BUFFALO, NY – An avowed white supremacist hyped up on hate opened fire inside a Buffalo supermarket Saturday, shooting 13 people and killing 10. It is one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history.
The gunman, identified by police as 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, NY, livestreamed his attack on Twitch, an Amazon site most frequently utilized by gamers.
After Gendron was taken into custody, a manifesto he authored came to the attention of authorities. The document is reportedly filled with racist and anti-immigrant views reciting the old, often-repeated refrain that white Americans are at risk of being replaced by immigrants and people of color. This “replacement theory” argument– once viewed as just another wide-eyed conspiracy theory– has since moved from the muted whisperings of “Democrats are working to replace whites in America with blacks and immigrants” to a much broader mainstream acceptance throughout the USA.
People like Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, are responsible for this, although Stefanik insists she is not racist.
“I’ve never made a racist comment, and I’m known nationally as expanding the Republican Party by supporting Black candidates and Hispanic candidates,” Stefanik said during a CNN interview earlier this week.
And that may be true– technically– but as fellow Republican lawmaker Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) criticized: Stefanik “pushes ‘white replacement theory.’” The key word there is “white.”
Remember the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in 2018? An antisemitic white man gunned down 11 worshipers, blaming Jews for allowing immigrant “invaders” into the United States.
Or how about the El Paso Walmart mass shooting of 2019, where an angry white man killed 23 people, and later told police his intention was to target Mexicans.
The “replacement theory” is the common denominator.
Stefanik, though, is by no means alone in stirring up this pot. As the New York Times noted in a recent story: “No public figure has promoted replacement theory more loudly or relentlessly than the Fox host Tucker Carlson.
Back on October 5, 2021, Carlson played comments made by President Biden in 2015 talking about immigration making America a more diverse country. Carlton then said: “his policy is called the great replacement, the replacement of legacy of Americans with more obedient people from far away countries.”
To be absolutely fair, both Stefanik and Carlson consistently target “immigrants,” but who exactly are they referencing?
In an October 18, 2018 tweet, former President Trump specifically called immigration “an assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,” and said the leaders of those governments “are doing little to stop the large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS [emphasis in original] from entering Mexico to U.S.”
Later that same day, Trump included “unknown Middle Easterners” in that group, and Tyler Q. Houlton, a press secretary with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said this caravan of incoming immigrants included citizens of “countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and elsewhere.”
Pretty much all “people of color.”
When influential people echo this kind of belief, it deepens– without justification– the resentment some people feel towards immigrants of color, and rekindles the hate many whites continue to hold against blacks that manifests itself in killings such as this.
The latest shooting took place at the Tops Friendly Market, a grocery store located in Buffalo’s largely black east side. Gendron’s assault was meticulously planned and methodical. According to police, he was prepared to kill as many people a he could– armed with an assault weapon and wearing body armor.
“It was a straight up racially motivated hate crime,” said Erie County Sheriff John Garcia. Of the 13 people shot, 11 were black and 2 were white.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the attack a frightening reminder of the dangers of white supremacist terrorism.
Gendron’s manifesto detailed his plan to kill as many Black people as possible, and included a step-by-step playout of the assault, with a timeline for what he intended to do once he arrived: everything was laid out in his manifesto written long before the actual event.
Police say the massacre began around 2:30 p.m. Gendron shot four people right away, in the parking lot. Three of them were killed. Once inside the store, he encountered a security guard, a retired Buffalo police officer, who shot back. Gendron, though, was dressed in body armor. He killed the guard and continued his murderous rampage.
When Buffalo police officers arrived on the scene, Gendron put a gun to his neck, but was persuaded by officers to drop his weapon and surrender.
It is not clear if the two white persons killed were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time or killed because they were shopping at the store alongside blacks.
At his arraignment Saturday evening, despite livestreaming, Gendron pleaded not guilty to murder in the first degree.
Hate has facilitators in high places. Assault weapons cannot be owned by private citizens in New York unless they were grandfathered in– that is, owned prior to the SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearm Enforcement) of 2013. Gendron would have been nine when that law was passed. How he came to be in possession of those weapons is a discussion that has to happen– and clearly one or two other people need to bear some responsibility.
Hate isn’t going away. And unfortunately, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary on both sides of the political aisle, assault weapons aren’t going anywhere either.