Buffalo Shooter’s Inspiration | Reducing Online Extremism | Foreign Hackers & Civil Litigation, and more

RAND Europe researchers undertook a systematic analysis, similar to that of the original study, and turned the spotlight on Europe, asking whether there is evidence for the trends, drivers, and consequences of Truth Decay on the other side of the Atlantic. And, if any, how that evidence compares with what was found in the United States.
For us researchers, and as citizens of the world who are active on social media, it was not surprising to find that key trends of Truth Decay are occurring in Europe. For example, there is an increasing disagreement about facts and data, a blurring of the line between opinion and fact, and a declining trust in formerly respected sources of information. Disinformation makes it easier to cast doubt on everything that audiences see and hear online. It is a tool being used by state actors, for instance by Russia to confuse the truth about events in Ukraine.

Deflection and Denial Following the Buffalo Terror Attack  (Sara Aniano, GNET)

On Saturday, 14 May 2022, 18-year-old Payton Gendron drove to a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, live-streaming himself on Twitch as he shot thirteen people, killing ten. Records of his social media content circulated online shortly thereafter, including a 180-page manifesto espousing racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiratorial rhetoric. According to the document, Gendron chose that supermarket because it was located in a predominantly Black area, which served one of his central motivations: The “Great Replacement Theory”, a conspiracy theory which posits that the white race is being systematically replaced by non-whites. In many cases, this effort is believed to be spearheaded by powerful Jewish entities.

Several of Gendron’s tactics, as well as parts of his manifesto, were copied directly from that of Brenton Tarrant – the terrorist who live-streamed himself murdering 51 people and injuring 40 more at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. Despite the explicit proof of the Buffalo shooter’s hate-driven motivations being rooted in far-right, white nationalist ideologies, recent reactions to the attack from right-wing corners of social media exhibit deflection, skepticism, and outright denial of reality.

The Buffalo Shooting Is Part of a Global Network of White Nationalist Terror  (Patrick Smith, NBC News)
The racist attack in Buffalo, New York, is part of a broader movement that experts and officials fear could inspire further white nationalist terror across the world. Though the suspect alone allegedly drove 200 miles from his hometown to carry out the massacre, his apparent online footprint suggests he formed part of an informal global network of radicalized young men inspired by racist conspiracy theories and far-right attacks from Norway to New Zealand. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said this week that the Buffalo shooting “highlights the growing threat of far-right extremism in the U.S. and Europe.” Cities and nations need to unite against this “evolving global danger,” he said. That evolution has helped give age-old racist theories a wide new audience.  And in stark contrast to terrorist threats of the 20th century, governments are now tasked with stopping violence that has origins not in physical terror cells but dispersed online subcultures across the world. “We should have been braced for these attacks,” said Cas Mudde, a Dutch expert in extremism at the University of Georgia. “There have been similar attacks, some prevented, and there will be more, particularly in the U.S., where gun laws are so lax.

Buffalo Shooter’s 673-Page Diary Reveals Descent into Racist Extremism  (Dan Frosch et al., Wall Street Journal)
Days before carrying out one of the deadliest racially motivated attacks in recent U.S. history, Payton Gendron wrote that he’d finally made up his mind. “I just don’t have the time to wait any longer,” he posted online. “I was supposed to do this 2 months ago. But now I finally feel actually ready.” The entry was from a nearly 700-page online diary that Mr. Gendron, an 18-year-old white man, kept for the past several months. Writing under the online pseudonym “Jimboboiii,” he detailed his preparations for the massacre and his embrace of racist conspiracy theories that he said drove him to kill. A link to the diary was posted on a public web forum shortly before Mr. Gendron opened fire at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo last Saturday. The attack left 10 people dead and three more wounded. All but two of his 13 victims were Black. They included an 86-year-old grandmother, a retired Buffalo police lieutenant and a church deacon. Mr. Gendron, who is being held without bail after surrendering to police, pleaded not guilty to a single charge of first degree murder. Federal prosecutors said they are contemplating charging him with hate crimes.

