SAY WHAT? - What to say. Taking our times' vitriol and enmity to its logical, barbarous conclusion, a proudly white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, heavily armed 18-year-old drove hours to kill 10 black, mostly elderly people grocery shopping in Buffalo, N.Y. because he believed all the paranoid right-wing ghouls - from 4chan to the GOP to a ceaselessly hate-spewing Tucker Carlson - who told him he'd soon be "replaced" by inferior people of color, and there's nowhere else their macabre rhetoric could lead except to racist mass murder, so, inevitably, again, it did. Ten people were killed and three others wounded after Peyton Gendron drove his parents' car over 300 miles to a Tops grocery store in a largely black Buffalo neighborhood to commit what authorities called “straight up, a racially motivated hate crime” in which 11 of 13 victims were African-American; most of them ranged in age from their 50s to 80s. Coming from the scene of a massacre one official called “like walking onto a horror movie, Armageddon-like,” ”Sheriff John Garcia said, “This person was pure evil.”
A self-described "white supremacist fascist" with neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant beliefs, Payton Grendon came from Conklin, a small, mostly white town locals describe as "Trump country." Both his parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron, are civil engineers; social media posts show them with Payton and his two younger brothers at shooting ranges and exchanging gun-related gifts. Crushingly predictably, Payton was described as both "quiet" and a "very troubled young man"; last year, police brought him to the hospital for a mental health evaluation after threatening classmates and saying he wanted to carry out a shooting, but he was inexplicably released after a day or so. After Saturday's attack, it turned out he'd written a rambling, rabid, 180-page online screed describing how, out of "extreme boredom" during the pandemic, he became radicalized by reading 4chan, which has been cited as an online source for other racist mass shooters and which one extremism expert dubs "a safe space to hate." He was also active on Discord, Twitch, and other gun-loving, right-wing sites where, a critic says, "depraved ideas are fermenting (and) spreading like a virus."
Payton's sprawling wannabe manifesto, adorned with a white-supremacist sonnenrad, or black sun, combined a boastful weapons list, an obscene montage of anti-Semitic memes, and a fervid treatise on white "replacement theory," a once-extremist howl of racist paranoia now embedded - thanks Obama - into mainstream GOP rhetoric, stretching from Charlottesville's neo-Nazis chanting "Jews will not replace us" to then-Rep. Steve King's "anchor babies" to Fox News' foul talking heads screeching about "white genocide." Cited in racist mass shootings that killed 20 people in El Paso, 11 at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life, 10 in Colorado and over 50 at Christchurch, NZ mosques in a grisly model Payton admired, the fervid conspiracy theory blames "an invasion (of) high-fertility immigrants" for seeking to eliminate "White people who have failed to reproduce." As a result, crackpot "research" argues, the growing number of people of color would ultimately lead to "the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people" - a notion, neither he nor any of these lunatic white guys seem to realize, that grows increasingly attractive as they keep turning out to be racist mass murderers, so sure, let's replace them, please.
Authorities say Payton spent months planning his attack, which he live-streamed online on Twitch, doing reconnaissance to find mostly black communities. Given a current "pro-life" climate that can evidently ban abortions but not assault rifles, he legally bought his weapons - an AR-15 semi-automatic inscribed with a racial slur, a hunting rifle, and a shotgun - two months ago. For the attack, he wore camo tactical gear, including body armor and a military grade helmet. On arrival at the Tops site, he shot three people in the busy parking lot, then moved inside and randomly opened fire. When police arrived and started screaming at him, he at first aimed a gun at himself, then calmly removed his gear and dropped to his knees. As a white boy, of course, he was taken unharmed. "We don't know how the hell he made it out of there alive," said one eyewitness of color. "If a black person had had a screwdriver in his hand, he'd have been killed." About two minutes after the attack began, Twitch removed the video. At an emotional church service Sunday morning, New York A.G. declared, "This was domestic terrorism, plain and simple."
