The attack has since become a rallying cry for other ethno-nationalists and was cited by Brenton Tarrant, who shot dead 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. Both men were mentioned in the “manifesto” apparently written by Buffalo shooting suspect Payton Gendron as the terrorists he supports.
“It really is a global network of inspiring events,” said Stanislav Vysotsky, a sociologist and criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. “The Christchurch shooter was inspired by shooters in the United States, and then he inspires shooters in the United States, and then they inspire action elsewhere.”
The Buffalo shootings took place exactly three years after world governments signed an agreement with five major tech companies to limit the content that violent extremists can post online. The United States refused to sign the so-called Christchurch Appeal Agreement, initiated by New Zealand after the Christchurch attack.
Despite these measures, activists and experts say the spread of racial hatred in disaffected communities will continue. As Bjørn Ihler, a Norwegian counter-terrorism activist who survived the 2011 attack on the island of Utøya, said: “We are already too late.
“The ideology is already there. It’s been around for ages. … The cat came out of the bag on that one,” he told NBC News via video call from Sweden.
The “great replacement theory” — a paranoid conspiracy theory with anti-Semitic roots that falsely claims that ethnic whites are intentionally replaced by other ethnicities — has entered mainstream political discourse, Ihler pointed out. From its obscure origins in early 20th century nationalism, and since it was popularized in a 2011 essay by French writer Renaud Camus, it has been frequently mentioned in the media, in parliaments, even by presidents before apparently being adopted by Gendron.
The ultimate goal of those who carry out attacks based on such racist conspiracies is “to aggravate tensions and contradictions within society so that there is greater polarization,” Vysotsky said, “ which will then lead – as white nationalists say – to a race war that will ultimately lead to victory for white people. They believe this on an ideological or spiritual level.
Authorities said Gendron managed to livestream the shooting on gaming platform Twitch until the stream was turned off. This video has been widely viewed since Saturday, Ihler added – although the stream has been live for less than two minutes.
Gendron also appeared to be active in online gun communities, including on 4chan and Reddit, while a log kept on the game chat service Discord by an account using the same ID as Gendron is widely available. These are sites used by millions of young people around the world to share Minecraft tips and memes.
Just as white nationalist skinhead movements from the 1970s to the 1990s came to dominate radical spaces and attract disaffected youth, the same is happening now with white nationalists in digital spaces.
“Now you see in online spaces a kind of cultural domination — the hegemony of white nationalism and far-right ideas in transgressive spaces seen as rebellious or edgy,” Vysotsky said. The apparent Discord log “is really going to be something that’s front and center for members of these movements and the white nationalist shooter fanbase.”