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Extremism researchers are examining the digital fingerprint allegedly left by the man accused of shooting 13 people, killing 10 of them, in a racially motivated attack at a Buffalo supermarket.
Among the documents is a nearly 600-page chat log written by a person who identifies himself as Payton Gendron, the same name as the murder suspect, documenting approximately six months of personal thoughts and activities leading up to the offensive. The record, created on social chat platform Discord, portrays a committed racist obsessed with the mechanics of planning and executing a deadly mass shooting.
Among the questions the experts bring to the paper are: what red flags might have been missed by those around this individual? Where would there have been an intervention? And what insight might it offer into what differentiates someone who commits a violent attack from others who may share similar extremist views?
But they also warn that the dossier should be read with some skepticism.
“Although he apparently candidly sets forth his thoughts and observations on the world [and] his planning for the attack, he’s also writing for an audience,” said Emerson Brooking, resident senior researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “So that means that any content in the document should be treated with some degree of suspicion.
The diary, which appears to have functioned as a kind of digital diary for its author, was kept on the Discord chat platform. Shortly before the attack, its author shared a link pointing to a PDF printout of the diary on another social media platform. The record sometimes suggests that the author was speaking to an audience during the six months he published on the newspaper. But a Discord spokesperson said no one else appeared to have had access to the server just before the ransack.
“About 30 minutes before the attack…a small group of people were invited and joined the server,” a Discord spokesperson wrote in a statement. “Prior to this, our records indicate that no other person has viewed the log chat log on this private server.”
Although Discord took down the server where the document and chat log were located, copies continue to circulate online. Throughout, the diary writer writes extensively about his efforts to acquire and test the equipment for the attack, and his process for determining where it would take him. He periodically keeps track of mundane daily details, such as his exercise routine and food intake. But the researchers note that content relating to the author’s racist and anti-Semitic beliefs largely comes from other sources.
“He often lets the manifestos of former white supremacist terrorists speak for him,” Brooking said.
The author of the document indicates several times that he modified the discussion log before making it public. That, and the timeline of entries that show blocks of missing dates, have sparked as much interest around what’s missing from the record as what’s inside.
“It’s kind of like why did he delete this whole section?” said Kesa White, program research associate at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab. “Someone could have had access to information [about his planning the attack] but he deleted it because he was incriminating someone.”
The writings suggest that a livestreamed video of another white terror attack that took place in 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 people were killed, was the inspiration behind the Buffalo Massacre. And from the beginning of the disc, it is clear that the writer had embarked on a path of violence.
“What really stands out is the inevitability with which he talks about the attack. He decided months in advance that he was going to murder people for this racist cause,” Brooking said. “And although he often expresses doubts and suicidal thoughts, he still considers it inevitable that he will do this thing.”
Red flags and missed signs
According to the newspaper, the author’s suicidal thoughts have come to the attention of others on at least one occasion. In an incident that he returns to several times, he recounts being sent to the emergency room for almost an entire day in May 2021 after writing “murder/suicide” in response to the question “What do you want to do when will you retire?” on a school assignment. Calling it a “bad experience”, he described it as a significant moment for him.
“This experience has only proven my belief that people, even certified doctors, don’t care to help you,” he wrote.
He noted that at that time he was already considering an attack, so he lied and said he was joking. “That’s why I believe I can still buy guns,” he wrote.
The document also raises questions about his parents’ knowledge of his activities and mental state. In one instance, he wrote about the pursuit and beheading of a cat. Then he wrote that his mother had helped him bury him.
“It’s a really big deal,” said White, whose research also includes work on serial killers. “See, that’s one of the great things that serial killers have in common… [is] the killing of animals. So all the red flags were there.”
The writings also raise questions about whether administrators at the school at SUNY Broome, where the suspect was enrolled in an engineering science program, missed any warning signs. The author’s logbook shows that over time he spent more and more time preparing for the mass shooting. Eventually, he writes that he dropped out of college because he had missed so many classes.
In an email to NPR sent Saturday evening, a SUNY Broome spokesperson confirmed that the suspect is not currently listed. But the statement said the university “will rely on investigative agencies to release any additional information, as appropriate.”
When asked specifically if the school had missed any red flags, a spokesperson for SUNY Broome declined to comment on Friday and referred to the statement previously made.
“I wonder why an intervention didn’t take place?” said Brooking. “How he fell so completely through the cracks and for much of a year considered writing a manifesto and planning to commit an act of terrorism his full-time job.”
Unique concern about this online journal
The digital newspaper claims the author was first exposed to the racist conspiracy theory known as the Great Replacement, then inspired to carry out a mass shooting, by documents he accessed online on the Christchurch shooter. It also cites screeds published by a number of other violent extremists, including a domestic terrorist who killed 77 people in attacks in Norway in 2011. Extremism researchers fear writings and videos suspected of being linked to the Buffalo shooter only adds to the radicalizing material. that copycats watch online, and that they may even prove more harmful than what was available before the attack.
“I am very worried about this because for other young men in his position, they are going to find these documents and they are going to be inspired by them because they could read the words of a young man who reminds them of themselves. , said Brooke.
Brooking notes that at several points in the diary, the writer expresses doubts about the carrying out of the attack and even acknowledges the humanity of some of its potential victims. On a trip to Buffalo in March, where he said he visited the city to map the attack in more detail, he writes that he suffered a panic attack.
“I find this concerning because it opens the door for other would-be shooters to sympathize with him in a way they couldn’t with other terrorists,” Brooking said. “They could read the words of a young man who reminds them of themselves. And it’s this personal element of these documents that I think could be one of their darkest legacies in the years to come. “