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Investigators and reporters study purported manifesto after Buffalo shooting spree


By Brian Stelter, CNN Business

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

An eight-year-old Black girl was at the grocery store with her parents, picking out a birthday cake for her dad, when the shooting started on Saturday. Her dad hid with her inside the milk coolers until police arrived. And they were the lucky ones.

The gunman was allegedly motivated by his fear about declining White birth rates and an influx of immigrants. So he attacked Black families. The lives of the 10 victims and the survivors from the grocery store will be forever changed. But will anything change for the better? Or will this phenomenon — men poisoned by lies on the internet, radicalized into rage-filled shooting sprees — just keep getting worse? If you’re feeling pessimistic right now, you are far from the only one…

A livestreamed lynching


Think about it this way: White supremacists used to disguise themselves in white robes and secretly meet under the cover of night. Now they sit at home and convene on extremist message boards, in broad daylight, interconnected like never before. They may hear their twisted beliefs echoed by TV stars and elected officials. The Buffalo shooting video that was livestreamed on Twitch was akin to a modern day lynching to some degree. It was a vein of hate streamed for anyone to see. While Twitch removed the original video quickly, and said it tried to stamp out any reposting, the massacre from the POV of the gunman is still one click away on other sites. “The video is never going away,” WaPo reporter Drew Harwell commented


— The Buffalo attacker’s “media spectacle” was covered wall to wall, though most outlets downplayed his name and emphasized the victims…

— The death toll in Buffalo overshadowed the weekend’s other mass shootings, including Sunday afternoon’s incident at a California church, which occurred during a lunch reception for a Taiwanese congregation…

— Many voices across America said guns are the through-line of all this, and many predicted that political attempts to curb gun crime would fail…

— The Buffalo News editorial board asked: “Do we once again shrug and just go on about things, pretending that it won’t happen again?”

— Some commentators called the attacker’s conspiratorial beliefs “fringe,” but others argued that these views are now mainstream on the American right…

— An editor at Breitbart played the victim and blasted other media outlets for a “predictable attempt to exploit” the Buffalo shooting “to censor debate and opposition…”

— Some far-right Internet personalities sowed seeds of doubt and shifted blame by casting the shooting as a “false flag” event…

— It’s all so sadly predictable.

Very different forms of “media” coverage

Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox, author of “Children Under Fire,” spent all day Saturday working on a story about a different mass shooting, then logged onto Twitter and learned about Buffalo. Here is what he told CNN’s Diane Kaye:

“The conversation about how the media potentially inspires this sort of violence demands a nuance that is often missing from the discussion, because ‘media’ means many things. Conventional journalists — the reporters of fact, as opposed to the pundits — have gotten considerably better over the past two decades covering these events responsibly: not repeating the shooters’ names over and over, not glamourizing the way they took human life, not sharing the violent videos they record, not giving their hateful manifestos unnecessary airtime. But the media also includes pundits, and pundits on certain mainstream media outlets have begun to promote the white supremacist ideology that, by his own account, motivated this shooter to commit mass murder.”

Cox was referring to the “great replacement” or “White replacement” conspiracy theory. “This ideology, this theory, has found a home on Fox News,” he said. “Tucker Carlson has been especially aggressive about promoting this idea that liberal elites are working to replace white Americans with more compliant immigrants from Third World countries. Clearly, that sort of rhetoric, wherever it’s found, can inspire hate.”

>> “Underlying all variations of replacement rhetoric is the growing diversity of the United States over the past decade,” this NYT story noted…

>> On CNN Sunday afternoon, Jim Acosta showed a montage of Carlson’s dangerous rhetoric and talked about it with NAACP President Derrick Johnson…

What the manifesto says


In the manifesto, the attacker allegedly details how he had been radicalized by reading online message boards, while describing the attack as terrorism and himself as a White supremacist. He wrote that he had “moved farther to the right” politically over the last three years. The suspect started browsing the message board 4chan — a hotbed for racist, sexist and White nationalist content — in May 2020 “after extreme boredom” during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the manifesto. Posts he had read on the site made him believe that “the White race is dying out,” among other racist beliefs, and led him down a rabbit hole to other extremist websites, the manifest states…

>> NBC’s Ben Collins, who wrote one of the best stories on the racist screed, boiled the 180-page document down to this: “The manifesto is a rant from a 4chan addict, obsessed with ‘the great replacement,’ CRT and white grievance.”

What Tucker Carlson will say

We have seen this horrible movie before. On his Monday night show, Carlson will probably denounce violence and point out that he has done so many, many times before. And then he will probably try to change the subject, perhaps by highlighting other deaths that “The Media” hasn’t covered as extensively.

That’s just an educated guess. Fox did not issue any statement about this over the weekend. Paul Farhi reported that “a Fox News spokesperson on Sunday afternoon pointed to examples of Carlson speaking against violence on his program but had no further comment.”

As I said on CNN, reducing the conversation to one specific show or site oversimplifies this complex matter. Wesley Lowery agreed: “It’s a little simplistic to think ‘Well if only we could shut Tucker Carlson up, or if only we can shut down this message board’ — these ideas have a salience and have a staying power because fear. Fear of others, fear of people who are different than us, has always been among the most powerful political and societal forces. And at a time when Americans across the country — White Americans particularly — fear demographic change, these messages are extremely powerful.” Fox could disappear “but these ideas would not disappear,” he added. I seconded that and said silencing Carlson is not the answer. (The Murdochs aren’t going to do it, anyway.) Instead, his critics should find powerful, persuasive ways to prove him wrong…

Fox’s “replacement” blackout


While most news orgs focused on the suspect’s purported manifesto, Fox News created a safe space for its viewers who have bought into the Great Replacement theory, sold by the right-wing network’s top host. The network largely ignored the theory at the heart of the suspect’s apparent screed. I searched rush transcripts and could not find any mentions of the Great Replacement theory, outside one instance in which anchor Eric Shawn briefly referenced it in Sunday’s 4pm hour. It’s a glaring omission from the network that has promoted the racist theory over and over again to its audience…

Social media spotlight

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and other elected officials called out social media platforms on Sunday. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen wrote that “social media continues to be a key source of radicalization for many terrorists, and it’s clear that social media companies are not capable of policing themselves to the extent that is necessary.” He described how the growing discipline of “threat management” may be able to help.

>> Related: The NYT’s Kellen Browning and Ryan Mac have a new story about “the role and responsibility of social media sites in allowing violent and hateful content to proliferate…

“Lone wolf” misses the point

One theme of CNN’s coverage: Enough with the “lone wolf” cliche. It’s just not accurate. Analyst Juliette Kayyem said this really well on air and in a column for The Atlantic. According to the manifesto, she said, the attacker “did not perceive himself as being alone: He had his people; they were there for him.”

“We need to start talking about these incidents in the context of domestic terrorism fueled by White supremacist ideology,” Mara Schiavocampo told me. In this segment, we tried to map the media environment that preys on White fear…

>> Attackers in places like Christchurch, Pittsburgh, El Paso, and now Buffalo are “all part of the organized White power movement,” Kathleen Belew said on PBS. “It’s a movement that is at war on our democracy and on these targeted communities…”

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