Extremism in WNY: How to Counter Extremism Here and Elsewhere

Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a four part series.

On May 13, attorney Heidi Jones and her team of researchers studying the far right in western New York met to discuss, as she put it, “the changing threat landscape.”

She said they found that violence was unlikely to come from any of the groups they studied, but from individuals inspired by the rhetoric of those groups or other groups like them.

Tops monument

Eileen Kotera’s Elibol


Buffalo Toronto Public Media

Signs and balloons are attached to the fence surrounding Jefferson Avenue Tops Market May 21, 2022, where the racist mass shooting took place a week earlier.

It’s called a theory Stochastic Terrorism, and involves the use of rhetoric to provoke random acts of extremist violence while maintaining plausible denial. The sentence attracted some attention after a former Department of Homeland Security official used the term in a Washington Post op-ed in 2019 while speaking about the El Paso shooting.

In response to what they saw as a new threat landscape, Jones’ group decided to host some stop-the-bleed classes and encourage people to carry first-aid kits.

The next day the shooting happened at Tops Market. The alleged white supremacist shooter wrote online that he was inspired by the “big replacement” theory, which in a way has become mainstream.

“I was deeply angry that this happened,” Jones said. “But also that all the work I’ve done has had no effect.”

So what can be done to curb extremism in western New York and nationally? The answers are not easy.

State Response

Governor Kathy Hochul signed laws Earlier this month, social media companies will be required to report how they are responding to hate speech on their platforms, and a task force will be established to investigate the companies’ role in promoting violent extremism.

But not everyone is convinced that it will be easy to take action against hate speech on the Internet.

“I think this is particularly difficult to enforce legally, I really do,” said Jacob Neiheisel, a professor of political science at the University of Buffalo.

Hate speech is not criminalized under US law. The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that most of what is considered hate speech is not an exception to the First Amendment.

Hochul signs a package of laws against hate speech

Don Pollard


Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul will sign a hate speech law into law in the Bronx on June 6, 2022.

β€œIn other countries that have less laissez-faire approaches to freedom of expression, like the UK for example, yes it is possible to criminalize something like hate speech. It’s quite difficult here in the United States,” Neiheisel said. “And even in a state like New York that has slightly stricter regulations against hate speech, it still won’t stop the spread of things like we’ve seen.”

State officials have confronted criticism for their dormant domestic terrorism task force. Signed by the government at the time in 2020. Andrew Cuomo was required to meet at least four times a year and issue a preliminary report last December.

However, it has yet to publish a report and met for the very first time just last week.

That meeting was held virtually, according to a spokesman for the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, but Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, had hoped it would be held in western New York.

“I think it’s a very strong message to start here because they made that their first goal,” she said. “My people are the ones who made them their first target.”

Federal response

In the wake of the Tops shooting, the Democrats provided the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act put to the vote last month. The law would create special offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat domestic terrorism.

It passed through the Democrat-controlled House before being blocked by Senate Republicans.

dr Anthony Neal, a professor of black politics at Buffalo State College, was disappointed that Congressman Chris Jacobs, a Republican from Orchard Park, voted against the bill.

6 Jan Attack on the Capitol

Trump supporters attempt to breach a police cordon at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.

“The Republican mantra is, ‘We oppose [white supremacy]but we don’t want to pass bad policies,'” Neal said, “and in the end you don’t do anything about it.”

in one expression After the vote, Jacobs said the tragedy at Tops was “no reason to adopt a flawed policy.” He noted that the DOJ, DHS and the FBI have already established domestic terrorism surveillance bureaus and that the proposed new bureaus would have “broad jurisdiction that in the wrong hands could be used to investigate political enemies and the civic ones.” liberties and violate the Constitution rights of Americans.”

A bipartisan gun control package passed the Senate Thursday night and will now be sent to the house. The legislation would encourage states to adopt red flags and expand background checks for 18-21 year olds. It would be the first gun control measure passed by Congress in nearly three decades.

“Whether you come from white supremacist extremism, foreign terrorism, or domestic terrorism,” Neal said, “the common denominator is access to military-style weapons, which are efficient killing machines to destroy lives and human bodies.”

Local Response

The Southern Poverty Law Center is following everything hate groups to anti-government groupsthe latter being described as far-right and anti-democratic, believing that an illegitimate government of the left is attempting to bring about a New World Order.

Hate groups and anti-government groups often overlap, according to SPLCand trafficking conspiracy theories that often slander the same marginalized communities that hate groups target.

There are five anti-government groups in western New York plus one anti-government militia.

SPLC investigative reporter Michael Edison Hayden said communities must shout hate when they see it, but it’s also crucial not to automatically label people with different political views as extremists.

“We have to start building real communities across this country to get through this terrible phase that we’re in,” he said, “and I think that means being tolerant of people with different beliefs but setting boundaries.” hard on explicit hate of any kind.”

Nancie Orticelli, president of one of western New York’s anti-government groups, the Constitutional Coalition of New York State, said she would welcome a face-to-face discussion with her critics, like Jones.

“Maybe we could find some kind of common ground, just being human and being decent and working for the good of the people,” she said. “We’re not going to agree on everything, we have completely different beliefs and ideologies, but I’m sure there are some things we could agree on.”

Jones said she and her team discussed what they would say to far-right leaders like Orticelli. However, she said they decided they would rather focus on helping others spot extremism.

“It’s a better use of energy,” she said.

The DOJ has indicted the alleged top gunman on numerous federal hate crime charges. I spoke in Buffalo last weekFBI officials said they are investigating everyone who communicated with the shooter before the shooting.

Editor’s Note: This was the final of a four-part series on extremism in western New York. The series is featured in its entirety in Monday’s Buffalo What’s Next?

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