Every detail of Payton Gendron’s white supremacist attack in Buffalo reeks of the murderer’s clear aim of terrorizing not only the Black shoppers he killed on Saturday but also the rest of us, who are left in fear of the copycat attacks that he explicitly sought to inspire.
Black people were shot with a gun by the murderer with the n-word scrawled on it. His decision to livestream his racist attack added to the attack’s dehumanizing and dystopian nature by displaying the deaths of his victims as if the massacre were a video game. And the 180-page manifesto that he left behind — part meme farm and part manual — contains pages of racist and antisemitic memes and clearly seeks to inspire copycat attacks by outlining weaponry and providing tips for carrying out more attacks.
Gendron, an 18-year-old white male who shot 13 people, murdering 11 of them, mostly Black,Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo was attacked by white supremacists who planned to attack Black shoppers because the store was in a predominantly Black area. He is best understood as an accelerationist who hopes his instance of “direct action” will hasten a racial crisis, enabling reactionary forces to create a societal disruption and orchestrate a takeover of the U.S.
Gendron aimed to terrorize all Black people in the grocery store attack, with the hope of rallying white Americans like-minded to the cause.
Although law enforcement is known to often kill Black people for minor offenses, the white murderer survived and was able to confront responding officers. While I do not condone police violence, law enforcement’s ability to apprehend mass murderers like Dylann RoofGendron’s collective psychic and emotional wounds were rubbed salt. Gendron’s release of his 180-page racist manifestoThe burn was intensified by the explanation of his racist motives.
The murderer’s actions at the Tops Friendly Market were a disturbing echo of the white supremacists’ chants of “Jews will not replace us”2017 Charlottesville. In his manifesto, the killer proclaimed himself a white supremacist, Nazi, separatist and nationalist who subscribes to the racist and conspiratorial “Great Replacement Theory,” which suggests that immigration, decline in white births, and efforts, such as diversity, equity and inclusion programs in schools and the private sector, and critical race theory are erasing white Americans. This is an example of the symbiotic relationship that white nationalists on ground and far-right media have. Fox News host Tucker Carlson has amplified the white nationalist “great replacement theory” to millions of viewers in numerous segments.
As I learned more about the details of the racist attacks in Buffalo and read the murderer’s manifesto, I recalled a rather lengthy twitter debate I had with a self-proclaimed white nationalist that took place over the course of 2016 and 2017. In fall 2016, white nationalists began putting up racist, misogynist and homophobic posters on the streets. University of Michigan’s campusI used to work at the same place. The offensive posters were created by white nationalists who wanted to support white nationalism. They also had an affinity for Donald Trump, whom they considered part of their organizing efforts. We responded by encouraging students and members of the community to organize the group. Collective Against White Supremacy (CAWS),To combat white nationalism messaging, the posters were taken down and replaced with anti-racist ones. The organization also offered support for predominantly Black and People of Color (POC) student groups. We never had to respond in any way to physical violence.
Nevertheless, many of us were subject to trolling and even received death threats online. One of the white nationalists tried to debate me on Twitter about my views on nationalism amid the trolling. Multiple times, the white nationalist claimed, including in a letter sent to me in the summer 2018, that a white ethnostate could be achieved peacefully, especially if other Black people decided to be separatists or nationalists. According to this white nationist, white and Black people could come to an agreement and then go our separate ways.
I strongly disagree. I strongly disagree. Proponents of the former have never possessed the full arsenal of state power — policing, political institutions and a military. Many Black people have pondered the possibilities of building a rather contained “nation-within-a-nation.” However, these visions historically have mostly been that — visions — because U.S. settler colonialism, exceptionalism and capitalism would not allow for the construction of a separate state on North American territory, let alone one built and controlled by Black people.
I also argued that such a proposal was completely absurd, as white nationalism and nation building are inherently violent processes. As historians and activists have shown, nation-building involves the displacement of Indigenous peoples as well as the setting up and maintaining control over borders. In the end, settlers want to create a society and state on territory, making it an evolving graveyard of marginalized and Indigenous peoples. Also, I recall stating that if white nationalists get what they want — a white settler ethno-state — the nation-building process would not stop at capturing, killing and expelling Black people, Indigenous people and other people of color. Border wars would continue with “new” race-based nations. But, importantly for them, the white-led nation-building process would probably turn inward and begin targeting white folks deemed “less racially pure,” “deviant,” “criminal,” and “unworthy” of citizenship and life. There would not be any refuge for poor and other marginalized “white” folks in this nation-state. The Buffalo massacre highlights the inherent violence of white nationalism, as its primary goal is to eliminate non-white and “undesirable” groups. There is no nonviolent genocidal ideology.
Yesterday’s racist attack in Buffalo underscores the need for a multiracial socialist movement based in the working class. The murderer and other white nationalists claim that white power and dominance are the solution to economic inequality, political powerlessness and a changing climate. However, we know that this is dangerously wrong. Only bringing different groups of people together in a system based on gender, race, sexual, and reproductive justice will address fundamental problems and provide the more enriching community that disaffected worker from all backgrounds may desire. It is possible to defend against racist attacks by being open to disruption of white radicalization and building solidarity.
Liberals’ calls to designate these attacks as “domestic terrorism” and charge racist murderers accordingly will not deter a group of people who are committed to murdering Black people, people of color more broadly, Jewish people, and trans folks in the name of preventing “white genocide.”
It is also quite possible that reactionaries will turn these “domestic terrorism” laws against leftists, especially if another Trump-like figure is elected president. We cannot also rely on the U.S. to wipe out this movement completely, given its history of disrupting, monitoring and wiping out Black-led organizations. We cannot ignore the history of the overlap between white nationists, the military, and police forces.
We must create grassroots strategies to combat the white supremacist movement. How do you confront an organized reactionary group that believes it’s fighting a war? Kathleen Belew, historian contendsThese are the killers are not “lone wolves.”They are creating their own strategies and drawing on the intellectual and political traditions of previous generations of white power organizing. White nationalist theories of the “great replacement” and older discredited notions of race science have gone mainstream and/or made a comeback. The network of ideas, cultural institutions, and people willing and able to murder racial or ethnic minorities encourages these murderers to claim allegiance with an organized movement.
We must respond to racist attacks using a variety tactics that include self-defense, community protection, mutual assistance, deprogramming, and deradicalizing white Americans. We must combat racist white solidarity by promoting economic, racial and gender equality as well as reparative justice. It is important that all of us join with those who continue to demonstrate that a world based on these principles will be better for us all.