The shooter targeted Black grocery shoppers, just as previous gunmen have preyed on other victims from minority groups, and the collective failure to condemn their hateful -- but coherently expressed -- ideology has allowed a domestic terrorist movement to build and grow, posing a threat to individuals and institutions, wrote historian Kathleen Belew for The Atlantic.
"All of this violence represents only half of the urgent threat we must now confront," wrote Belew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago and the author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. "The other half of white nationalism is in our halls of governance and on our televisions, claiming ignorance of its most violent outgrowths. Think for instance of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021: Although white-power and militant-right activists represented a small group of the participants, they were the most organized, the ones with tactical gear and advance planning. They were the ones with intergroup communication and battle readiness."
The insurrection was carried out as performative activism, and not mass-casualty violence, that was intended to draw others to their anti-democratic cause -- and Belew said it worked.
"Despite increased surveillance and deplatforming in the immediate aftermath, researchers have documented a regrouping: upticks in web traffic in white-power spaces, local organizing, and online radicalization," she wrote. "We may yet find that the alleged shooter in Buffalo, only 18 — who wrote that he became radicalized in January 2022 — was propelled by that latest wave in this cresting sea."
White supremacists use mass violence as a recruitment tool, and mass shooters copy and paste one another's manifestos into their own justifications to kill.
"All of this is much too important to ignore as a disconnected string of events or to set aside as simply inexplicable acts of hate and prejudice," Belew wrote. "The alleged shooter in Buffalo is said to have written that boredom, isolation, and internet radicalization led him to his act. When we imagine how many others like him are in front of their screens, alone but together, we might summon an appropriate level of concern to move us to action. Every person should demand accountability from our elected officials for these events, whether January 6 or yesterday’s mass shooting. The death toll is still mounting, and the threat to our democracy grows."