May 16, 2022
IntelBrief: Racially Motivated Violent Extremist Launches Terror Attack in Buffalo, NY
On Saturday afternoon, an 18-year-old racially motivated violent extremist launched a terrorist attack in Buffalo, NY, killing ten people before being arrested. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Buffalo field office is investigating the attack as a hate crime and specifically as a case of racially motivated violent extremism. Eleven of the thirteen people shot were African American. The perpetrator left behind a lengthy and detailed manifesto outlining his worldview and paying homage to a lineage of other far-right violent extremists. The terrorist chose the specific location of a grocery store in a Buffalo neighborhood with a predominantly African American population. The terrorist drove hours away to specifically attack a target purely based on racially motivated violent extremism, eerily similar to the horrific attack in El Paso, Texas in August 2019, where a white supremacist murdered 23 people and injured dozens. In his manifesto, the Buffalo attacker admits that because he was “bored” early on in the pandemic, he spent significant amounts of time online and radicalized on sites including 4chan. While much will be said in the coming days about the apparent “lone wolf” nature of the attack, the truth remains that the Buffalo attacker emerged from a broader far-right extremist ecosystem that continues to flourish online.
The manifesto recycles many of the conspiracies that motivated Dylann Roof, the terrorist responsible for a massacre at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015. While much of the racist screed is directed against African Americans, a significant portion is also dedicated to anti-Semitism, perpetuating hackneyed tropes about Jewish people, portraying them as an omnipotent cabal responsible for immigration, multiculturalism, and other anti-Semitic conspiracies. In that sense, there is significant overlap with the worldview of Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers, who murdered eleven innocent worshippers in October 2018. At the core of the Buffalo attacker’s manifesto, much of which was plagiarized directly from the manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist responsible for the March 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack. was admiration for other high-profile far-right extremists. Far-right extremists frequently learn from the attacks of other terrorists and in many ways, attempt to “up the ante” in terms of lethality and aesthetics. The manifestos left behind, that can live on in perpetuity online, frequently serve as an inspiration and in some cases a playbook, for other far-right extremists seeking to carry out attacks of their own.
At the heart of many of the far-right extremist manifestos is the concept of the “Great Replacement,” which argues that due to demographics and immigration policies, white populations are being replaced by non-whites, including African Americans, non-White Hispanic and Latinos, and others frequently derided by extremists as “invaders.” For some European white supremacists, the primary threat emanates from the “Islamization” of Europe, or what Oslo attacker Anders Breivik called “Eurabia.” The concept of the “Great Replacement” is not merely relegated to dark conspiratorial corners of the internet. On the contrary, it is regularly mainstreamed on cable news shows, including Fox’s Tucker Carlson, who frequently regurgitates far-right talking points that focus on immigrant birth rates and planned voter replacement. The Buffalo attacker’s manifesto referenced “white genocide” as a justification for his actions.
President Biden called the Buffalo attack a "racially motivated hate crime" and an "act of domestic terrorism" perpetrated in the name of a "repugnant white nationalist ideology.” Some aspects of the attack, including the livestreaming element on Twitch, and writing racist language on his firearm, were directly copied from other attacks and had a similar accelerationist motivation and violent extremist aesthetic. In an attack in Halle, Germany in October 2019, the perpetrator livestreamed his attack on Twitch. In the Buffalo attack, the video was taken down quickly, but soon resurfaced and began recirculating and spreading in extremist circles online. FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly warned about the growing threat domestically posed by violent extremists motivated by race, ethnicity, or other far-right ideologies, including anti-government extremism. After more than two years of pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions, law enforcement officials are understandably concerned about the potential for a forthcoming wave of violent extremism, as individuals who radicalized online during the pandemic emerge from isolation to launch domestic terror attacks.