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Buffalo mass shooting exposes ‘blind spots’ over white terrorism: expert

Global News logo Global News 2022-05-22 Amanda Connolly
People hug outside the scene after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex) © AP Photo/Joshua Bessex People hug outside the scene after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

The Buffalo supermarket mass shooting by an apparent white supremacist lays bare what one expert is calling the "blind spots" in how authorities treat white and far-right terrorism.

In an interview with The West Block's Mercedes Stephenson, Queen's University assistant professor Amarnath Amarasingam said researchers studying violent extremism, like him, are learning from the plethora of records the alleged shooter left behind on how he prepared for the deadly attack.

"I can guarantee you, if this was a young Muslim or a young person of colour walking around a grocery store, taking pictures and drawing out a map of what the inside of the grocery store looks like, it would have resulted in a lot more than a security guard kind of wagging his finger at him," Amarasingam said.

"I think some of our blind spots of what white terrorism looks like, what far-right terrorism looks like, it needs to be reassessed. And that's why I think the Buffalo attack is quite interesting or important for future counterterrorism."

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Amarasingam, who is one of the leading Canadian researchers on radicalization and violent extremism, described the records left behind by the attacker, now in police custody, as "quite unique."

They include not only a so-called manifesto outlining his professed reasons for attacking the supermarket and killing 13 people, the majority of them Black, but also roughly 700 pages worth of what Amarasingam described as a sort of "diary" of daily postings on the gaming platform Discord.

Those postings describe killing a cat, surveilling the Tops grocery store that the shooter allegedly later attacked, and his user account being flagged by Discord when he tried to upload the manifesto of the far-right extremist behind the deadly Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings.

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What is white replacement theory? Police probe conspiracy’s role in Buffalo shooting

Police in the U.S. have described the supermarket attack as "racially motivated" and it is now being investigated as a federal hate crime. The Associated Press reported the alleged shooter had spent time on websites propagating the "great replacement" or "white replacement" conspiracy theory. That's the baseless conspiracy theory that governments in countries where white people have held political and demographic power are deliberately trying to displace white people by bringing in non-white immigrants.

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Long relegated to the fringe corners of the internet, the conspiracy is spreading online and gaining mainstream attention as far-right figures on cable and social media platforms spread it to their audiences.

Amarasingam said the theory's new prominence comes amid "a current of this kind of populist anxiety or demographic panic around what increased immigration means."

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And Canada is not immune, he noted, adding the Quebec City mosque attack and the attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., were influenced by similar rhetoric. One of the prominent figures in the Ottawa blockade earlier this year, Pat King, had also posted similarly-themed content.

"So this idea that kind of far-right presence doesn't exist in Canada, I think is a result of willful blindness or at least amnesia," he said.

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Canada’s spy service boosts attention to ‘ideological’ domestic extremism

Race replacement theory is part of the spectrum of far-right conspiracies raising growing concern among police and national security agencies, prompting them to focus on the threat posed by ideologically motivated violent extremism.

The term, often shortened to IMVE, refers to a broad swath of anti-immigrant, anti-government, antisemitic, and anti-women extremist ideologies with overlapping and deep roots in white supremacy.

IMVE is a major concern for Canadian national security authorities.

Global News reported in March that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service now spends as much time monitoring domestic ideological extremism as it does the threat posed by religious terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda.

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