CST Blog

Hate Fuelled: the role of online platforms inciting murder in Buffalo

19 May 2022

Every Time I think maybe I shouldn’t commit to an attack I spend 5 min of /pol/, then my motivation returns” wrote Payton Gendron, when explaining the ideological journey that led him to murder ten people, mostly African-Americans, at a supermarket in Buffalo on 14 May 2022. He was talking about a message board on the online platform 4chan, and his message is a stark warning that should be taken to heart by police, government, and all tech companies: online hate fuels murder.

The details of the tragedy in Buffalo are still emerging, but one sad reality is clear: the ready and widespread availability of the most extreme, violent content on public-facing social media platforms and websites was fundamental to Gendron’s radicalisation, and if that material was not so easily available then this attack may well not have happened. Gendron is a living embodiment of the deadly impact of the toxic online content CST warned of in our report Hate Fuel: the hidden online world fuelling far right terror, published in June 2020.

One month before that report came out, Gendron started his extremist journey on 4chan where he quickly found footage of the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attacks. CST’s Hate Fuel report highlighted how extreme and terrorist content was openly available on 4chan (alongside Gab, Telegram and Bitchute), specifically picking out the fact that the Christchurch footage was easily accessible.

The fact that this material was so easily available to the public was something that presented a significant risk. Gendron is now the living proof of the damage done by the presence of this material on forums dedicated to hosting this content. Back in 2020, we wrote about the specific danger of the impact that these videos posed:

“The filming and live streaming of terrorist attacks has become an integral part of far right attack planning as it provides new fuel for the hatred that drives this movement. The perpetrators of successful attacks are celebrated and glorified via striking imagery and memes; their videos are designed to mimic popular computer games, particularly first-person shooter games, in which actual deaths are welcomed as ‘high scores’.”

Gendron’s own words are clear about the impact this footage had on him, writing: “live streaming this attack makes a 1000x greater impact I most likely wouldn’t even know about the real problems in the world if Brenton Tarrant didn’t live stream his attack”

The fact that Gendron was able to access, view and analyse Brenton Tarrant’s 2019 attack footage and manifesto 14 months after that attack happened, is a catastrophic failure of inaction that has already cost many lives.

Arguably on its own this footage, while vile and dangerous, is insufficient to motivate an attack; but mixed with the accompanying conspiracy theories, incitement, gifs and memes, they become a lethal incitement to murder. The far right online ecosphere is awash with memes, images and slogans glorifying Brenton Tarrant, Robert Bowers and other terrorists. As Gendron himself wrote: “Meme Robert Bowers back and keep up the members of Brenton Tarrant. Tarrant was a catalyst for me personally”.

CST is far from the only organisation to point out the danger of this online material. These building blocks of radicalisation were obvious to all who were paying attention. Gendron continued his journey of self-radicalisation, finding stories of other attackers and their respective images/gifs and memes on 4chan and elsewhere. These, again, were not secret or hidden but accessible for all to see. Gendron obviously accessed the same or very similar material to that highlighted in our Hate Fuel report. This image of Brenton Tarrant and John Earnest as “Chads” in that report is one example of content that Gendron also shared a version of in his manifesto:

Gendron was a fervent believer in the Great Replacement Theory, describing how he felt that he had “to fight The Great Replacement or it will end us all”. This theory argues that immigration is engineered by Jews to destroy the white race. It is a racism-infused antisemitic conspiracy theory that is so ubiquitous on forums in Gab, Telegram, 4chan, Bitchute and other fringe platforms it required a dedicated section in Hate Fuel.

Gendron’s online journey shows what happens when someone with a susceptible mindset meets the toxicity of the 4chan drug. The detailed accounts in his manifesto and his Discord diary reveal how every visit to these forums seemed to sharpen his motivation and extremism. His admission that he needed to keep going back to the /pol/ board on 4chan to reinforce his motivation suggests a key opportunity: cut the material at the source and the resulting extremism and terrorism is less likely to develop.

Incidentally, CST’s Hate Fuel report highlighted precisely this /pol/ board as a sewer of anti-Jewish incitement. At the time we found at least 26 different threads with explicit calls for Jews to be killed and that had the words “kill” and “Jews” in the title, all created in the twelve months following the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack (this total didn’t even include threads titled in different ways, e.g. “Kill Kikes” or “Kill Jewish people”). As long as this board exists, it will encourage people to murder.

There should be widespread societal outrage at the ease of accessibility of this material. This is not a debate about freedom of speech but an issue of national (and international) security. Sadly, Gendron is also only the tip of the iceberg and there is no way of knowing how many other people are currently on the same path as he was, accessing the very same material that led him to this brutal attack. In a moment of stark honesty, Gendron wrote “Yeah I’m equivalent to the average 4chan degenerate. What else do you expect from a person who barely interacts with regular people?”

Now Gendron has provided a new video of racist murder to encourage future attacks, which is openly available on 4chan and other sites. He will be glorified in memes portraying him as a hero and a saint. This was his intention, and as long as this material is readily available on these platforms, future attacks are guaranteed. We cannot afford more years of inaction that allows this global, far right terrorist movement to continue spreading its hate.

None of the images in this blogpost are taken directly from Gendron’s manifesto or other writings.

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