Opinion

Why do mass shootings like the Buffalo massacre keep happening?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Investigators believe the 18-year-old arrested for the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, became radicalized as a white supremacist after he got bored during the pandemic and immersed himself in online chatrooms full of memes and infographics saying the white race was being pushed aside by minorities. The suspect, Payton Gendron, allegedly posted a 180-page manifesto prior to his killing spree that refers to "Great Replacement Theory," the idea that white people are being supplanted by Jews and people of color.

Police say Gendron, armed with a legally obtained AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, killed 10 people and wounded three others — almost all of them Black — in the Tops Friendly Market. He drove 200 miles from home to case the market in March, looking for a location where he could kill as many Black people as possible. The attacker livestreamed the shooting spree to Twitch, a platform popular among young gamers, but otherwise appeared to have had no contact with anyone about the attack, making him the latest in a long line of so-called lone-wolf domestic terrorists targeting racial or religious minorities. If these attackers really act alone, why do follow such a familiar script? 

He's an extremist, but not a lone wolf

Payton Gendron doesn't appear to be part of an organized white-supremacist group, says Juliette Kayyem at The Atlantic, but he definitely "wasn't alone." "His mission was effective because he was supported by an apparatus that provided the ideology and means for the hunt." He livestreamed his killing spree to an online community that had fed his "hate and radicalization." His racist manifesto showed that he "had his people. They were there for him." As police investigate his life and motives, they are likely to find that this "lone wolf" isn't "that special. He's just part of a pack."  

Replacement theory has taken white supremacy mainstream

This guy's "repugnant views are not confined to an obscure corner of the internet," says Max Boot in The Washington Post. "They have become mainstream within the Republican Party." Tucker Carlson, among others at conservative Fox News, has flat-out said the Democratic Party wants open borders because it "is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." Many GOP politicians have "openly espoused the 'great replacement' theory too." Ideas have consequences.

The thing that links mass murderers is mental illness

Nobody's denying there's a "racist subculture" in America that is spreading hate through social media, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. But that's not the "most significant common denominator" in this country's mass shootings. Mental illness is. Gendron had spoken at his high school of "wanting to go on a shooting spree," and "fits the profile of other young men who become mass shooters at an age when mental illness often strikes." Shame on the left for trying to exploit this tragedy, and this killer's mental illness, to make a partisan smear on the right. Politicians and pundits are morally obligated to denounce "white replacement theory." But it would be nice if, for once, the left would look at the problem instead of trying to demonize Republicans when there's a mass shooting.

To stop mass shootings, police have to heed warning signs

Gendron told the world upfront who he was, says Piers Morgan at the New York Post. Before he posted his sick manifesto online, telegraphing his "murderous rampage," he said in a class at Susquehanna Valley High School in Conklin, New York, that his post-graduation plans included "murder-suicide." The school told police, who ordered a mental evaluation, but after two days in a hospital he was released. That cleared him to legally buy the weapons he took to the Buffalo grocery store. Only, by then he was "an internet-radicalized white supremacist." If police want to prevent the next mass shooting, the next time an "obviously troubled teenager" tells them he's going to kill people, they should not leave him alone to "arm himself" and do it.

The right and the left should unite to stamp out racism

There should be nothing controversial about pointing out the racism that motivates a mass murderer, says The Buffalo News in an editorial. Hardliners on immigration have pushed — or at least tolerated — the "racist fabrication" of replacement theory to strengthen their political hand. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) this week accused some of her fellow Republicans of "enabling white supremacy and antisemitism," and she's right. "All elected leaders, but Republicans, especially, need to speak out" against the "deadly lie" of replacement theory. "Lives are at risk. After Saturday's carnage, silence counts as complicity."

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