• Thu. Jul 7th, 2022

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Buffalo suspect considered attacking elementary schools, churches, according to online chat logs

An account with the same handle used by the primary suspect in the mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store posted in online chats about terrorizing an elementary school, churches and other locations he believed would have high percentages of Black people.

The Discord chat logs show the cold, racist calculus that is believed to have gone into the attack, which killed 10 people and wounded three others at a Buffalo Tops Friendly Market. Discord is a chat app that allows users to create private communities around shared interests.

On Saturday, police arrested Payton S. Gendron, 18, of Conklin, New York, whom they’ve named as the primary suspect and who has been arraigned on one count of first-degree murder.

Gendron appears to have left an extensive internet footprint and integrated his web activities into the shooting. Law enforcement officials have confirmed that Gendron maintained and used accounts on Twitch, Discord and Steam.

Authorities said he appeared to livestream the attack on Twitch, which said that it removed the stream less than two minutes after the violence in the broadcast began and that it “indefinitely suspended” the user.

Authorities say they believe the suspect had a “manifesto” published online days before the shooting, in which he referred to extremist internet destinations and his Discord chat server.

A Discord spokesperson said in a statement Monday that employees extend “our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families, and are doing everything we can to assist law enforcement in the investigation.”

Image: Ten People Killed In Mass Shooting At Buffalo Food Market
People gather Monday at a memorial outside Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y.Scott Olson / Getty Images

Copies of the Discord logs, which are hundreds of pages long and no longer appear to be available on Discord, were posted on other web forums and referred to in the suspect’s document.

In them, the author documented his planning process, which explicitly appeared to begin in December. At the end of the logs, May 11 and 12, the writer posted selfies that match pictures of Gendron, along with images of weapons that later appeared in the livestreamed video from the deadly rampage. The poster claims the photos were taken May 11.

In the chat logs, which appear to have been linked to in a private Discord server before they circulated via download and document websites, the writer identified prospective locations for an attack based on the percentage of Black people he thought would be in the area — first identifying Rochester in December as a potential location before Buffalo.

Shortly before the attack began Saturday, the author sent a list of links of his private writings, along with a link to his Twitch livestream of the attack, to people he had previously interacted with on Discord in other communities about video games or politics.

In February chats, the user identified multiple churches as potential locations for an attack and indicated that there might be multiple locations in the attack.

In multiple posts, the author, who appears to be the suspect in the shooting, floated the idea of attacking an elementary school but noted that school security was a deterrent. 

On May 1, less than two weeks before the attack, the user claimed in one post that he might “also” attack the elementary school but was unclear how he would get in and out of the building. He claimed he had driven by the school during a previous stakeout of Tops.

The author said he was targeting the specific Buffalo elementary school because he believed it had predominantly Black students based on math and science scores he said he had found online. Similarly, the “manifesto” written in Gendron’s name repeatedly posted faulty and discredited data about the intelligence of nonwhite people, falsely pushing conspiracy theories about the size of Black people’s brains and their intelligence.

On Wednesday, the author of the chats wrote about deciding to attack the supermarket instead of more age-specific locations so all Black people would fear future attacks. The author claimed the attack was “only s—posting in real life,” a reference to posting memes simply to elicit negative reactions from viewers or readers.

Throughout the chat logs, the author referred to other mass shootings and their influence on his planning. 

The chats, which the suspect appeared to archive in preparation for the shooting with the intention of publishing them with his “manifesto,” appeared to serve as a diary, as well as a space for planning. Included are unpublished photos of Gendron, personal anecdotes, photos of the author’s weapons and other miscellaneous content.

Discord is a chat app that gained traction among people in online gaming but has quickly become a favorite platform for all types of communities. It has notably struggled to control extremism. Last year, Discord disclosed that it banned more than 2,000 extremist communities in the second half of 2020.

The author of the document said he was specifically radicalized on the 4chan forum, which is a largely unmoderated space that is frequently filled with racist and extremist rhetoric. But Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said online extremists will often use other platforms to spread their ideology. 

“A 4chan or an 8chan is like a nerve center, but most extremists these days will have several accounts and be active on several parts of the internet on several platforms,” he said. 

“They often will still seek out a more mainstream platform to try to broadcast and then circulate manifestos on some of the more underbelly-type places,” Holt said.