NAMING TERRORISM: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE BUFFALO ‘SHOOTING’
By: Ava Grace Fritz
The Terrorism Bias
European and North American media has a tendency to conflate acts of terrorism with
Islamic extremism and non-whiteness (Lajevardi, 2021). Meanwhile, violent crimes committed
by white perpetrators motivated by other ideologies, such as, but not limited to, white
supremacism, conveniently escape the “terrorism” label (Corbin, 2017). I argue that this is wildly
unjustified, and that even crimes committed by white perpetrators born and raised in the West
can indeed be classified as terrorist. To this end, I focus on the case of the Buffalo shooting that
occurred on May 14th, 2022, wherein an armed American white supremacist entered a store
frequented by Black customers and proceeded to kill ten and injure three (Prokupezc et al.,
2022). This is an express act of terrorism, and I prove it by first constructing a definition of
terrorism based on prevailing academic literature, and then arguing through court-submitted
evidence that the Buffalo shooting falls squarely under this definition. To my frustration, Western
media insistently names the crime a “mass shooting” or “massacre” in their headlines, but never
“terrorist” (Franklin, 2022; Mckinley et al. 2022; O’sullivan, 2022), demonstrating how white
terrorist acts evade the term, and I intend to show this bias with this article.
Terrorism is a tricky term to define because it is frequently tossed around, sometimes
“careless[ly]”, in popular discourse, and this is a real issue (Richards, 2013, p.X). A
clearly-demarcated definition of terrorism is useful for the development of law surrounding
terror-related crimes and so we can challenge instances of racist bias in its use, as I seek to do
(Richards, 2013). In this section, I will draw upon existing literature and arguments to
First, there is a distinctly ideological character to terrorism, in that it is violence
committed for some political end and not a random act of violence (Richards, 2013). An
accidental explosion, for instance, cannot be considered terrorist. However, importantly, it is also
not an act committed in the name of any particular ideology (i.e., Islamic extremism) because
that would render the concept unreasonably narrow, potentially racist, and would exclude a range
of mass violent crimes that intuition might deem terrorist (Richards, 2013).
Secondly, terrorism is not any particular form or method of violence (Richards, 2013).
For example, some associate terrorism with bombings, but then strategic state-organized
bombings of, say, nuclear sites could be considered terrorist. This would also mean that
cyberattacks and other unconventional forms of violence could not be considered terrorist. Both
of these conclusions are counter-intuitive.
So how can we define terrorism, then? According to prevailing literature, terrorism “lies
in the intent or purpose behind the act of violence rather than in the act itself, namely to
generate a wider psychological [terror] impact beyond the immediate victims” to some “political
end” (Richards, 2013). In other words: for an act to be considered terrorist, it must be violence
committed with an ideological/political motive, intended to spread fear in some population
beyond the physical victims. In the following section, I argue that the nature of the Buffalo
shooting exactly matches this definition.
The Buffalo Terrorist Act
The case of the Buffalo shooting can be classified as terrorist because it was an act of
violence committed symbolically in the name of an ideology, namely, white supremacism,
intended to cause fear in a group beyond the immediate victims, namely, Black America. I
demonstrate these claims by reviewing the content of the shooter’s manifesto, inscriptions
written on his weapon, and his Discord messages.
First, the ideological and political nature of the shooting is clearly explicated in the
shooter’s white supremacist manifesto and through the engravings on his gun. In his manifesto
he claims that Black people are an “obvious, visible, and large group of replacers” of the “White
man” (U.S. v. Gendron, 2022). On the gun he makes several political statements, including:
“Here’s your reparations”, a reference to the reparations that many Black Americans have
requested to offset existing inequalities created by slavery, and “The Great Replacement” (a
reference to the, and allow me to be liberal with my word choice here, positively ludicrous idea
that the White race is being replaced by other races in the United States) (U.S. v. Gendron,
2022). This clearly ideological and political motivation behind the crime is the first step to
classify it as “terrorist”.
The second and even more crucial step to classify this attack as “terrorist” is by proving
that he had the intention to spread this political message beyond the immediate victims to create
a wider psychological impact, and I argue that this is demonstrated in his manifesto and in his
Discord. According to these sources, “the goals of the attack were to ‘Kill as many blacks as
possible,’ ‘Avoid dying,’ and ‘Spread ideals’” (U.S. v. Gendron, 2022). The last point in
particular, “spread ideals”, points to the conclusion that the act of violence was intended to have
psychological effects beyond those immediately harmed. It was to spread a message of white
supremacism, or as the shooter called it, “The Great Replacement”. The aforementioned
references to highly politicized racial issues in the United States such as the “reparations”
indicates how the shooter was also addressing more broadly Black persons of America, and not
only the Black people he killed. Also key is the fact that he stated “kill as many blacks as
possible”, indicating that the shooter targeted the victims not for a personal vendetta against them
in particular, but because they were Black, and their death symbolized to him a fulfillment of a
(markedly twisted) political end.
Name the Crime
As an American national and European resident, it is frustrating to watch most if not all
Western media outlets dancing around naming the crime committed in Buffalo as an act of
terrorism. Not only does the refusal to call the act “terrorist” undermine the experience of the
victims and their families, it also reinforces existing Western biases that incorrectly associates
“Islam” with “terrorist”, and unjustifiably excuses white and non-Arab perpetrators from this
label. From here on, I call name the Buffalo shooting for what it really is: The Buffalo terrorist
Complaint, U.S v. Gendron (S.D.N.Y, 2022) (22-mj-124).
Corbin. (2017). Terrorists are always Muslim but never White: At the Interaction of Critical Race
Theory and Propaganda. Fordham Law Review, 86(2), 455–.
Lajevardi. (2021). The Media Matters: Muslim American Portrayals and the Effects on Mass
Attitudes. The Journal of Politics, 83(3), 1060–1079. https://doi.org/10.1086/711300
Prokupecz, S., Maxouris, C., Andone, D., Beech, S., & Vera, A. (2022, June 2). What we know
about Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect Payton Gendron. CNN.
Anthony Richards (2014) Conceptualizing Terrorism, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 37:3,
213-236, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2014.872023
Edited by Noah and the Short Paper management team