New York Attorney General Letitia James is wasting no time trying to get to the bottom of the Buffalo mass shooter’s intentions. In particular, she is looking to Twitch, 4chan, 8chan, and Discord for information about the shooter, his motives, his influences, and other potential attackers that may be lurking in the shadows for a prime opportunity to attack. The accused gunman and avowed white supremacist has already left behind a sizeable trail of breadcrumbs about himself.
In a statement on May 18th, James described why they are going after this so fiercely. “The terror attack in Buffalo has once again revealed the depths and danger of the online forums that spread and promote hate. The fact that an individual can post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence, and then stream it for the world to see is bone-chilling and unfathomable.” She then went on to condemn the “real-world devastation that is borne of these dangerous and hateful platforms” as she looks to “shine a spotlight on this alarming behavior and take action to ensure it never happens again.”
These kinds of message boards have been in existence for years. From al-Qaeda to the KKK to inner-city gangs to the Black Guerillas, they have been used to pass messages back and forth, often in code. While much of these messages are nothing more than chest-thumping, the American government has been aware of their existence, but largely ignored them. Without any real dedication of resources to internal terrorism, they are often caught with their pants down when these attacks occur.
The 180-page manifesto the shooter left behind, along with the live-streamed evidence of his attacks should certainly keep him locked away for a long time. On Discord, his posts about the events were a private-invite-only group that only opened 30 minutes before the shootings. Hardly enough time to decipher everything and get law enforcement into action. Given the homework the shooter did before planning his attacks, he made certain he accomplished his goals for the 230-mile trip.
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Considering the distance to Rochester or Albany, he could have chosen a much closer city with a large population. Instead, he chose NY’s second-largest city and an area heavily populated with African Americans. One that provided easy in and easy out, with multiple potential target stores nearby. All of this adds up to a man who was methodical in his planning, and someone who knew exactly what he was going after when he did this. He wasn’t going to leave things to chance, so his tremendous digital footprint should be providing the AG with many answers to the questions surrounding the shooting.
NY’s new Governor Kathy Hochul condemned the attacks at an appearance on May 15th. In her statement to the packed Buffalo’s True Bethel Baptist Church, she went on the offensive toward these companies. Went on to talk about “these instruments of this evil, the social media platforms that allow this hatred to ferment and spread like a virus — it’s spreading around the world as we speak.” She continued to demand CEOs and other social media leaders be “held accountable and assure all of us that they’re taking every step humanly possible to be able to monitor this information.”
While the CEOs of these companies would say that they are already doing that, a quick look at your Facebook feed will tell you otherwise. Mixed in with cat videos, memes, staged heartwarming stories, and jokes are incredibly horrific messages. People from racist, hate-filled, and destructive organizations are spreading their message everywhere. Problem is, it’s people who look like the shooter (white men) who are being targeted while all the other hate is allowed to run rampant. While it’s noble that she wants to clean things up, she needs to ensure it’s cleaned on all sides.