How Buffalo Suspect’s Racist Writings Reveal Links to Other Attacks
In an online screed full of neo-Nazi references, the 18-year-old New Yorker accused of going on a shooting spree this weekend at a Buffalo supermarket connected himself to a slurry of hateful ideologies. He also claimed allegiance to a group of violent killers across six countries responsible for racist murders reaching back more than decade.
That, in essence, was the point of his 180-page post: to “spread awareness” that, in the writer’s baseless view, immigrants to the United States were supplanting the white population, and to “encourage further attacks” in a bid to start a race war.
Experts in far-right extremism have often cautioned that giving too much public attention to writings like the one produced by the accused Buffalo gunman, Payton S. Gendron, helps to accomplish their stated aims of promoting vile and dangerous ideas and fomenting violence. Those admonishments need to be balanced, however, against clarifying the important connections among seemingly disparate attacks.
Examining the suspect’s words can also help shed light on the origins of bigoted ideas. That is particularly crucial since beliefs like his have moved in recent years from the most remote fringes of right-wing culture into the mainstream.
Inspiration in New Zealand
Though the suspect lived in Conklin, N.Y., a small town of about 5,000 people near the Pennsylvania border, he claimed to have drawn inspiration from an Australian man who attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, killing 51 people and wounding 40 more.
The Christchurch gunman livestreamed parts of his assault, and the accused Buffalo gunman described in his writing how he discovered a 17-minute video online. The police say he ultimately copied the tactic, broadcasting his own rampage on the digital platform Twitch on Saturday until the feed was shut down. The Buffalo suspect also wrote about searching for the Christchurch killer’s own screed and finding common cause with it.
The Christchurch tome focuses on replacement theory, a racist conspiracy theory that an unnamed cabal is perpetually seeking to encourage nonwhite immigration to mostly white countries in an effort to change their demographic makeup. The Buffalo suspect’s post, which also focused on replacement theory, quotes from that screed verbatim several times, copying sections that make reference to “white genocide” and that reveal an obsession with birthrates in the Western world.
One section, which appears to reference the attack on a Buffalo grocery store and is virtually identical to the writing of the Christchurch gunman, openly states that the massacre being described should be thought of as terrorism.
Both the Buffalo suspect and the Christchurch gunman acknowledge committing terrorist attacks and both excuse the assaults they mention by writing, “But I believe it is a partisan action against an occupying force.”
Works That Seem to Speak to One Another
The writing of the accused gunman also cites as a wellspring a mass shooting that took place at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019 that resulted in more than 20 deaths and 20 wounded. The 21-year-old gunman in El Paso left behind his own piece of writing, claiming that he too was motivated by replacement theory.
The first line of that gunman’s writing suggests the ways in which these individuals’ hateful words build on one another.
“In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto,” the El Paso gunman wrote.
The template of sorts for many of these hate-filled screeds was written in 2011 by a Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in a bombing and gun rampage at an island summer camp. Sprawling over 1,500 pages, the Norwegian’s tome — much like the accused gunman’s — details its author’s meticulous planning and includes photographs of the killer preparing for violence.
The Christchurch gunman cited the Norwegian gunman in his own screed, saying he had received “a blessing” for his “mission” from his predecessor.
At one point in his post, the Buffalo suspect asks himself the broadest question possible: “What do you want?”
He answered with a 14-word sentence that is a common slogan among neo-Nazi groups and argues for the preservation of the white race and its children.
That sentence — known in far-right circles as the “14 Words” — was coined by David Lane, a member of the far-right group The Order. It embodies the central white supremacist tenet that white people will not survive unless immediate action is taken.
The suspect’s use of the 14 Words is not the only time he makes reference to neo-Nazism in his writing. The first page of the work is emblazoned with a symbol called the sonnenrad or sunwheel. The sonnenrad is an ancient European rune that, like the swastika, was appropriated by the Nazis to embody their ideal vision of an Aryan identity.
Nazi symbols commonly appear in these kinds of screeds, including one that was produced by the white supremacist who killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. The online post by that gunman — whom the Buffalo suspect mentions in his own work — includes a coded reference to Nazism: a photo of the numbers “1488” written in the sand.
The first two digits refer to the 14 Words. The last two are meant to invoke the words “Heil Hitler” since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Acceleration to a Race War
The Buffalo suspect writes about a special kind of violence in his work — one designed to trigger a cataclysmic collapse of civilization.
He says, at one point, he wants “to add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further destabilizing and polarizing Western society in order to eventually destroy the current nihilistic, hedonistic, individualistic insanity that has taken control of Western thought.”
Words like that reflect a theory often called accelerationism, which holds that modern Western culture is so hopelessly corrupt that followers should encourage insurrections designed to destroy the current order and sweep into power a new regime — one usually seen to be led by white people. Accelerationism found one of its most powerful expressions in the 1978 novel “The Turner Diaries,” which tells the story of a violent revolution in the United States that led to nuclear war and the extermination of nonwhite people.
“The Turner Diaries” have been instrumental in shaping far-right movements and in inspiring their violence like the 1993 Oklahoma City bombing.
More recently, accelerationism has gained a foothold in the so-called boogaloo movement, a loosely organized network of gun-obsessed, anti-government activists who received renewed attention after the demonstrations triggered by the murder of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota.