On the far-right message board that the alleged Buffalo mass shooter said radicalized him, users have mentioned the racist and false conspiracy theories related to the so-called “great replacement” more than 90,000 times, according to Media Matters’ internal research.
On May 14, a man allegedly shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, using weapons adorned with white supremacist messaging. A writing uploaded online before the attack, and allegedly from the shooter, invoked the false “great replacement” conspiracy theory as the motive for the attack. The conspiracy theory claims that certain people, particularly Jews, are trying to “replace” white Americans and remove them from power. It was originally popularized in far-right online spaces but has since been espoused by some high-ranking Republican politicians such as Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, as well as conservative media personalities like Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
The shooter’s alleged writing claimed that he “started browsing 4chan in May 2020” during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, going on 4chan’s “/k/” board (where the extremist “boogaloo” movement originated) “because I’m a gun nut.” He “eventually wound up on /pol/” -- referring to the message board site’s “Politically Incorrect” forum -- from which he “learned” racist tenets of the great replacement conspiracy theory, blaming “Jews and the elite” for causing “white genocide.”
A review by Media Matters has found that, leading up to the Buffalo mass shooting, users on “/pol/” had mentioned language related to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory tens of thousands of times.
A search of the terms “great replacement,” “white replacement,” or “white genocide” since July 2018 (the earliest data obtained by Media Matters) on “/pol/” found the terms mentioned more than 90,000 times. This figure almost certainly undercounts the amount of hate-filled traffic on the forum. Notably, the biggest spike in mentions of those terms during that time frame came in March 2019, during the Christchurch, New Zealand, mass shooting that killed 51 people and was actively applauded by 4chan users. Writings attributed to both the Christchurch gunman and the alleged Buffalo shooter claim the attacks were inspired by the same conspiracy theory.
The Buffalo shooting appears to join a list of other shootings connected to 4chan, and the even more extreme 8chan (which was relaunched in 2019 as 8kun), including a recent shooting in Washington, D.C., the El Paso mass shooting, the Christchurch shooting, and the Poway, California, shooting. (The QAnon conspiracy theory also originated from the chan sites.) And, like some of those previous attacks, some users on “/pol/” cheered the Buffalo shooting. The chan sites have been a recruitment ground for white nationalist groups, and “/pol/” has seen a surge in hate speech in recent years.