On May 14, 2022, Latisha, an assistant office manager at Jefferson Avenue Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York, tried to make herself invisible. Lying behind the customer service desk she dialed 911 and whispered into her phone. The 911 dispatcher yelled at him to speak up. Latisha said: “I fear for my life. I don’t want you to listen to me. Can you send help?” The dispatcher, annoyed, hung up on him and the shooter continued his rampage that claimed ten lives and injured three others.
A cry for help is not necessarily a cry. It can be a terrified whisper, like Latisha’s. It can come from an individual or from an entire community that is under attack. Or from various communities.
The Black community, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the LGBTQ and AAPI communities are all threatened by domestic terrorism inflicted by white supremacists.
Five days after the massacre at the Tops Supermarket, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) a leading anti-hate organization, held a virtual public briefing, with ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL Center on Extremism Director of Content and Editorial Strategy Jessica Reaves, and ADL Regional Director for NY/ NJ, Scott Richman.
The meeting, titled Fighting hate from home: the clear and present danger of conspiracy theorieswas moderated by ADL Vice President of Leadership, Deb Leipzig.
Mr. Greenblatt put it succinctly: “The idea that the simple act of buying food for yourself or your loved ones would be taking a risk is impressive. This was not just another mass shooting. The shooter had planned weeks in advance and drove more than 200 miles to target a major supermarket with black shoppers for an act of debauchery and domestic terrorism. From his spiel we learned that he murdered these blacks to start a war between Jews and Gentiles: the great replacement theory.”
Which is the grand replacement theory? It is a conspiracy theory that there is a non-white invasion going on in this country and that all “legacy Americans” need to be afraid and take action. It takes various forms: “millions of immigrants are illegally stuffing the polls”, “intermarriage is diluting our racial purity”, “they are coming in and taking our jobs”.
Jessica Reaves, who has been tracking domestic terrorism incidents and is an expert on the Great Replacement Theory, said: “It feels practiced and rehearsed. The shooter’s manifesto leaned heavily on the Great Replacement Theory and drew passages from the Christchurch manifesto. In fact, 63% of what he wrote was directly copied. ‘White culture is being replaced.’ It is a toxic rejection of everything this country claims to stand for. It’s too late. Violence is the only solution. The Buffalo shooter targeted the so-called Zionist cabal and George Soros. And just like the Christchurch killer, he traveled hundreds of miles to get to a specific place in a specific neighborhood at just the time most people would be there.”
Ms Reaves pointed out that a good measure of our anger needs to be directed at social media. The Buffalo shooter, according to her research, was influenced by the 4chan platform. Like the Christchurch shooter, he livestreamed his crime and, like the Christchurch and El Paso shooters, he published a manifesto. Ms. Reaves pointed out that these live streams and manifestos are not just the ravings of people with serious problems. Each one is a blueprint, a “how to” that can be shared on social media for anyone who wants to do the same.
ADL continues to push social media platforms to enforce their own guidelines, to make their spaces safer and less inundated with hate. “We don’t believe in censorship,” Greenblatt said. “Stop slander, stop incitement is not the same as stopping free speech.”
Mr. Scott added some perspective to the problem of social media. He said, “The Communication Decency Act of 1996 it was a change from the way it was before. Companies used to be liable if hate speech was put on their platforms. But people did not want to restrict companies on the Internet, they could not have anticipated Facebook and others. We are still feeling the effects of the 1996 Law that acquits online social networks of everything that is published on their platforms.
Hand in hand with social networks are the media. Ms. Reaves pointed out that the media and their personalities have been spreading the replacement conspiracy theory. “So it’s no surprise that it’s picked up and promoted in the media on the airwaves, very accessible.”
Ms Reaves added: “Another part of our outrage must be directed at the politicians and pundits who have spread the Great Replacement Theory. They have been blaming (a political party) or calling it a false flag.”
But beyond our outrage, there is a more important factor to be drawn from the horrifying event at the Jefferson Avenue supermarket. Ms Reaves said: “Above all, we have to learn from this terrible day. Because extremists will also learn from it.”
Communities are calling 911. Will we listen and send help, or should they yell louder and louder before hanging up, to the detriment of all of us?