While he was allegedly plotting to murder as many Black people as possible, the Buffalo shooting suspect encountered a problem.
The rifle he planned to use had a locked magazine because of New York State gun law. That meant that if he wanted to reload, he’d have to partially dismantle the rifle, giving potential victims a few key moments to escape.
So the man turned to YouTube and found that his problem was easily surmountable. The shooter followed the instructions he found in several videos on the streaming site and even linked to several in the 187-page racist diary he made public.
"Seems easy enough," he wrote in the diary.
Payton Gendron, 18, is the prime and only suspect in the murders of 10 people at a Tops Grocery store in Buffalo in May, and it’s alleged he used a modified rifle. He is facing charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder, and domestic terrorism motivated by hate.
In a new report shared exclusively with VICE News, the gun control advocacy nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety analyzed the YouTube links the shooter left in his racist screed.
“The Buffalo shooter sought out content on YouTube to prepare for the attack, including learning how to illegally modify his weapon, choose body armor, and tactically engage with police,” said Justin Wagner, senior director of investigations at Everytown for Gun Safety. “He was clearly entrenched in gun culture on the platform, regularly including links to these various videos in his writings.”
The group published the report Friday morning.
The man linked to dozens of YouTube videos within the documents he shared online, which, according to the report, can be broken down into “demonstrations of tactics (39 videos), firearms (37 videos), and equipment (24 videos).” They found that in at least one instance, the shooter seemed to regurgitate the instructions he received in the video back into his diary almost word for word.
In a particularly chilling passage from the document, the alleged gunman discussed how best to kill a security guard who might be behind glass at the grocery store.
“The glass at Tops is most likely not safety glass, so it should behave like a front windshield, I think. Bullet will penetrate with some deformation but still have enough energy to penetrate flesh and such,” he wrote. “Maybe it's better to aim for the security guard's head instead of body? Problem is the target would be WAY smaller.”
His solution was to watch a YouTuber he was a fan of and “train more, I guess.” He then linked to a video of the man instructing the viewer how to shoot through bulletproof glass.
“He also viewed YouTube videos showing people 'how to win a gunfight,' perhaps in anticipation of being confronted by security or law enforcement personnel; how to set up a plate carrier, the same military-style body armor he wore to carry out his attack; and how to illegally modify a fixed-magazine AR-15 to accept detachable magazines, allowing him to reload faster and use much more ammunition in carrying out his attack,” said Wagner.
The young man said it was gun culture that brought him into the racist web that radicalized him into being a white supremacist. He first came to 4chan for the /k board because it focuses on weapons. Over time, he began to frequent /pol, a board festering with racist hate and neo-Nazi recruiters.
The Everytown report was published alongside one from Memetica, a research group specializing in digital investigations, which analyzed the shooter’s media and internet diet. They found that the shooter consumed YouTube videos from firearms creators who offered information about AR-15-style rifles, tactical advice on shooting people, pro-Second Amendment videos, and gun modification. (VICE News was also on the list, but Memetica called that an "notable outlier" as the shooter wrote that he watched VICE News to understand people who don't think like him.)
To see just how accessible these videos are to the general public, the researchers at Everytown decided to do a “review of YouTube for content that would appear to violate its own Community Guidelines with respect to the construction, modification, or sale of weapons.” They report they were able to easily find "over 200 videos readily accessible on YouTube that garnered, collectively, over 40 million views.”
Everytown says despite the videos being clearly in violation of one, if not more, of YouTube’s content moderation guidelines and not even attempting to sidestep the rules, they’re all still available online. A YouTube spokesperson told VICE News that they’re “committed to enforcing our firearms policy.” The spokesperson added they weren’t provided with the Everytown report so couldn’t comment on the videos included in their non-exhaustive review.
“Following the hateful attack in Buffalo, our Trust and Safety teams comprehensively reviewed the suspect’s Discord chat logs and removed 3 videos for linking to websites that violate our Community Guidelines,” they told VICE News. “Additionally, we’ve removed hundreds of videos in relation to this hateful attack, including content glorifying the perpetrator and re-uploads of his manifesto.”
Everytown, which has been sounding the alarm about these sorts of videos being easily accessible online, recommends that YouTube make several moves. These include making firearms videos age-restricted, banning videos about body armor, and “tactical live-fire instructions on how to inflict the most damage” but more importantly, just more rigorous enforcement of the rules they already have in place.
“YouTube already has the guidelines needed to prohibit the most dangerous content on its platform. They just have to actually follow through and enforce them,” said Wagner. “Buffalo is just one example of the deadly consequences of turning a blind eye to this content, and hopefully YouTube and Alphabet won’t wait for another to act.”
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.