NBC News reporter Ben Collins on Friday added important context to how the white supremacist accused of murdering ten people in the Buffalo mass shooting was radicalized.
Collins covers online disinformation and drew upon his experience tracking extremism to note a key detail about suspect Payton Gendron's motivations.
"I want to tell a quick story," Collins began a thread posted to Twitter.
"The Buffalo shooter had a toothache," he noted before explaining why that detail is important.
"You may have heard this by now, but the Buffalo shooter spent the six months before the shooting messaging himself on Discord. He did it the same way you would email yourself a reminder. It was every stray thought he had for a half-year, archived as a sort of handbook," he explained.
Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old murder suspect, planned the shooting for months -- and scoped out the location ahead of time, according to a stream of posts attributed to him on social media sites.
Gendron first wrote about killing Black people in December and decided to target the Buffalo store based on its large surrounding African American population, according to US media analysis of hundreds of pages of messages.
"In that Discord archive that’s over 500 pages, the Buffalo shooter wrote about where he wanted to attack, his true motivations, even how badly he needed a haircut. Minutes before the shooting, he sent it all to people he’d talked to on Discord, plus a livestream of the shooting," Collins continued.
"The Discord archive are more illustrative than the manifesto itself, because it’s what he actually believed, and not a knockoff term paper that plagiarized past mass shooters. And, in it, one thing kept coming up: The Buffalo shooter had a toothache he couldn't fix," Collins noted.
"The Buffalo shooter apparently tried to get his bad tooth treated. He went to the dentist, and whatever the dentist tried didn’t fix it. He didn’t, or couldn’t, go anywhere else. He alluded to insurance problems. But instead of blaming insurance or himself, he blamed the Jews," he wrote. "The Buffalo shooter blamed the dentist, who he said was Jewish, but also Jews in general, who he was convinced were the cause of all of his suffering."
In his writing, Gendron said he came by his views while surfing the often radical discussion site 4chan and other conspiracy-theory websites amid "extreme boredom" during Covid lockdowns.
Much of his manifesto is lifted directly from the "Great Replacement" text posted by the Christchurch killer, Brenton Tarrant, which claims that white Europeans were threatened by "ethnic replacement" and "genocide."
"Brenton started my real research into the problems with immigration and foreigners in our white lands, without his livestream I would likely have no idea about the real problems the West is facing," Gendron wrote.
Gendron spelled out in meticulous detail his plans for the attacks, choosing the target, selecting his arms, body armor, and other equipment, and how he would live-stream it with a helmet-mounted camera, just as Tarrant had done.
"He openly admitted he started feeling this way at the start of the pandemic, because of 4chan. At the start of the pandemic, the Buffalo shooter said he moved over from 4chan’s gun board to the white nationalist /pol/ board out of 'extreme boredom.' He was inundated with the ideas that Jews were trying 'replace' whites on 4chan and social media, and he openly admits it," Collins wrote. "Some other shooters read white nationalist literature, the dumb books like The Turner Diaries, which are posted as PDFs on 4chan. But not the Buffalo shooter. He was a creature of the internet. The middle of his manifesto is just copy-pasted antisemitic 4chan memes."
"This is why the Buffalo shooter said he attacked the supermarket: He was, he said, 'only sh*tposting in real life,' serving a community of white nationalists he met online. He was killing Black people because that community thought Jews were 'replacing' white people with them," he explained. "Toward the end of his Discord archive, the Buffalo shooter was getting anxious. Initially he wanted to do the attack in March, but he kept pushing it back. He wanted to do it soon, though, because he thought he would finally get help for his tooth from the healthcare in prison."
Collins explained how real world problems create an environment that is hospitable for the spread of disinformation.
"A new thing recently is to say that 'disinformation' doesn’t it exist, that it's a 'liberal' idea, or that it’s masking real problems. But disinformation is an accelerant. It provides facile, wrong, violent solutions to real problems that need solutions in our society," he explained. "Disinformation exists, and it exists mostly to shift the blame of infrastructural decay and resource limitations from the powerful to the powerless. You can call it 'information warfare' or 'information operations' if you want, but it is real. People are dead because of it."
"The Buffalo shooter had a toothache. He blamed Jews because his online community told him they were the root of all evil. He shot up a supermarket for revenge, but also because he wanted healthcare in prison. Disinformation is real. So are the problems that make it seductive," Collins explained.
With additional reporting by AFP