An 18-year-old gunman accused of deadly racist riots at a Buffalo supermarket seems to fit everyone’s familiar profile: an offended white man immersed in conspiracies filled with hate on the Internet, and inspired by other extremist massacres.
Peyton Hendron of Conklin, New York, appears to have been motivated to take action about two years after his radical training began, showing how quickly and easily murderous online attacks can be killed. No tactical training or organizational assistance is required.
Although law enforcement officials have become adept at disrupting well-organized stories since the Sept. 11 attacks, they face a much more difficult problem of intercepting self-radicalized young people who absorb racist fabrications on social media and prepare their own violence.
“That’s why everyone is so worried. You just go and choose your ideology – and when you have a weapon, you don’t need a big plan, “said Christopher Costa, a former senior director of counterterrorism at the Trump administration’s National Security Council. “What has changed is the Internet.”
Hendron is accused of killing 10 black people, and in the coming days may be charged with federal hate crimes. He allegedly left behind a 180-page diatribe in which he said the riot was aimed at terrorizing non-white people and forcing them to leave the country. These are parrots of ideas left by other white killers whose massacres he has extensively researched online.
So far, the evidence underscores the threat faced by law enforcement.
In the first years after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials were concerned about the possibility of organized terrorist cells mobilizing followers for new attacks on the homeland. Later, they were concerned about the possibility of self-radicalized Islamic jihadists acting on their own.
Now supporters of white supremacy have come into the spotlight. FBI Director Christopher Ray last year described the threat of domestic terrorism as “metastatic.” White racial extremists have been responsible for most of the deadliest attacks on American soil in five years, including the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and the riots in Pittsburgh. The following year, when an armed man who attacked Latinos in Texas’s Walmart killed 22 people.
A secret report from the U.S. intelligence community last year warned that violent extremists motivated by political grievances and racial hatred posed an “increased” threat to the country.
Recognizing the problem, the White House said in March that its latest budget provided for a $ 33 million FBI increase to investigate domestic terrorism. In 2019, the FBI brought together specialized agents of mergers, specializing in the investigation of hate crimes, and those who focused on acts of internal terrorism, indicating that the threats overlap.
In recent years, federal authorities have prosecuted members of white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups, including Atomwafen and Baza. These organizations have adopted a marginal philosophy known as “accelerationism,” which promotes mass violence to disintegrate society, incite racial war, or overthrow the U.S. government.
The paths of these defendants to digital indoctrination are in some ways consistent with Hendron’s path. The racist account attributed to him, advanced ideas from the “big replacement” theory – a baseless conspiracy that says there is a conspiracy to reduce the influence of white people – and describes his own experience of moving in the dark corners of the Internet.
A generation ago, indoctrination in extremist groups included people who met face to face, talked and exchanged books, and as a result harmful ideologies could not spread as quickly as they do today, said Shannon Foley Martinez, a reformed extremist who instructs people trying to leave. supremacy groups.
“When I go and talk to high school and university students and ask them who has seen racist or anti-Semitic comments or content online, 100% raise their hands,” said Martinez, who has severed ties with extremists for 28 years. back.
The criminal justice system has long debated the ability to rehabilitate racial or ethnically motivated extremists or create so-called “exits” for them before they commit violence. After the indictment, several defendants tried to abandon their ideology, pointing to mitigating factors in their own lives that they said distorted their opinions and led to a poisoned set of beliefs.
After the Justice Department in 2020 accused four Atomwaffen members in Seattle of intimidating journalists and others with posters threatening their homes, lawyers tried to play on the similarities of their clients’ backgrounds and ways of radicalization: they were bullied, they had no friends , expelled; wanting community, they found each other online.
Cameron Shea was an opiate addict and lived in his car when he founded Atomwaffen.
“Ï was lost, sad and (risking to seem dramatic) angry at the world,” he wrote in a letter to the judge who sentenced him to three years in prison. it was easier than dealing with sadness and a sense of movement behind it all. ”
Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipep, who was 21 at the time of her sentencing, is a transsexual whose peers shunned and often mocked him in New Jersey high school, his lawyer Peter Matzon said. After an unsuccessful attempt to “connect with the LBGTQ crowd,” Parker-Dipepe went online to the Atomwaffen cell in Florida, which was headed by a 16-year-old boy, and became a “complete follower,” his lawyer said.
“But he also felt he had ‘passed’ as a man, was accepted by a ‘men’s’ club and was part of a group that would fight for him if necessary until no one found out he was actually a transsexual,” Mazzone wrote.
The accused Atomwaffen either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a jury. All four have been sentenced to prison or have already served time behind bars.
While these men connected online, Hendron’s online wanderings may have been a more solo activity. However, a statement he apparently posted online suggests that he drew inspiration from other racist outrages, such as what a white man did who killed 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 year.
In the document, Hendron said he felt “extreme boredom” as the COVID-19 pandemic developed, and that in May 2020 he began viewing 4chan, an illegal message board popular for anonymous – and often violent or misleading – messages. Hendron said he first reviewed the weapons message board.
He soon came across neo-Nazi websites hosted on the site and then a copy of a live video of a shooting at a mosque in New Zealand.
“This document shows a very clear trajectory from radicalization on the Internet to domestic terrorism and extremism,” said Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant processor at Vanderbilt University who studies white nationalist movements and hate crimes.
Gendron shared screenshots of memes and conservative news headlines that helped him articulate his extreme beliefs in the paper.
“Taking away a megaphone from these people is extremely important, and now this megaphone is on social media,” Bjork-James said.
Facebook did not film the live broadcast of the killings in New Zealand just 17 minutes after it aired, leaving copies of the video indefinitely distributed on more malicious sites such as 4Chan. Gendron’s live video has also spread on social networking sites and can be used to attract more users.
Tucker and Zaitz reported from Washington. Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.
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