Members of Neo-Nazi Group The Base Convicted in Domestic Terrorism Probe in Michigan  (Jack Nissen, Fox Detroit)
Four men with ties to a white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government and has aspirations of creating a white ethno-state have pleaded guilty to gang membership and weapons charges. The convictions follow a years-long investigation into The Base, which has a loose network of cells around the U.S. That includes in Michigan, where members sought to establish training sites in preparation for what they describe as a coming race war. Two of the members convicted, including the suspected leader of the group Justen Watkins, had been arraigned on charges of being associated with a gang and using computers to commit a crime after they intimidated a family in Dexter in 2019. He was also charged with conspiring to train for a civil disorder, a first in Michigan’s history. Following those charges, a wider investigation was launched with the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force, which uncovered plans by other members of The Base to assess Michigan prisons as potential paramilitary training grounds. “The pleas serve as an example of the FBI’s continued commitment to work alongside its law enforcement partners at every level to protect the security of our nation—even when Federal criminal statutes may not be available,” said James A. Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge at the FBI’s Detroit Division. The Base is a small militant neo-Nazi organization that formed in 2018. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the group embraces “Hitlerian ideology coupled with a mission to prepare for an impending race war.

The Buffalo Shooter’s Inspiration Came from France  (Tom Nagorski and Steve Reilly, Grid)
The theory had existed in other forms,” Josh Lipowsky, senior research analyst for the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, told Grid, “but [Camus’ book] really brought it to the forefront, and we saw several groups latching on to it.” Today, Camus’ theory is central to several far-right parties on the continent, and his general idea — that an invasion of nonwhites risks existential damage to white-majority nations — has captured the imagination of politicians and the media in the U.S. as well. If the Buffalo killer was inspired by the ideas of a French author, he wasn’t the first. On March 15, 2019, a man in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 51 people and injured 40 others in an attack during Friday prayers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. The Christchurch and Buffalo killers both livestreamed their terror; both left behind a racist diatribe; in both cases, their screeds included references to the Great Replacement Theory. The Christchurch attacker actually called his document “The Great Replacement.” The Christchurch killer was said to have corresponded with Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who had left behind a screed of his own nearly eight years before. In his variant, brown-skinned Muslims were a threat to Norwegian society.

How to Fight Foreign Hackers with Civil Litigation  (Kellen Dwyer, Kim Peretti, Emily Skahill. Lawfare)
The Department of Justice dealt a blow to global cybercrime on April 6 with the takedown of a massive botnet controlled by “Sandworm”—the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) unit responsible for the 2017 NotPetya attack, among others. This operation reflects the department’s strategy of prioritizing what it calls “disruptive capabilities” over long-term plays for arrests and extraditions. Not to be outdone, in the same week, Microsoft obtained a court order to seize seven domains being used by another GRU unit, best known as “Fancy Bear,” to target Ukrainian institutions. The two operations illustrate an important truth: The Justice Department’s best tools for fighting cybercrime can also be wielded by any private company willing to invest the necessary resources. And many companies have been eager to do so.

When Strongmen Invade, They Bring Their Pathologies with Them  (Akar Bharadvaj and Kevin Woods, War on the Rocks)
A paranoid but intelligent authoritarian leader decides to invade a neighboring country with little notice. He seeks to improve his country’s regional heft, settle historical grievances, and fight against “revolutionary” ideas. He expects to achieve significant military objectives in a matter of days, and therefore has insufficient plans and logistics for the long-term conflict that ensues. He wants to exploit his enemy’s internal political instability, but the invasion only solidifies popular support for the neighboring government. He overvalues his military’s sizable numerical advantage, but undervalues less quantifiable factors such as morale, combat effectiveness, and the operating environment. He has selected his advisors and officer corps based on loyalty instead of competence, and so he believes them to be unstoppable. He is shocked when they perform poorly. He tries to narrow his objectives and still claim victory.
He is not Vladimir Putin. He is Saddam Hussein. The epigram above is an Iraqi general describing the 1980 invasion of Iran, not the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
While regime type is just one of many factors in combat effectiveness, looking closely at what unfolded in the Middle East two generations ago can help understand what is happening today in Ukraine. The parallels suggest that Russia has much learning and adapting to do, and it may escalate to buy the time needed to adapt.