The Washington Post
By Jacob Bogage, Mark Berman and Annie Gowen
BUFFALO — President Biden on Tuesday called the attack at a grocery store here over the weekend “domestic terrorism,” speaking just days after a gunman shot and killed 10 people.
Decrying what he called a “murderous, racist rampage,” Biden spoke at length in Buffalo about white supremacy, saying the bigoted ideology has no role in American life.
“White supremacy is a poison … and it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes,” he said. “No more.”
Biden and his wife Jill traveled to Buffalo to meet with leaders and residents of this mourning city three days after a gunman opened fire at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Authorities believe the suspect posted a rambling screed online filled with racist rhetoric.
During his remarks Tuesday afternoon, Biden spoke about the victims of the shooting, who included devoted grandparents and a retired police officer.
“In America, evil will not win, I promise you,” he said. “Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word.”
Biden has long spoken out about the dangers of White supremacy and has repeatedly referenced the white pride march in Charlottesville in 2017 as one of his chief inspirations to run for the presidency. Biden invoked that episode again on Tuesday, reiterating that it was what drove him to run for office once again.
The Bidens traveled to the grocery store where the rampage took place before meeting with families of the victims as well as first responders.
“The fact that the president is coming here shows how seriously he takes the issue of availability of guns, mass shootings, hate speech and the things we are dealing with out of this tragedy,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (D) said at a news conference Monday. He added that he has asked the White House for “additional resources for the community,” without providing specifics on what those resources are.
Authorities say Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old from Conklin, N.Y., armed himself with a rifle, dressed in full tactical gear and descended upon the Tops supermarket in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon, gunning down shoppers outside and in the grocery store’s aisles. He surrendered at the scene, was taken into custody and later charged with first-degree murder.
Investigators believe the attacker wrote and posted a rambling, 180-page rant online filled with bigoted comments in which he labels himself a white supremacist. In addition to the state murder charge, officials are investigating the shooting suspect for potential federal crimes.
Earlier on Tuesday, Biden visited a memorial across from the supermarket and placed flowers there, a pool report said.
The presidential visit closed off-street access to nearly the entire eastern side of the city, with snowplows posted to block major intersections.
Schools along Biden’s route made announcements over the public address systems for teachers to bring their classes outside so they could see the president’s motorcade drive by. One driver, meanwhile, lamented the maze of closed streets, saying Biden “didn’t have to come here” and “could have sent us a message.” Once the Bidens left the store, some streets began reopening in the area.
The investigation into the shooting is still unfolding, with authorities warning that it will be lengthy. New details have continued to emerge since the shooting, with Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia saying Monday that investigators had learned that the shooting suspect was in the area in early March, apparently part of his months-long planning for the attack.
Gramaglia spoke after The Washington Post published an investigation discussing an online account in which someone identifying himself as Gendron had written about going to the same supermarket in early March for an apparent reconnaissance trip and being confronted by a security guard.
At the time, the suspected attacker wrote, he was compiling detailed plans on the location, according to the messages reviewed by The Post.
It’s not clear if the security guard who confronted him was the same retired police officer, Aaron Salter Jr., who attempted to stop the shooter Saturday and was killed — and who is now being hailed as a hero.
The document revealed the lengths to which the suspected attacker went to plan the violent rampage, describing the store as “attack area 1” and two more Buffalo locations as areas to “shoot all blacks.” He recorded travel paths to each one, the time needed for each shootout and the estimate that more than three dozen people would be fatally shot in all, the document said.
Investigators are in the process of assembling a detailed timeline of the suspected attacker’s actions in the days leading up to the shootings, officials have said.
The FBI has seized computers and other materials from the house in suburban Conklin, N.Y., outside Binghamton where the suspect lived with his parents and two brothers, hoping to learn more about the online activity of the young man, described as a quiet loner by high school classmates.
Officials believe that the suspected attacker is also the likely author of the rambling diatribe discovered online just after the shootings in which the author espoused racist beliefs, discussed weapons and said he was radicalized during the early days of the pandemic.
Last summer, the suspected attacker allegedly made comments that raised concerns he might be planning a shooting at graduation-related events, police said. He was taken by police for a mental evaluation but was not charged.
Gramaglia added that officials had considerable work to do exploring the digital footprint left behind by the suspected attacker. They have already obtained and executed some search warrants, he said, with more to come.
Gramaglia also said Monday that the attacker also apparently planned to move on to other locations after opening fire at the Tops on Saturday.
Also on Monday, high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family of Buffalo shooting victim Ruth Whitfield, 86, appeared at a different news conference and called Saturday’s attack an act of terrorism. He urged federal and state law enforcement officials to prosecute Gendron as a terrorist.
“What happened on Saturday was an act of domestic terrorism, and we must define it as such,” Crump said.
He also vowed legal action against news outlets, politicians and far-right leaders who amplify the racist “great replacement theory,” that the shooting suspect allegedly embraced, which focuses on baseless claims of a plot to replace the White population with immigrants.
“It’s these people who are accomplices to this mass murder,” Crump said. “Even if they didn’t pull the trigger, they loaded the gun for this white supremacist.”
Republicans such as Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican, and other GOP lawmakers have been criticized for echoing the replacement theory — that claims a cabal is wiping out White Americans to shrink their power. Stefanik and other conservatives, including some media figures, have alluded to the tenets of the far-right ideology in advance of the midterm elections in November.