Buffalo, New York: Memorial with flowers and candles to honor the victims of the mass shooting at the Tops market in Buffalo NY. A police SUV is turning the corner in the background. (Shutterstock)
By Stephen T. Watson , Lou Michel, Buffalo News
Law enforcement officials who investigate mass shootings sometimes struggle to to find out what led the assailant to commit such heinous crimes.
In the case of the man who they say perpetrated Saturday’s assault that took the lives of 10 people and wounded three more, they did not have to look far.
In chilling detail, the accused shooter laid out in a 180-page diatribe why he wanted to kill, how he came to believe a racist conspiracy theory and then recorded himself driving to a supermarket on Jefferson Avenue and carrying out the attack.
Law enforcement officials on Sunday told The Buffalo News they’re convinced of the authenticity of the writings, which they say Payton Gendron posted online Saturday sometime before he pulled up to a Tops Markets in Buffalo and began a racist shooting spree.
Gendron, who is white, posted the diatribe online several days earlier but timed the document to go public in the moments before the shooting, officials said. It details his ugly views, how he said he planned the hate crime attack and why he targeted this supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood 230 miles from his Southern Tier hometown.
At the heart of the document is Gendron’s belief in the racist theory that whites are in danger of being replaced by non-whites, who must be removed from this country or slaughtered. Blacks and Jews draw most of Gendron’s vitriol in the writings.
Gendron, 18, claims he acted alone in the attack, which he livestreamed on the Twitch social media site.
“We are seeing an entire generation of young people being radicalized by the internet,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right and a former longtime leader at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Hate-filled theories fueled by dark web
Gendron insists that his views weren’t influenced by his parents, friends or anyone else in his life. Instead, he writes, it started when he was 16 and pandemic boredom drove him into the darker corners of the web.
“I was not born racist nor grew up to be racist,” he said.
He cites a manifesto posted by the man who, in 2019, shot to death 51 Muslim worshippers at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and wounded dozens more.
Gendron’s screed at times follows a similar, question-and-answer format to the New Zealand document, copying some of the phrasing word for word.
Gendron points to posts on 4chan and other sites that cater to white supremacists as connecting him with the hate-filled theories.
“I never even saw this information until I found these sites,” he wrote.
Claude Welch Jr., a retired University at Buffalo professor of political science and highly regarded terrorism expert, described Gendron’s actions as “an act of domestic terrorism” fueled by “racist manifestos.”
“The internet is an extraordinary source for helpful and hateful information. Unfortunately, this young man drank too deep of the poisonous side,” Welch said.
Welch said minimizing the spread of hatred and internet-inspired violence requires content moderation.
“Unfortunately, some content providers are unwilling to carry out sufficient attention to such provocative documents, while still recognizing the constitutional right of free speech,” he said.
Racist and anti-Semitic beliefs outlined
The accused shooter fills page after page of his writings with racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.
The document is littered with bigoted cartoons, photos and statements trafficking in familiar stereotypes and tropes.
Gendron subscribes to the racist “great replacement” theory, which holds that white people should fear losing their traditional culture to immigrants and other people of color whose population is growing faster than that of whites of European descent.
“I think what this tells us is how deep into the swamp of racial hate we have gone as a nation,” Potok said.
A detailed attack plan
Initially, Gendron writes in his diatribe, he considered taking his own life.
But then he began planning a mass shooting.
The diatribe has a numbing amount of detail on the various equipment Gendron purchased, including his critiques of the gear written in the style of online shopping reviews, and shows how Gendron modified his rifles to make them even deadlier.
Gendron states in the document that his goals are to “kill as many Blacks as possible,” “avoid dying” and “spread ideals.”
Gendron explains that he targeted the 14208 ZIP code because it’s the area that is closest to his home in Conklin, near Binghamton, that has the highest proportion of Black residents.
He opted to stay in New York because he believed, with its strict gun laws, he was less likely to encounter someone who could use a high-powered weapon to slow or stop his attack. And he bolstered his odds of surviving by outfitting himself in body armor and other tactical gear and bringing along a medical kit.
He said he selected the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue because he wanted to find a busy store within his targeted neighborhood, and he selected a time to attack – 4 p.m. on a Friday – when it would be crowded. It’s not clear why he carried out the attack at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday.
The diatribe indicates he practiced going through the motions of the deadly attack. It includes a hand-drawn map of the store and a step-by-step plan for what he would do leading up the attack and once he got inside the store.
On the day of the attack, he writes, he planned to have corned beef hash for breakfast at home, lunch at McDonald’s after arriving in town and take one last walk through the store before he geared up for the assault.
The diatribe, in chilling, matter-of-fact language, details how he planned to shoot to kill the armed security guard he knew would be standing at the door – it was Aaron Salter Jr., a retired Buffalo police officer who died a “hero,” authorities said, in trying to stop Gendron – before moving methodically through the store fatally shooting as many Black people as possible.
Gendron livestreamed the shooting through a camera on his helmet linked to the internet.
Police say he killed 10 people and wounded three others, shattering a community. He had planned to drive off, shooting more Black people, before he expected police to reach him.
Instead, he meekly surrendered at the store.