WASHINGTON — The son of a black woman shot dead by a white supremacist on Tuesday pleaded with members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to take action against such domestic terrorism.
The Buffalo, New York, shooter was motivated by the “great replacement theory”, a racist conspiracy theory that claims that increasing numbers of immigrants and people of color will lead to the extinction of the white race, according to the National Forum on Immigration.
“It comes under the banner of white supremacy,” said Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his mother, Ruth, when the 18-year-old white supremacist traveled to a predominantly black Buffalo neighborhood on May 14 and killed 10 blacks.
Whitfield spoke about her mother and how it is impossible for her family to understand that she was taken from them “by someone full of so much hate”.
“My mother’s life mattered,” he said. “Your actions here will tell us if and how much it meant to you.”
Witnesses at the hearing also predicted that the spread of white supremacy in the United States will increase acts of domestic terrorism.
“Extremism is still a sad reality in America – we must do everything to make America safer,” said Dick Durbin, Democrat and President of Illinois. of the Judiciary Committee. “Buffalo, New York, was an illustration of why it’s needed.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden met with Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, on Tuesday to discuss gun control negotiations in the Senate, following the mass shooting in New York and the massacre of the May 24 in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 school children and two teachers were shot dead.
Murphy is part of a small bipartisan group of senators working to hammer out a deal to secure 10 Republican votes for gun legislation.
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will introduce a larger package of eight gun control bills for a vote on Wednesday. He is not expected to progress in the equally divided Senate.
The package would be raise the age of purchase of semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, create new requirements for the storage of firearms in a home with children, prevent firearm trafficking, require that all firearms are traceable and close the loophole on hump stocksdevices that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic weapons, among others.
The Biden administration released a statement in support of the package.
“The president called on Congress to act now to reduce gun violence and save lives,” the White House said. “This legislation would make significant progress towards realizing this call to action.”
It’s no longer a fringe theory
At the Senate hearing, two witnesses, Michael German of the Brennan Center for Justice and Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, warned the senators that while the great replacement theory is not new, it is no longer a fringe idea.
They said it became mainstream due to media coverage on outlets such as Fox News, as well as claims from right-wing politicians.
“We must be prepared for possible political violence in the future,” said Pape, who is also the director of the Chicago Project On Security And Threats.
The Department of Homeland Security posted a review Tuesday who said, due to recent violent attacks on communities of color, in the coming months”we expect the threat environment to become more dynamic as multiple high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets.
“These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, US critical infrastructure, media and perceived ideological opponents,” the DHS summary states.
“Threat actors have recently mobilized against violence due to factors such as personal grievances, reactions to current events, and adherence to violent extremist ideologies, including racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism or anti-government/anti-authority,” the DHS summary reads.
January 6 attack
Pape said his research showed that a key characteristic of the more than 800 people accused of participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is that they are “middle-class whites residing in the counties where the share of white population is lowest – exactly who would most likely fear the great replacement as portrayed by prominent political and media leaders.
He said the white supremacist attack in Buffalo was a prime example. He added that the last time the United States saw middle-class white Americans involved in political violence was during the second expansion of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
Durbin said mass shootings targeting places of worship and communities of color were increasing, adding that the first hearing he called on domestic terrorism was 10 years after a sikh temple was targeted. Seven worshipers died.
Durbin asked Pape what role social media played, as well as easy access to firearms used in mass shootings.
The weapons combined with “volatile ideas and beliefs in the mainstream,” Pape said. “You have the combination of those two, which is why we see a lot more of these events in the United States. It’s a deadly cocktail that promises more violence to come.
Pape added that media personalities and politicians who directly or indirectly embrace the grand replacement theory are often rewarded, from high cable news ratings to campaign donations.
Pape said mass shootings linked to the grand replacement theory include the 2019 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshipers were killed, and the 2019 El Paso shooting in a Hispanic neighborhood , where 23 Latinos were killed while shopping at Walmart.
German, a former FBI agent, said there needs to be a federal domestic terrorism registry, adding that it’s not something the Justice Department tracks.
“Failure to recognize the organized, interstate nature of violent white supremacists and far-right militant groups loses intelligence that could be used to prepare for and perhaps prevent future attacks,” he said. .
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, also asked one of the witnesses, Justin Herdman, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, what role social media has played in spreading misinformation.
“It certainly didn’t play a positive role in spreading misinformation and radicalizing people who would harm others,” Herdman said.
Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, said a significant driver of domestic terrorism is the accessibility of assault weapons.
Free speech issues
The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said the threat from domestic terrorism is constantly evolving and can also include political violence.
“We must condemn all political violence,” he said, adding that “at the same time, we must protect freedom of expression.”
He cited the 2017 shooting at the Congressional baseball game, where Republicans were specifically targeted by a left-leaning political activist, as an example of extreme political violence.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, also raised concerns about free political speech. She asked one of the witnesses, Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University School of Law, explains how law enforcement can distinguish between extreme speech and free speech.
“The problem is if you tie a particular ideology to the FBI,” Turley said, adding that the United States persecuted people for being Communists and Marxists.
Senate Republicans in late May, block an invoice it would require federal agencies to monitor incidents of domestic terrorism, including those related to white supremacy. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said the bill would label members of the police and military services as white supremacists.
Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, told the hearing he was worried about the fate of the country.
“On that fateful day in Buffalo, we realized the danger of allowing hatred, in any form, to fester in our country,” he said. “It tears at the general fabric of our democracy. Will we be better at being a multicultural nation? »