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Buffalo shooting and the politics of hate

Racist ramblings and ready access to weapons create a perfect storm of violence.

People pray outside the scene of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sunday. The shooting is the latest example of something that's been part of US history since the beginning: targeted racial violence.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Once again yellow crime scene tape surrounds an ordinary place in an ordinary town now faced with an extraordinary sorrow — the loss of 10 members of a community, and injuries to three others, at the hands of a lone gunman, an 18-year-old bent on mayhem fueled by Internet-inspired racist rage.

Today in the East Buffalo neighborhood, across from the Tops Friendly Market that was the scene of the shooting rampage, a memorial of flowers and candles grows as once again a community — and a nation — cries “Why?” and looks for reasons and for answers.

Payton Gendron traveled some 200 miles from his home in Conklin, N.Y., to carry out his attack, choosing a market in a predominantly Black neighborhood on a busy Saturday, donning body armor and mounting a GoPro camera on his helmet so he could livestream the mayhem he would cause. He represents the perfect storm of a troubled mind — easy to fill with the racist tropes that have gained too much traction not just on the fringes of the Internet but also among politicians and mainstream media who should know better — and lax, poorly enforced gun laws.

What ought to be even more troubling is that that deadly combination keeps coming back to haunt us again and again — violence fueled by hatred. Gendron, according to the 180-page screed investigators believe he authored, found his inspiration in the 2019 massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51, the mass shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, which killed 11, and the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine Black parishioners.


Hate begets hate begets more hate.

But hate also needs a place to take root.


Less than a year ago, around graduation time, New York state troopers were called to Susquehanna Valley High School after the then-17-year-old Gendron made threatening statements. Asked as part of a school project what his plans were, he responded “murder-suicide.” He was brought in for a psychiatric evaluation and released from the hospital a day and a half later.

According to his manifesto, Gendron became “bored” during the pandemic in 2020 and turned to the Internet, which offered up its usual toxic mix of too-easy-to-access racist and antisemitic rantings. He apparently settled on the “Great Replacement” theory as his ideology of choice, a theory that attempts to justify white supremacy with a pseudo-intellectual overlay that insists whites are being “replaced” by others. Who those “others” are depends on the hater’s favorite target.

For Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, it might be “more obedient voters from the Third World.” It was a thought echoed at a congressional hearing by Pennsylvania Republican Representative Scott Perry, who insisted, “For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we’re replacing . . . native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape of this nation.”

If such lunacy can make it from the fevered pits of the Internet to nightly television and the halls of Congress, why wouldn’t it gain more adherents, especially among those looking for a cause — looking for a reason and a focus for their hatred.


Rivaling the easy accessibility of hate speech is, of course, the accessibility of guns, including high-powered weaponry that can turn a quiet hater into a deadly killing machine.

And sure New York has a so-called red flag law aimed at preventing anyone who might be a threat to themselves or others from buying a gun, but is a day and a half under mental health observation enough to set that in motion? And a state law bans the sale of most assault-style semiautomatic rifles, but Gendron in his manifesto admits to illegally modifying the Bushmaster target rifle he bought at a small gun shop 15 miles from his home. He also admitted to having two backup weapons, including a rifle he got from his father as a Christmas present when he was 16 years old.

There will no doubt be moments of reckoning after this massacre, as there have been in the past — times when the enablers of hatred and of violence on social media have a moment or two of clarity and of conscience. Even though the video of the shooting livestreamed on Twitch was shut down there about two minutes after it began, links to it were shared across a variety of platforms more than 3 million times.

And that speaks to a sickness of the soul that no law, no social media policy, can cure. But that’s not to say it must continue to be fed — online or by TV hosts or by elected officials. Garbage is still garbage, hate speech is still hate speech, and it should not be tolerated in the public square.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.