Family members of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield who was killed during a mass shooting at Tops market listen as attorney Benjamin Crump speaks during a press conference on May 16, 2022, in Buffalo, New York. A gunman opened fire at the store on Saturday killing ten people and wounding another three. The attack was believed to be motivated by racial hatred. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden on Tuesday commemorated the victims of last weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, and condemned the ideology that drove the killer to “carry out a murderous, racist rampage” at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
In a visit to the Upstate New York city, Biden and other New York Democrats, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, rebuked the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory the shooting suspect adhered to and called for federal action to restrict access to guns.
But before talking about gun policy or replacement theory, Biden named the victims in the Saturday rampage at Tops Friendly Markets. The Buffalo News reported that 13 people were shot and all 10 victims who died were Black, in the city’s worst shooting in history.
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They included 77-year-old Pearl Young, a grandmother and public school teacher who also ran a local food pantry, and Andre Mackneil, a restaurant worker who was buying a cake for his son’s third birthday.
“His son’s celebrating a birthday asking, ‘Where’s Daddy?’” Biden said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has said the crime is being investigated as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism, with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives working in conjunction with Buffalo police.
A ‘poison’ in U.S. society
After that introduction memorializing the victims, Biden focused his remarks on white supremacy, which he called “a poison … running through our body politic.”
He alluded to politicians and media members who exploited the so-called great replacement theory — a false view that holds white Americans are under threat of extinction by a plot to systematically replace them with nonwhite people.
The suspected Buffalo killer, 18-year-old white man Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York, reportedly posted a 180-page document filled with “great replacement” talking points before traveling to the supermarket on Buffalo’s predominately Black East Side to commit the killings. Gendron has been charged with one count of murder and will return to court on Thursday for a felony hearing, officials said.
“The internet has radicalized angry, alienated, lost and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be ‘replaced,’” Biden said. “I and all of you reject the lie. I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and profit.”
Biden did not specifically name anyone who exploited that lie for their own gain. White replacement is a frequent theme on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program and leading Republicans, including the No. 3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik of New York, have echoed its core premise. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado has also amplified its tenets.
“Yes, there is definitely a ‘replacement theory’ that’s going on right now,” Boebert said in a video posted to social media.
Earlier Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration was choosing not to name anyone associated with the ideology, to deny them attention.
“The people who spread this filth know who they are, and they should be ashamed of themselves,” she told reporters en route to Buffalo. “But I’m not going to give them or [the] obnoxious ideas they’re pushing the attention that they desperately want.”
Schumer writes to Fox executives
Schumer took a different approach, writing to Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and three other Fox executives Tuesday, calling for an end to the airing of great replacement views. Carlson was carbon copied on the letter.
“This pernicious theory, which has no basis in fact, has been injected into the mainstream thanks in large part to a dangerous level of amplification by your network and its anchors,” Schumer wrote.
In a Tuesday afternoon tweet, Schumer said Carlson had invited him on the program to “debate the letter.” Schumer declined, he said.
On his Monday show, Carlson distanced himself from Gendron’s writings and accused Democrats of using the tragedy against him.
“Because one mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, you cannot be allowed to express your political views out loud,” he said. “That is what they are telling you. That is what they wanted to tell you for a long time, but Saturday’s massacre gives them a pretext and justification.”
A representative for Fox News did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
The letter followed a Monday floor speech Schumer gave that also called out Carlson by name and linked great replacement ideology to former President Donald Trump.
“Unfortunately, with each passing year, it seems harder and harder to ignore that replacement theory, and other racially motivated views are increasingly coming out into the open and given purported legitimacy by some MAGA Republicans and cable news pundits,” Schumer said Monday.
Schumer said the shooter’s goal was to kill as many Black people as possible. Hochul noted Gendron drove three hours and chose the location specifically with that goal in mind.
Biden called the shooting “domestic terrorism.”
Biden said radicalization could not be stopped, but that the use of the internet to advance its dangerous effects possibly could be.
“We can’t prevent people from being radicalized to violence,” he said. “But we can address the relentless exploitation of the internet to recruit and mobilize terrorism.”
Biden linked the Buffalo attack to shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and three Asian-American spas in Atlanta last year and to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that he said inspired him to run for president.
Charlottesville rally goers chanted replacement theory slogans. Trump later defended the rally, calling some participants “very good people.”
Hate and guns a ‘lethal combination’
Hochul blamed the shooting on a mix of hateful ideology and easy access to guns.
“It is that lethal combination that resulted in the loss of 10 decent, good people,” she said.
Gendron used a rifle with a modified magazine that she said was illegal in New York. She called for “a national gun policy,” saying that the killer easily brought a magazine from Pennsylvania that was not permitted under New York state law.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat who represents Buffalo, also called for a national gun law.
Biden called for keeping assault weapons off the streets, saying a previous ban enacted when he was U.S. Senate Judiciary chairman led to a decrease in shootings. Congress did not renew that ban when it expired in 2004.
Schumer said he would work in the Senate to combat white supremacy and rid “our streets of weapons of war.”
Congressional Democrats have for years routinely tried to pass federal gun legislation after mass shootings, but have not been successful.
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