Home News The racist theory that inspired the Buffalo massacre – Juliette Kayyem

The racist theory that inspired the Buffalo massacre – Juliette Kayyem

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The racist theory that inspired the Buffalo massacre – Juliette Kayyem

17 maggio 2022 13:48

Wolves are not an extraordinary species. They are neither menacing nor powerful like mountain lions. They are not as large as many other predators neither as strong nor particularly cunning, nor do they possess sophisticated tools or genetic characteristics that make them extraordinarily dangerous in the animal kingdom. Their ability to capture valuable prey comes from the collaboration with which they act as a pack.

Once the prey is targeted, the pack first disperses, then surrounds the victim: some wolves arrive in front, others behind. The most feared feature of the wolf pack is that it doesn’t work alone. The lone wolf, in the animal kingdom, is not powerful; It is weak. The wolf, if he acts alone, is not to be feared. Lone wolves do not kill, because they simply are unable to do so.

Eighteen-year-old Payton S. Gendron apparently went hunting in a supermarket on May 15 after traveling more than three hundred kilometers from his home. Police say he was heavily armed, wore military-grade protective equipment, and that he shot and killed at least ten people, injuring three others. Most of the victims were black; the supermarket is located in a predominantly black area of ​​Buffalo, New York. A manifesto allegedly written by Gendron himself shows that it was a racist massacre. Almost immediately, New York officials described it as a “true racially motivated hate crime.”

The ideology and the means
When we write or think about these hate crimes in our country, and when we prosecute them, we tend to focus on whether the abuser acted alone or not. In this case it appears that Gendron had no accomplices. It would be an alleged lone shooter or, in the jargon of our time, a lone wolf: a term used to differentiate the massacre from more sophisticated terrorist acts, staged by formations such as the Islamic State group, which usually see the participation more people and have a more articulated planning.

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But this lone wolf rhetoric does not facilitate our understanding, in an age in which hatred and radicalization are now acting by proxy in the service of a collaborative pack, of conspirators and colluders. Gendron was not alone. His mission was effective because it was supported by an apparatus that provided the ideology and the means to hunt him down. On the basis of the evidence contained in a manifesto that would be published on the evening of Thursday 12 May, Gendron did not feel alone: ​​he had the following of him, who was with him.

The meaning of Biden’s statement was a kind of public denunciation of the racist network

To clarify this concept, he broadcast in live streaming some of his actions, a performative gesture for an already existing audience. To emphasize that his victims were targeted and not at all random, Gendron wrote that he chose that specific Tops supermarket because it was located in a demographic area that, according to publicly available data, is only 1 percent white. And, to dispel any doubt, he wrote the “n-wordOn the barrel of his gun, a word perfectly visible in the footage of his shooting.

Words alone cannot change the violent extremism found in American society today, a phenomenon that President Joe Biden has called “internal hate-fueled terrorism,” and which results in similar tragedies. Social networks should be held accountable and gun laws should be more restrictive, but wrong language tends to absolve the pack. Biden got it; with only a brief nod to the culprit – “we need to know more” – the meaning of his statement was a sort of public denunciation of the racist network which is, even if not legally responsible, the real culprit. While lawyers scramble about the specific allegations of hate crime and the meaning of terrorism, Biden has rightly used terrorism in its least legal sense: a white racist has been chasing blacks. Terrorism.

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The US variant of hatred
Gendron’s manifesto is an ode to a particular variant of hatred, advocated by political leaders and conservative media, called the ethnic substitution theory. Taking its cue from European extremists’ fear of Muslim immigrants, the US variant has been fueled by undeniable demographic changes. The year Donald Trump was elected president, 2016, was also the first year that the U.S. Census Office recorded that more non-white than white babies were born in the country. The United States will not go back to being a white majority country.


Ultimately, the idea of ​​ethnic substitution has to do with violence, because the notion of dispossession justifies the elimination of the parties responsible for taking your place. It is their very presence that is a threat, not their ideas, their politics or their voting tendencies. The political and information leaders who spread these ideas manage to downplay their work, as they are able to deny that they have supported what they are actually promoting. Their language may be vague about the place and time of the killing, but it is not misleading. It is terrorism, carried out by the pack.

Gendron’s own manifesto will be plumbed for evidence of what motivated his gesture. I myself appear in the poster, in an image of CNN conductors and analysts labeled as Jews. But Gendron’s hatred is not aimed specifically at me, just as it is unlikely that anything particularly interesting will be discovered about him. Chances are we’ll find that, in reality, it’s not all that special. He is just part of a pack.

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(Translation by Federico Ferrone)

This article was published on the site of the US monthly The Atlantic. International has a weekly newsletter that chronicles what’s going on in the United States. You sign up who.

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