Alleged Buffalo shooter's digital log lays out the 6 months leading up to the attack
EMILY FENG, HOST:
Extremism researchers are scouring through the online footprint believed to be linked to the accused Buffalo gunman. Among the materials is a nearly 600-page printout of a log from an online chat platform. It reads like a kind of diary of the months leading up to the attack.
NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef has done the hard work and read it and joins us now. And a warning, some may find elements of this discussion disturbing. Odette, you've read this. What exactly is in this printed document?
ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Well, Emily, it's a Discord chat log that's believed to be authored by the accused shooter, starting from about six months ago. And parts of it read kind of like a stream of consciousness. In it, the author shares very detailed information about how he acquired the equipment and weaponry for the attack and tested it out. He cuts and pastes a lot from outside sources when it comes to his racist and anti-Semitic ideologies. And then there was the mundane, like his exercise routine and food intake.
FENG: And this was just all posted online?
YOUSEF: Yes. It was one of several links that were shared before the attack. Now, Discord has taken down this server, but as we know, nothing truly disappears from the web.
It's important to note that the author here wanted us to see this record, Emily. He wrote it. He edited it. And it presents his own narrative. And it should be taken with a high degree of skepticism.
FENG: Who was the intended audience for this? Do we know who read this when it was online?
YOUSEF: Well, a Discord spokesperson says that nobody else saw this log until 30 minutes before the attack began, when a small group of people, they said, quote, "were invited to and joined the server." But this is actually just one of many questions that this record raises.
Kesa White is at American University. She's an extremism researcher who's looked at this log several times. She told me she is most interested in information that is missing.
KESA WHITE: Certain dates are missing. It's kind of like, why did he delete this whole section? What was there? Is it maybe someone was privy to, like, this information? Is it something that could have been, like, an intervention point?
FENG: Intervention points - so did the log suggest that there were some red flags that others could have picked up on and intervened on?
YOUSEF: Well, the author of this document talks repeatedly about a desire to kill himself. You know, there's a notable instance from a year ago, where he was sent to an ER after indicating on a school assignment that he was ideating murder or suicide. At that point, he says he was already thinking about an attack, and so he lied and said he was not suicidal, which is why he thinks he was able to buy guns. That may have been an intervention point.
Another point - he describes a disturbing episode where he chased and decapitated a cat and then writes that his mother helped him bury it. So there are lots of questions, of course, about his parents' awareness.
And finally, the author's preparations for this attack became so all-consuming, he stopped going to college classes, Emily, and ultimately disenrolled. So there are questions about whether school administrators missed a red flag as well.
FENG: After this attack, people are asking what differentiates people who commit violence versus others who don't, even if they all have similar extremist views? After reading this document, do you have any insight to that question?
YOUSEF: Well, you know, we're seeing this individual described as a lone wolf, which is often the case after terrorist attacks. I spoke with Emerson Brooking at the Atlantic Council about this. And he said that it may well be that one person planned and executed this attack. We'll know more as the investigation continues.
EMERSON BROOKING: The ideas were not his own. He took from other people much of his motivation. And in that vein, he was part of this broader, decentralized, white supremacist and white ethno-nationalist movement that has gained such ground on the internet since at least 2016.
YOUSEF: So, you know, things like the belief that he internalized that violence was the only solution, his mistrust of authorities like doctors who might have helped him - all those ideas are part of movements that we now see gaining greater acceptance in American society.
FENG: NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef. Thank you.
YOUSEF: You're welcome.
FENG: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting home to 741741. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.