Embedded in an online network of extremists with a thriving ideology the Buffalo terrorist was no lone wolf

Embedded in an online network of extremists with a thriving ideology the Buffalo terrorist was no lone wolf

On Saturday 14 May an 18-year-old teenager drove three hours from his rural town in New York State to a Tops supermarket in Buffalo. Once there he opened fire on whomever came into his sights. He chose the location months in advance, having assessed the store and its location in a predominately Black area of Buffalo as an easy target. The white terrorist murdered 10 people: Aaron Salter Jr., Ruth Whitfield, Pearl Young, Katherine ‘Kat’ Massey, Roberta A. Drury, Heyward Patterson, Celestine Chaney, Andre Mackneil, Geraldine Talley, and Margus D. Morrison.

The Buffalo shooter was intent on taking as many lives as possible. Luckily police apprehended him before he could continue his killing spree. In a document he uploaded minutes before his rampage he detailed his plan to continue killing as many people as he could throughout Buffalo until the police either arrested or killed him. Many are seeking answers as to how someone so young could become radicalised and resort to terrorism. But already some details are quite clear. And if we take his writing at face value — which we must do to some degree — there’s a lot that society has to reckon with. 

The “Great Replacement”

First and foremost, the Buffalo terrorist fully believes in the so-called “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. His 180-page manifesto is full of disinformation about the alleged plan of Jewish people to ensure white people become the minority in the West and are “replaced” by cheap labour from the Global South. He bemoans the lack of children being born in the West, accusing “anti-white” media, NGOs, and politicians of all playing a part in what he calls “White Genocide”. Not content with that, the Buffalo terrorist promotes race science in his tirade against both Black and Jewish people and calls for the separation of what he believes to be the different human races. 

For this reason the Buffalo terrorist decided to target and kill as many Black people as possible. The attack in Buffalo was part of an accelerationist plot on the part of the shooter in what he hoped would be one step in the plan to “destabilize and discomfort society wherever possible”. People he termed traitors, regardless of their skin colour, were also on his list of targets. They, he declared, were deserving of death for their “anti-white” stance. He’d even planned to continue his attack upon leaving the supermarket and murder even more people.  

In a morass of conspiracy theories and racism his mentioning of trans people stands out. While the Buffalo terrorist believes that members of the LGB community pose no threat to him, he stated that trans people are mentally ill and need to be treated as such. Elaborating on antisemitic conspiracy theories of old about the apparent influence of Jewish people, he links a so-called “rise” in trans issues to their influence. For him, Jewish people are encouraging what he regards as the trans ideology as part of the plot to demographically attack the West. Most of this line of thought wouldn’t be out of place in anti-trans circles, whose members ironically and regularly profess to be dedicated feminists.

Where did these ideas come from though? The Buffalo shooter, who self-described as an eco-fascist and national socialist, cites two mains sources as pivotal in his radicalisation: 4chan, and from there, the Christchurch terrorist, the latter of whom he approvingly quotes alongside Adolf Hitler. In fact, the Christchurch terrorist seems to have served as a model on which he based his ideology and actions. Having laid the manifestos of both side by side, one would find it difficult to figure out who wrote what as the ideas are so intertwined and similar as well as the fact that the Buffalo shooter seems to have plagiarised his idol’s writings.

This raises another troubling question around lone wolves, a description that many are quick to attribute to those like the Buffalo, Christchurch, and El Paso terrorists. All of these terrorists inhabit an online world filled with likeminded individuals. Again and again they share the same conspiracy theories and racism via out of context information, memes, talking points, and diagrams. It’s a well-established and close-knit community of extremists. So when any of them eventually take their twisted beliefs to their logical conclusion and attack innocent people they’re never acting alone. They’re embedded in an ecosphere of hatred and paranoia. They’re not lone wolves and never have been. In the months leading up to his attack the Buffalo shooter posted about his plans in a private Discord server dozens of times. As far back as December last year he wrote on the social media platform that ”I will carry out an attack against the replacers, and will even livestream the attack via discord [sic] and twitch [sic]”.

Reacting to the attack Bjørn Ihler of Antifascist Europe wrote of the terrorist’s lack of originality, highlighting there’s “nothing particularly novel” about his beliefs or motives. Ihler contended that “in many ways the terrorist in Buffalo was thoroughly unremarkable” and “His playbook [was] literally and figuratively copied from others”. On that note he also revealed that “Our analysis of the manifesto showed that 28% of the manifesto was pure plagiarization, mostly from the manifesto of the terrorist in Christchurch”.

