Grief, shock and anger in Buffalo after gunman targets Black community in racist attack

In Buffalo, N.Y., vigils and prayers services were held across the city Sunday after a gunman killed 10 people and wounded three others in a racially motivated shooting rampage at a busy supermarket in a Black neighborhood. Kathleen Belew, author of "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America," joins Geoff Bennett to discuss the role of extremism in the shooting.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Good evening. We begin tonight in Buffalo, New York where there is grief, shock and anger after a gunman wearing tactical gear and a live streaming camera killed 10 people and wounded three others in a racially motivated shooting rampage at a busy supermarket in a black neighborhood.

    In Buffalo, New York, a community mourns, remembering the 10 people killed in what officials called a racist hate crime Saturday at Tops supermarket. Three other victims are recovering from their injuries.

  • Marnetta Malcolm, Buffalo Resident:

    The thought that somebody would hate enough to come into this area and this Tops, and kill anybody was just I can't even explain to you the pay that I feel I couldn't even sleep.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Among those killed 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield described by her son as a mother to the motherless. Pearly Young, age 77 who ran a food pantry for 25 years. And Aaron Salter, Jr, a retired police officer and longtime supermarket security guard called a hero for trying to take down the assailant. 10 of the 13th people shot were black.

  • Mayor Byron Brown, Buffalo, New York:

    This individual came here with the expressed purpose of taking as many black lives as he possibly could.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The suspect Payton Gendron was arraigned hours after the shooting. He pleaded not guilty to first degree murder.

    Officials say the alleged gunman drove to Buffalo from his hometown 200 miles away and live streamed the attack online. Eyewitnesses say they watched him shoot for people outside the store, then continue the attack inside.

  • Grady Lewis, Witness:

    I heard at least 20 shots in store.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    He then put a gun to his neck but officials say police officers convinced him to drop it. He was apprehended and transferred to Buffalo Police Headquarters after the shooting a manifesto surfaced online, which authorities say they believe the suspect wrote it cited the racist great replacement theory, the false idea that whites are being replaced by people of color, and that it will result in the extinction of the white race.

    Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), New York: This was no other way to describe it than white supremacy terrorism. It's racism, it's hatred.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    For more now on the role of extremism and white supremacy in the Buffalo shooting, I'm joined by Kathleen Belew. She is author of "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America." She's also an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago. It's good to have you with us.

    The Buffalo suspects his alleged writing about white replacement theory, it as you well know is very similar to what we've seen in mass shootings involving other far right, white supremacist gunmen help us understand the parallels and why this is so pervasive.

    Kathleen Belew, Assistant Professor Of History, University of Chicago: So one thing I would start with is just to know that when we say manifesto, we're not trying to convey any kind of authority on this document. What is going around as the Buffalo manifesto is really a cut and paste of a number of other similar documents, most notably, the document written and circulated by the gunman in Christchurch, New Zealand, we opened fire on two mosques there a few years ago.

    The same language comes up when these documents are circulated by shooters, who seem to be targeting very different communities, such as worshippers at mosques in New Zealand, shoppers in Mexican American and Mexican communities in El Paso, Texas, we could think of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, the Charleston shooting of bible study worshipers.

    All of these seem to be one off events carried out by lone gunman, when in fact they are all perpetrated by people who share an ideology. They're all part of the organized white power movement. It's a movement that is at war on our democracy and on these targeted communities in ways that are with us in in inescapable ways.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    I want to ask you about something you tweeted today, because you said there needs to be accountability both for the shooter and the broad system of ideas that gave rise to that event.

    On that latter point, what does accountability look like? And I asked the question, because, at Fox News, you've got Tucker Carlson, he has the highest rated show on cable, he talks often about the great replacement theory. The Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a member of GOP House leadership, she invoked that conspiracy theory in her campaign it adds last year so you've got powerful voices in the Republican Party, amplifying and legitimizing these racist conspiracy theories. So what does accountability look like?

  • Kathleen Belew:

    We might add to that list, Stephen Miller, when he was in the Trump administration, circulating material like Camp of the Saints, which is an openly white power novel about great replacement theory happening in Europe.

    The — so, as a historian, I don't know if this set of people believes what they're saying, or if they're trying to sort of opportunistically use this movement for their own purposes, whether that is to get their ratings or make their money or get their votes. But what we do know is that once this movement is Call to Arms, it does not stand back down. And one of the consequences of using this kind of rhetoric sis events like the shooting in Buffalo.

    You can't separate one from the other and you can't in good conscience say that you're unaware of these violent implications of that kind of language.

    The other thing that I would say is that real accountability means the very difficult work of connecting what seemed like one off events with the rest of this organized movement, which includes things like one part of the January 6 crowd was these activists who are highly militarized, highly organized, and undertook that action as a public performance piece of activism that was meant to recruit and radicalize, exactly the people like this shooter.

    Now, we don't know the precise nature of the radicalization. In this case, I think there's something in the document, which is still being verified about this person being radicalized in January of 22. But we do know that many people were sort of brought into these circles online, by the pandemic by January 6, by the BLM protests backlash by anti-masking protests, this whole landscape is what we have to contend with, and not any one of these single violent events.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    I was going to ask you that in the minute that we have left. I mean, what will it take to prevent future instances of this kind of white supremacist extremist violence?

  • Kathleen Belew:

    The hard part is that this is a movement that has been waging this war on our country since the late 1970s and early 1980s. It has been organized incredibly effective around single acts of violence like this one, and only in the last few years have we begun to start to ask that question at the level of institutions.

    What we need is a broad based set of changes having to do with individual communities, public perception, but also our legal instruments, our surveillance priorities, and real restorative justice work in the communities like Buffalo that are impacted. We've got to start that now. We're already years decades behind.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Kathleen Belew, thanks so much for your time and for your insights this evening.

  • Kathleen Belew:

    Thank you for having me.

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