Violent hate crimes like the weekend’s mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, are becoming more common, and people who study such situations say things may get worse before they get better.
The Internet has a lot to do with it, experts believe, with people able to browse conspiracy theories that may spur them to action.
Brian Levin, who is a professor at Cal State San Bernardino and is also the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, spoke to NBC 7 two days after a white 18-year-old man opened fire in the grocery store, killing 10 people, most of whom were black.
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“This guy got radicalized when folks were isolated more,” said Levin, who added that the suspected shooter had documented mental health issues. “We’re seeing these vulnerable people who have fears, then get those fears exploited.”
The targets of that exploitation are most often white teenage boys and men, said Will Carless, a journalist who has covered extremism for several years.
Carless, who writes for USA Today, said one of the messages often spread on the Internet is the “replacement theory”.
“The way that these white supremacists and extremist groups are trying to spur these young men into action is by selling them this idea that not only are they going to be replaced, and white people are gonna be replaced, but that this is all part of an orchestrated plan and that they must take action to try and get the country back from people who are not white,” Carless explained.
“Putting a clamp on this vile cesspool of bigotry online involves cooperation from social media companies," Levin said. "Some of them are doing a better job, but they’re all kind of failing the class. You have a right to say anything you like that’s not criminal or a threat, but what you don’t have a right to do is distribute it to millions and millions of people across an information superhighway that my tax dollars pay for and that a company has a gatekeeper responsibility to do.”
Levin said research shows more time spent online, especially during the pandemic, meant more young people with time on their hands to becoming radicalized.
Free speech has limits, Levin argued.
“What we have to do right now is to make sure the terrorist content is off the internet," Levin said. "Yes, you have the right to viewpoints, but you don’t have the right to incite imminent violence.”