Our hearts are with the families of those killed and targeted in this weekend’s racially motivated massacre of the Black community of Buffalo, New York. We appreciate that federal and state officials are investigating and working to bring the perpetrator to justice. However, much more should be done now, particularly for Black communities who often bear the burden of violent attacks. Politicians and pundits must also face serious consequences for their irresponsible, inflammatory and incendiary rhetoric. Governments must hold tech companies and digital media platforms accountable for making meaningful changes to address online radicalization.
The attack in Buffalo is the direct result of white nationalist propaganda, specifically the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, being promoted and now mainstreamed by major public figures. This false notion — that white people are being systematically replaced by Black people, immigrants and Jews — has deep historical roots but has gained traction in recent years. And with that traction has come violence, both physical and political.
In recent years we have seen multiple white gunmen commit horrific acts of violence against people of color, Jews, Muslims and immigrants, justified on the premise of the false conspiracy narrative. This time it took an 18-year-old extremist driving over 200 miles to murder 10 innocent people and injure three others – the vast majority who were Black – to bring this lie and its deadly consequences to the national forefront.
The FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Justice Department have all confirmed that the primary domestic terrorism threat comes from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race.
In the wake of this tragedy, we must support these victims and survivors now and join efforts to prevent these horrific acts from happening in the future.
As a starting point, we recommend the following actions:
• It is impossible to overstate the importance of elected officials, business and community leaders, civic and faith leaders, military commanders and law enforcement executives using their public platforms to condemn hate, racism, attacks on voting and democratic institutions, and extremism in all forms.
• It is especially important that politicians, civic leaders and law enforcement officials repudiate dangerous and false conspiracy theories like the “great replacement” theory, which has now moved from far-right extremist spaces into the political mainstream. Despite its clearly violent implications, far too many politicians and pundits now repeat the myth regularly.
• Federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, should provide more resources for programs and processes for early intervention. Programs in these areas should focus on extended support for victims, survivors and targeted communities more broadly, as the trauma resulting from racially motivated violence often reverberates widely. These programs should also focus on inoculating communities against extremism and empowering adults to help steer young people away from dangerous ideas. The SPLC and American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab have created resources to assist parents and caregivers.
• Congress should immediately enact the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (S.964/H.R. 350) to establish offices within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to monitor, investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism — and require regular reports from these offices.
• Tech companies must create — and enforce — terms of service and policies to ensure that social media platforms, payment service providers and other internet-based services do not provide forums where hateful activities and extremism can grow and lead to domestic terrorism. Social media platforms and online payment service providers must act to disrupt the funding of hate online to prevent their services from helping to incubate and bankroll terrorists and extremism.
Top picture: Aaron Jordan, of Buffalo, adds to a sidewalk chalk mural depicting the names of the people killed Saturday, May 15, 2022, in a mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York. (Credit: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)