A global pack

Looking at the extremists here in Ireland we can see the same patterns. From the Irish Freedom Party (IFP) to the National Party, they all trot out the same conspiracy theories on a regular basis. The “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory is a popular talking point amongst Irish extremists. Hermann Kelly, leader of the IFP, has made comments that could’ve been taken straight from the Buffalo terrorist’s writings. Not only has he argued that there is indeed a “Great Replacement” taking place in Ireland, he’s similarly accused trans people of contributing to what he believes are Ireland’s demographic issues by not having children. During his election campaign in the Dublin Bay South by-election last year, National Party leader Justin Barrett handed out flyers which proclaimed that Ireland’s culture was at risk from the “elephant in the room” of immigration. Like Kelly, Barrett’s comments are indistinguishable from that of Buffalo terrorist. 

Elsewhere we have elected officials also repeating claims of a “Great Replacement” and the threat of immigration. Across the Atlantic it hasn’t confined itself to former President Donald Trump. Just last year Republican congressman Matt Gaetz tweeted about Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he’s “CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America”. Gaetz is also on the record as stating that immigration “is an attack on our sovereignty, and nothing less than a conscious decision to rewrite the rules of civilization, dissolve our borders, undermine our nation state, and displace our people”. Other Republicans like Elise Stefanik have accused Democrats of encouraging immigration so they can “overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington”.

In Europe probably the most infamous proponent of the “Great Replacement” conspiracy is the Hungarian government. Viktor Orbán, leader of the ruling Fidesz party and also Prime Minister, has regularly argued that Europe is in a demographic crisis. At a conference his government hosted on the topic in Budapest last year, he blamed the LGBTQIA+ community as being partly responsible for what he contended is the fact that “Western civilisation is not able to reproduce”. Along with the left, he also insisted that both groups are “attacking the traditional family model”.

Having won re-election in April, Orbán was sworn in for another term on Monday 16 May. During a speech outlining his government’s plans for the next few years, he again raised the spectre of the “Replacement” theory. He told those gathered in the Hungarian parliament that the EU was engaged in “suicidal experiments” of  “the great European population replacement programme” and “gender madness”. 

But Orbán is just the most notable proponent of the “Great Replacement” in European politics. Across the continent politicians in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, have all voiced their belief in the conspiracy theory and the supposed threat migrants pose to Europe.

Solely blaming these politicians for the violence is not entirely accurate though. They represent the end point which extremists are aiming towards in which their ideas become what two experts on far-right extremism, Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter, have called mainstreamed. The Internet has obviously played a large part in the radicalisation of the likes of the Buffalo terrorist. Online echo chambers are powerful. But seeing these ideas, which had become his own, reflected in the words of media figures and politicians was likely just as potent. And it creates a symbiotic relationship in which the terrorist becomes the outlet for both fringe Internet extremists and the more apparently palatable mainstream ones.

Prevention and resilience are key according to Ihler, the spokesperson for Antifascist Europe. He called for improved monitoring of extremists and for social media companies to create “stronger infrastructure for removing manifestos and take down livestreams, videos and images”. Ihler wrote, “We need for these attacks not to happen” and for the ideologies that underpin the terrorists like the Buffalo shooter to “find unfertile ground”. It also means, he argues, “we need to understand the true nature of the beast”. Pointing to the international scope of these kinds of white supremacist attacks he noted:

The fact that attacks in New Zealand, Norway, Germany, the US and elsewhere are so closely interlinked is perhaps telling enough — this is not a localized issue, but an issue in all countries with a significant white population. Their target is not one specific group or religion, but all who are not deemed white, or “European” enough.

Antifascist Europe called on European activists “to continue our struggle” against fascism on the streets. But it also insisted we can “push back” against far-right extremism “by examining our communities, and by understanding what role we can play in building resilience, making terror unsustainable and unfruitful”.

The Buffalo attack unfortunately won’t be the last. Not long after the attack posts appeared online containing threats to carry out a similar massacre elsewhere in Buffalo. What happened on Saturday was itself a copycat of earlier atrocities, with the terrorist expressing his admiration not only for the Christchurch shooter, but also the Swedish Trollhättan school attacker as well as quoting Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. He was following in the footsteps of those who came before him and others will follow him. A failure to stand up to extremism and, instead, mainstream it all but assures more innocent lives will be taken.

Featured image via YouTube – Screenshot

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