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Will Buffalo Change Anything?

On Saturday, a white supremacist attack on Buffalo’s Black community left ten people dead and three wounded. In the following interview, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, talks with Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg about how we got here and how to organize against the threat of white nationalism.

In preparation for their conversation, Dunbar-Ortiz and Hogg read the document that is widely purported to be a manifesto written by the Buffalo gunman. The provenance of a document from the murkiest corners of the Internet is difficult to verify, but there is reason to believe this one is what it purports to be. It is, in any case, a mélange of far-right “replacement theory,” anti-Black racist pseudoscience, and virulent anti-Semitism that lays out in detail a white nationalist ideology calling for shootings such as the one in Buffalo.

We asked Dunbar-Ortiz and Hogg to consider whether the shooting in Buffalo differs from other recent mass shootings, and how we might chart the course for a politics that would interrupt the cycle of endless gun violence.

David Hogg: Well, where do we want to start, Roxanne?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Let’s start with guns themselves.

DH: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer came out on the Senate floor and talked about the Buffalo shooting for several minutes, and barely made a mention of background checks, or the fact that he promised over a year ago to introduce them. I’m not dumb; I know it’s not going to pass. But, you know, we still introduce legislation around Roe v. Wade that we know won’t pass. We still introduce legislation around voting rights that won’t pass. It is one of the ways that elected officials can show young people that their vote does matter, even if the legislation is not passing. So it’s hard when someone like Senator Schumer, who claims to be on our side—and historically has been, with supporting things like the Brady Bill—doesn’t show up in the way that we need him to, to show young people that our vote does matter, that the gun violence prevention that young voters want does matter.

RDO: It seems like the Democrats have at this point set aside almost everything except war. Something that has really struck me about this shooting is that it is one of the very few mass shootings in recent years to specifically target a Black community. One of the only others was the Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina.

I haven’t read the whole 180 pages of the shooter’s manifesto—it’s such difficult reading—but from what I’ve read, he’s a bright young man who says, basically, that for the past two years of the pandemic he was bored and occupied his time by researching about these racist theories, such as replacement theory. He was a top student in his high school. He graduated with honors and got into one of the SUNY schools. He’s only eighteen. He lives near Binghamton, where there’s a major SUNY campus. His hometown is in New York on the Pennsylvania line, on the Allegheny Plateau, which is part of Appalachia. It’s kind of the heart of whiteness, you could say. You know, Appalachia is still more than 80 percent white. In his manifesto, he says he had to research to find the closest sizable Black community, and that was 200 miles away. In other words, he grew up without any kind of meaningful contact with Black people at all. And that’s significant when we think about what his research into white supremacy brought out in him, this boy who was from a “nice,” seemingly upper-middle-class home.

DH: I struggle with how to even take his manifesto, because I think that a lot of times, these mass shootings are basically the marketing budget for the shooters’ manifestos. So how can I, as somebody who has somewhat of a platform, talk about it in an ethical way? But I did read all of it minus the parts about what guns he used and such, and, you know, he says himself that he’s a fascist. And when you compare what he’s talking about to the actual policies of the Third Reich, I would say that’s not hyperbole; he really does fit that description to a large extent.

And I just don’t know what we do to combat that ideology. It’s not going to go away. I think it’s only going to get worse with climate change, as there’s billions of climate refugees. That will only exacerbate this fear of the annihilation or depopulation of the white race, a fear that clearly has a stranglehold on some people, some of whom feel empowered to act violently on it. And I have no idea how we actually address this. How do we make people realize that changing demographics aren’t something that you need to be terrified of, and that this racist pseudoscience is not accurate?