This was also, argues any sentient observer, to be expected in these hateful, fractious times, as black lives are repeatedly deemed "disposable." Of all those spewing MAGA bigotry about birth rates and immigration and replacement, writes educator Tim Wise, "Blood is on their hands, 100%." Citing a racist conspiracy theory that "embraces an explicitly accelerationist rationale for violence," he explains, "There is nowhere else replacement theory rhetoric and logic can lead except for violence. It is inevitable." In today's paranoid, nihilistic political landscape, argues Talia Lavin, there is no such thing as a lone wolf. "The right-wing extremists who control the modern GOP are all gripped by a racist delusion - the shooter is just the latest to act on it," she writes of a political entity whose "wellspring of racial animus" will inexorably prove deadly. "When the rhetoric of an entire movement devolves into Manichaean demonization of their political foes; when demographic shifts are represented as apocalyptic; and when a party can appeal to nothing but the consolidation of white power, it is an inevitability that such rhetoric will leave bodies in its wake."
For all the horrors unleashed in Buffalo - NRA, sick kid, extremist ghouls, malignant echo chamber: You did this - those most responsible for "the mass howl of fear at change" that inspired it were deafeningly silent. Of the dozen right-wing goons of the unironically-named Freedom Caucus - Greene, Gaetz, Gomar, Boebert et al - not one responded to the blood-letting. At yet another "rally," the clueless, very-fine-people co-conspirator who opened the gates of hatred wider than ever before, at least in modern times, babbled he'd heard "something bad happened in Buffalo" (SAD!) and don't forget thanks to him "we didn't lose one person in Afghanistan" and he saved us from the Taliban, also Jesse James; oddly, no mention of the scores of dead from racist mass shootings during his ghastly tenure. But he did bring out Ted Nugent, global rep for peace and understanding. "I love you," he told the MAGA crowd, "but I would love you more if you went out and just went berserk on the skulls of the Democrats and the Marxists and the Communists.” “Evil,” he added, must be “stamped out.”
Speaking of: QAnon Queen and Extremist Elise Stefanik, somehow now the #3 House Republican, is still emitting the same bellicose, them-and-us fuel that got us here. She tweeted the GOP "is the party of parents, babies, grandparents, families and patriotic Americans"; Dems are "the party of socialists, illegals, criminals, communist truth ministers." She charged Biden "continues to put America LAST" by sending baby formula to migrant families at the border; when critics asked if she'd rather just starve brown babies, she blamed Biden and "the usual pedo grifters" for shortages, backing down to claim "pedo" means "children." She ran "despicable" ads charging Dems plan to grant amnesty to "11 MILLION illegal immigrants" in "PERMANANT ELECTION INSURRECTION" to "overthrow" the electorate and replace them with brown-skinned communists, prompting a scathing editorial from her hometown paper asking, "How low, Ms. Stefanik?" After the Buffalo attack, she wrote she was "very saddened to hear the tragic news"; one response, "He's one of yours, Elise. Hope you're proud."
Still, the snide master of divisiveness remains Tucker 'The great replacement theory is working!' Carlson, whose ceaseless stokingof white fear, frantic warnings of invasions of "illegals, and "dedicated campaign to insert (racist ideology) into mainstream Republican discourse” have proved, "When a right-wing host pimps white replacement theory, what you think might happen, does." After the Buffalo massacre, even as he still ranted, enraged hashtags bloomed: #TuckerCarlsonHasBloodOnHisHands #TuckerCarlsonsFault#FireTuckerCarlson #boycottfoxnews, and #racist piece of shit.Laurence Tribe: "He deserves to have #BuffaloTerrorist nightmares every night for the rest of his awful life." Meanwhile, the "great American moonwalk" that is the current, massive stripping away of fundamental rights in the name of fear, hate, misogyny, Jim-Crow-to-Buffalo racism with its goal to "weaponize whiteness at the expense of everyone else’s freedom" - it goes on apace. The night of Payton's massacre, Fox News was somehow still fear-mongering about "terrorist immigrants." Then, in live, chaste, credulous, who-us? coverage in Buffalo, they expressed bafflement at the carnage. Why did the shooter "hate all people?" Why now? Why Buffalo? Their somber conclusion: "It is a mystery."
(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: [email protected])