded as a ‘saint,’ and subsequent attackers like El Paso, Texas, shooter Patrick Crusius or Stephan Balliet, who attacked a synagogue in Halle, Germany, in 2019, have been dubbed Tarrant’s ‘disciples.’”
The mass alt-right protests, counterprotests, and subsequent fatal violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 should have served as a warning sign for governments and private security professionals about the potential risks of Internet subcultures—especially those that foster white supremacy or other extremist views, Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) told Security Management in 2021. However, many institutions remain unprepared to respond to threats spawned from online message boards and coded, context-dependent content.
In a statement to Security Management today, Goldenberg adds: “It’s important for security professionals to understand that stochastic terrorism emanating from subcultural fringe communities like 4chan and 8chan has targeted houses of worship, government buildings, and in this case, a grocery store in a predominantly Black community. Training and capability building to better understand these modern threats are more crucial than ever. This tragedy represents a moment for CSOs to ask themselves whether or not they have established a security ecosystem that incorporates cyber-social threats ranging from narrative warfare to terrorist attacks.”
In addition to memes and message boards, Gendron’s alleged statement documents his belief in the replacement theory—in which white supremacists claim that non-white populations are being intentionally fostered or brought in, whether legally or illegaly, to replace white populations and undermine white influence in society.
These theories have been repeatedly used by active assailants as the motivating factor for their attacks, including in a 2021 attack at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart when the man charged with killing more than 20 people wrote that the massacre was in response to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” according to the New York Times.
The Buffalo shooting is another example of the accelerationist movement, which leverages terroristic tactics to achieve its goals.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “about 60 percent of extremism murders committed in the United States between 2009 and 2019 were committed by people espousing white supremacist ideologies like the replacement theory,” the Times reported.
The document allegedly written by Gendron included neo-Nazi imagery and statements. The document also praised nationalism and lamented diversity in the United States.
The alleged #Buffalo shooter wrote a slew of white supremacist phrases, symbols and memes on his weapons, including symbols associated with the neo-Nazi movement. Our Center on Extremism experts break down the meanings behind the hateful scrawls. https://t.co/EDiSKd2w3C— ADL (@ADL) May 16, 2022
“The goal of white nationals is not to spread hate but to seize the state,” said Eric Ward, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and executive director of anti-authoritarianism and inclusive democracy organization Western States Center, in a 2017 video. “The way that they seize the state is by using vehicles of bigotry to build mass movements and to build power and fear to do exactly that.”
The document allegedly by the Buffalo gunman broadly announces that the assault is meant to terrorize all non-white, non-Christian people and force them to leave the United States.
According to a statement from U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, “Today’s terrorist attack—including the posting of a manifesto and livestreaming of the murderous attack—appears to have drawn direct inspiration from other acts of domestic terrorism, including the 2015 Charleston church shooting, the 2019 Christchurch attack, and El Paso shooting, and the list goes on.
“While past violent white supremacist attacks seem to have factored into this heinous act, we must acknowledge that extremist rhetoric espoused by some media and political leaders on the right promoting theories that vilify or dehumanize segments of our society like ‘the great replacement theory’ is a factor too.
“We also—once again—see social media sites being used by extremists to spread their violent plans and manifestos among like-minded would-be domestic terrorists. As we have done with past attacks that were carried out on social media platforms, the Committee has questions about what more can be done to prevent such platforms from becoming windows into horrific violence and recruitment centers for the next domestic terrorism attack.”
While the massacre was livestreamed—similar to the Christchurch attack—it was taken down much faster. Within two minutes of the start of the violence, the stream was taken offline by streaming service Twitch, but that was enough time for the video to be shared, the Times reported. In a statement from the suspected gunman's document, however, he claimed that the ability to livestream the attack “gives me some motivation in the way that I know that some people will be cheering for me.”
Links to the video have been shared hundreds of times across social media platforms, and a clip from the video was viewed more than 3 million times on Streamable before it was removed.
Gendron was arraigned Saturday before Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig Hannah on one count of first-degree murder, but more charges are likely. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, CNN reported. Federal authorities have signaled that they might file federal civil rights charges in addition to the state murder charge.
Gendron has pleaded not guilty, and he will remain in custody without bail.
Stephen Belgonia, FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s field office in Buffalo, said the attack would be investigated as a hate crime and an act of “racially motivated violent extremism.”
“The @FBI and @ATFHQ are working closely with the Buffalo Police Department and federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.— Anthony Coley (@AnthonyColeyDOJ) May 15, 2022
“The Justice Department is investigating this matter as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism. (2)
The shooter’s online statement, which authorities largely believe was written by Gendron, describes months of planning leading up to the attack, including discussions of weapons and recommendations on weaponry and body armor.
Evidence suggests that if the suspect had not been stopped at Tops, he would have left the grocery store and driven down Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo looking for more Black people to kill, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told ABC News. He added that multiple high-capacity magazines were recovered on Gendron’s person and in his car.
Investigations are underway into whether anyone else knew about the attack or raised concerns about Gendron’s behavior. Gendron had made “generalized threats” while in high school and had spent a day and a half undergoing a mental health evaluation in a hospital, but he was released.
According to police, Gendron had made comments that prompted concerns that he might be planning a shooting near the time of his graduation, The Washington Post reported. The threat was not specific to a place or person, and neither state police nor the FBI had any intelligence on Gendron, Belgonia said.
On Sunday, federal and state law enforcement officials conducted searches at Gendron’s home in Conklin, New York, and investigators continue to review the crime scene.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said her office would focus on extremism material online that may have fueled the attack, the BBC reported.
More Mass Shootings
The attack in Buffalo was not the only incident of mass violence in the United States in the past week.
On 11 May, three women were shot and injured at Hair World Salon in the Koreatown district of Dallas, Texas. Investigators are connecting the dots between two other recent shootings at Asian American-run local businesses, and Police Chief Eddie Garcia said that the salon shooting “might be motivated by something other than a random act.” The shooter has not been apprehended.
At the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, a gunman opened fire during a lunch banquet yesterday, 15 May, killing one person and wounding five. Churchgoers detained the suspect and hog-tied his legs with an electrical cord to subdue him until police arrived, Reuters reported.
“That group of churchgoers displayed… exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect,” said Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock. “They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities.”
While the motivation behind the attack is currently unclear, authorities believe he does not live in the area.
ASIS International has collected a number of resources to help organizations and security professionals address active assailant risks. Please see the landing page here for more: Soft Target & Active Shooter (asisonline.org)
In addition, ASIS members can access the Workplace Violence and Active Assailant – Prevention, Intervention, and Response standard as an eBook for free.