The Buffalo Massacre and White Extremism

Malik Miah

Posted May 26, 2022

A chalk mural dedicated to those killed by white supremacist Payton Gendron in Buffalo, New York. Image: Robert Hackford/Twitter

A white supremacist, well-armed and with body armor, arrives on May 15 in a Black community shopping center in Buffalo, New York, with intent to kill as many Black people as possible. The man drove two hundred miles from his home to carry out his murder spree.

The man was inspired by the massacre of scores of Muslims in New Zealand in 2019 by a rightwing terrorist from Australia, and by white supremacists in the United States.

Black people have known domestic terror for over four hundred years, and the fear is growing since the rise of Trumpism and white nationalism. Millions of whites now falsely believe that people of color, and a multicultural society, threaten to “replace” their “superior” way of life.

Well-planned Carnage

The shooter, Payton S. Gendron, age 18, scoped out Buffalo weeks before viciously attacking a traditional Black community.

He published a 180-page diatribe on the web before the massacre, detailing his plans to kill Black people and describing himself as a white supremacist and a terrorist.

Of thirteen people shot, eleven were Black. Federal officials have said they are pursuing the case as a racially motivated hate crime.

It was no accident that the shooter chose Buffalo’s East Side for his attack. It is dense with descendants of Blacks who fled the South beginning in the early 20th century (known as the Great Migration) to escape Jim Crow and find gainful employment.

The six million-plus Great Migrants who had moved north and west by 1970 were themselves descendants of enslaved people. For about a century, especially in northern and midwestern cities, many of those African Americans have been intentionally concentrated in communities like East Buffalo.

Buffalo is among the most segregated Black communities in the country — a legacy of the peculiar, Black-subordinating institution once called “the ghetto,” until that noun became a pejorative.

According to the New York Times, the terrorist shooter selected the Tops Friendly Market as the best spot for a killing spree after researching predominantly Black ZIP codes.

In his manifesto, the shooter implied that the mere presence of Black people is a threat to his future and that of other whites. He asserted fantastically that each Black “replacer” costs white taxpayers an average of $700,000 in government funds.

Washington Post poll

A new poll among Black people nationwide shows their fear of more white terrorism, and expectation of little protection from the police and government.

“Three-quarters of Black Americans are worried that they or someone they love will be attacked because of their race, according to a nationwide Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted after a gunman killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket.” (May 21, Washington Post)

Other key points revealed in the poll:

“Three-quarters of Black people are worried that they or someone they love will be physically attacked because they are Black.”

“This proved my theory that it’s still out there. And it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” said Teeyada Cannon, a Buffalo resident who knows the grocery where the shooting took place.

Despite the guilty conviction last year of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Ms. Cannon did not have hope that Black people were safe from attack, either by police or other Americans.

“Like Cannon, Black Americans overall see the Buffalo mass shooting not as a fringe attack but reflective of broader racism in the country,” the Post-Ipsos poll finds.

“A 70 percent majority of Black Americans think at least half of White Americans hold white supremacist beliefs, 75 percent of Black Americans say white supremacists are a ‘major threat’ to Black Americans, and 66 percent say white supremacy is a bigger problem today than it was five years ago.”

Finally, the poll finds 80 percent of Black people saying that the police in their communities treat Black people less fairly than white people, which grows to 88 percent when asked about police nationally. Both represent overwhelming majorities, if slightly lower than two years ago.

Root Cause

The root cause of the Buffalo massacre is the deep racism endemic in the United States.

It predates the 1776 American Revolution. It is rooted in slavery and the white justification of a false view of the inferiority of Black people that still lives today. In the modern United States, it takes the form of a “great white replacement” theory that originated with Jim Crow segregation.

In his rise to power in Germany, Hitler praised the Southern race-based system. He labeled Jews as replacing true Germans and said they should be eliminated.

In the United States, the racist replacement theory got new life with Trump’s election in 2016. He embraced white nationalists in his campaign and White House.

Racist violence steadily increased during his presidency and continues since his ongoing effort to overturn Biden’s presidency.

Inside the Tree of Life Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, a white man with a history of antisemitic internet posts gunned down eleven worshipers, blaming Jews for allowing immigrant “invaders” into the United States.

The next year, another white man, angry over what he called “the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” opened fire on shoppers at an El Paso Walmart store, leaving 23 people dead. He told police he had sought to kill Mexicans.

In Buffalo, the teenage shooter said he wanted to kill Black people. He said the shoppers came from a culture that sought to “ethnically replace my own people.”

Three shootings, three different targets — but all linked to a racist belief now commonly known as “great replacement theory.”

Why East Buffalo

For decades, East Buffalo didn’t even have its own supermarket, but after a long campaign, East Side descendants succeeded in getting the Tops Friendly Market.

In Buffalo and in most American cities, with the help and encouragement of the federal government, it’s been Black people who’ve been displaced, cordoned off and forced to endure underinvestment and segregation.

It is why so many were in the same supermarket, at the same time, innocently shopping for food for themselves and their families when the white shooter went looking for Black people to kill.

President Biden called the white man’s action an act of “domestic terrorism.” He also talked of the need for more funds for mental health. Yet Biden’s main solution is more funding for police and sympathy for the victims.

Many other politicians said the shooting was an act by a mentally deranged person. They said so with no medical or scientific proof.

In truth, the shooting was a common act of violence by a supporter of white supremacy. It had little or nothing to do with mental illness, or with left or right politics.

It has been medically proven by psychiatric studies that people with mental problems are less likely to commit violence than those who are not mentally ill.

If mental illness was responsible for political extremism and racism, including those advocating white replacement theory, then a majority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats who agree with that false theory would be “mentally ill.”

The claim of mental illness, as an excuse not to go after white extremism, is a copout and must be rejected.

Central Lesson

Jeffery St. Clair of Counterpunch (May 20) made a crucial point of how police see Black people and white shooters: “Not shot by police: [white killers] Dylann Roof (21), Kyle Rittenhouse (18), Payton S. Gendron (18). Shot by police: [Black victims] Tamir Rice (12), Laquan McDonald (17), Michael Brown (18) Number of people killed by Roof, Rittenhouse, Gendron: 21. Number of people killed by Rice, McDonald, Brown: 0.

The Buffalo shooter held his gun to his own neck after his murder spree. Two cops who confronted him did not shoot. Instead, they talked him down. Why?

Black people are shot dead within seconds by police even while sleeping, driving or walking down the street. The same cops later claim they feared for their lives.

The central lesson of the Buffalo massacre for Black people is a justifiable deep fear of extralegal terror.

The answer to fighting white terrorism is building an independent movement, like the Black Lives Matters two years ago and the pro-women’s rights movement today.

Change will not come from voting for capitalist politicians. Black people know it from life experience even if most will vote for someone. Many will refuse to participate in electoral politics.

Creating a mass independent political movement remains a necessity.

A slightly different version of this article appeared on the Green Left website on May 23, 2022 here.