USA TODAY US Edition
Attack in Buffalo highlights the most lethal domestic threat
The details emerging from America’s latest mass shooting were as stunning as they were familiar.
A lone gunman, allegedly driven by long-simmering racial animus, opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, with the apparent purpose of taking Black lives.
The 18-year-old, white suspect, dressed in body armor and armed with a rifle, killed 10 and wounded three, police said.
It is a grim scenario that has rattled federal, state and local law enforcement officials for years as racially motivated extremists have taken lives in Charleston, South Carolina; El Paso, Texas; Pittsburgh; Charlottesville, Virginia; and now Buffalo.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, in
testimony last year before a Senate committee, offered perhaps the most daunting assessment of an increasingly toxic threat, saying racially motivated attackers represented the most deadly and “biggest chunk” of an estimated 2,000 open domestic terror investigations.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at
“Nearly every social science data marker is flashing an undeniable warning sign.”
Brian Levin Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at UC-San Bernardino
the University of California, San Bernardino, called the surge in hate crimes targeting Black, Asian, Jewish and other people “a fire season all year long.”
An examination of hate crimes in major U.S. cities tracked by Levin’s group and set to be published this year found a nearly 37% increase in such offenses from 2020 to 2021.
“Nearly every social science data marker is flashing an undeniable warning sign,” Levin said of the volatile environment.
Though warnings have sounded for years, the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, pushed law enforcement to confront dangerous social and political divisions that have widened for the past decade.
The Biden administration, prompted by the Capitol insurrection, unveiled its National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism last year, based on the government’s assessment of the threat landscape.
“The two most lethal elements of today’s domestic terrorism threat are ... racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race and antigovernmental or anti-authority violent extremists, such as militia violent extremists,” the administration concluded last year.
Authorities, who continue to examine an alleged racially charged manifesto, were quick to describe the assault in Buffalo as a hate crime.
On Saturday, the Erie County, New York, District Attorney’s Office filed murder charges against accused shooter Payton Gendron. Officials said they will weigh additional charges in the coming days.
Describing the assault as “horrific,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said federal authorities were investigating the case as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., a Buffalo native, said the evidence points to an “explicit act of racially motivated violence.” Citing briefings with law enforcement officials, Higgins said the suspect carried an assault weapon inscribed with a racial epithet.
“I was on site for the last three hours, and I listened carefully to what the FBI, police, the district attorney and the U.S. attorney had to say,” Higgins told USA TODAY. “There is no doubt this was a racially motivated attack.”
Higgins said authorities reviewed the contents of the graphic manifesto that referenced other racially motivated attackers, including an avowed white supremacist who killed nine people in 2015 at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Federal agents worked to confirm the authenticity of the 180-page manifesto posted online. “This is what all the anecdotal evidence adds up to,” Higgins said.