The 18-year-old accused of killing 10 people in Buffalo was first questioned by police last May. It was the end of Gendron's senior year of high school, a time when he was isolated and bored and when he began to look at violent, white supremacist forums. He had written about murder/suicide, triggering a mental health evaluation, and an interview with New York state when asked in an economics class assignment. He was released after the teenager shrugged the comment off as a joke.
The chat logs reviewed by Time show that Gendron wrote that down eight months later on the popular app Discord. I am still able to purchase guns because of the light police interest in my plans, he wrote.
The online radicalization that preceded Gendron's attack is a good example of the threat that the Biden administration has vowed to combat. It shows how the U.S. government, from the White House down to local law enforcement officials, is ill-equipped to counter the threat of terrorism. The Buffalo shooting was preventable, experts say, because the tools exist to intervene and possibly stop it, but they are not being used. Similar attacks will surely follow.
There are problems from top to bottom. Red flags that could indicate a person has been radicalized by violent extremists are not being looked at by police or schools. According to former officials, the Department of Homeland Security's programs to train community organizations and law enforcement to detect and investigate links before they become a threat are still in their infancy. Since the Jan. 6 insurrection, attempts to target domestic terrorism have been denounced as politically motivated attempts to crack down on free speech. Although Biden promised to work for a domestic terrorism law during his 2020 campaign, his Administration has so far declined to back bipartisan efforts for such new legislation.
It is unsurprising that constitutional protections for gun rights, free speech and assembly make law enforcement hesitant about digging into far-right rhetoric. After 9/11, the U.S. government built a global intelligence network to defend the homeland, but few of those lessons can be applied to extremists when they are American. The domestic threat continues to grow. Right-wing extremists have killed a total of 122 people in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks, while 107 people have been killed by jihadist terrorists, according to data compiled by New America.
The Justice Department has struggled to allocate law enforcement resources to keep up with the growing number of federal investigations into violent domestic extremists. There are dozens of local organizations with proven programs waiting for a chance to help at a local level before extremist radicalization spills into violence. It is sad that it takes an attack, but let this be a wake-up call.
They are fighting blind, inside the Biden Administration's battle against far-right extremists.
President Joe Biden allocated millions of federal dollars to fight domestic terrorism in his first days in office. The effort faced many challenges. The U.S. has more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world and an epidemic of mass shootings, which is why far-right-wing extremists are a problem worldwide. The American commitment to free speech and constraints on law enforcement make it hard to counter movements that exist largely in the shadows of cyberspace.
Biden stood before mourners and residents in Buffalo and said that white supremacy is a poison.
The president may be willing to call the Buffalo massacre terrorism, but his Justice Department is not. Under federal law, domestic terrorism is not a crime, political speech is protected, and any attempt to expand federal investigative tools into Americans is likely to be met with political backlash from the right and left alike.
In a conference call over the weekend with Buffalo community leaders, FBI Director Christopher Wray offered his condolences to the victims, but carefully constructed the words he used to describe the shooting.
This reluctance is making it hard to prioritize domestic extremism. It's more difficult to keep accurate statistics of domestic terror incidents because of the inconsistent categorization of hate crimes.
The legal terms that US law enforcement officials must use to charge domestic terrorists in absence of a federal statute range from hate crimes to firearms offenses. Biden had promised to work for a domestic terrorism law during his 2020 campaign, but his administration has so far proven reluctant to publicly back several bipartisan efforts to write such new legislation. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act had bipartisan support in the House. The legislation was turned against it in the intervening months by Republicans who said it was just another way of persecuting conservatives for political reasons.
A senior administration official told Time that the White House isn't against new legislation, but is cautious.
Under existing authorities, the administration is pursuing a strategy to tackle domestic extremism. A new unit of lawyers was established by the Justice Department. The FBI had more than doubled its domestic terrorism caseload last year. The first-ever U.S. domestic terrorism strategy was released by the White House in June.
State and local programs that try to prevent people from joining militant groups or committing violent acts will get $77 million in federal grants after the DHS labeled domestic violent extremism as a national priority area. The Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) program helps local communities combat extremists.
Search for Common Ground opened a U.S. office in 2021 when it became clear there was demand for their expertise, despite being a nonprofit organization that traditionally worked on Extremism issues in Africa and the Middle East. They are working with a faith-based organization to make sure the propaganda doesn't spread in Tarrant County.
Ryan Greer, a former DHS official who now studies Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, said that more must be done.
TVTP funding has not changed since the fiscal year 2021, which was drawn up by the Trump Administration. The administration clearly prioritized the issue, but we need to hear more from them on what they are doing and whether they are open to doing more.
Write to W.J. Hennigan and Vera Bergengruen.