The son of one of the 10 victims killed in the mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store last month told lawmakers on Monday the shooter “did not act alone” in the massacre, as he was radicalized by white supremacists.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garnell Whitfield Jr., the son of Ruth Whitfield, 86, said the shooting underlined warnings from law enforcement agencies that have reported that white supremacy is the most serious threat to the homeland.
However, he called out a lack of action to mitigate or eradicate those extremists, including the killer who took his mother, and reportedly planned his shooting to kill as many Black people as possible.
“We’re angry. We’re mad as hell. Because this should have never happened. We’re good citizens. Good people. We believe in God, we trust in God, but this wasn’t an act of God. This was an act of a person, and he did not act alone,” Whitfield said.
“His anger and hatred were metastasized like a cancer by people with big microphones in high places screaming that Black people were going to take away their jobs and opportunities.”
The suspected shooter — identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron of Conklin, N.Y. — shot 13 people on May 14, 11 of whom were Black.
Gendron reportedly embraced ideas that are connected to the “great replacement theory,” a racist, far-right conspiracy that liberal elites are encouraging immigration to replace white voters.
Ruth Whitfield was among a number of elderly victims of the daytime shooting at the grocery store.
Remembering his mother — who almost daily would visit and take care of her husband at the nursing home he had lived at for eight years — Whitfield called her “literally and figuratively the heartbeat” of their family.
“Our lives are forever changed, forever damaged by an act of profound act and evil, and nothing will ever take away the hurt, the pain or the hole in our hearts,” Whitfield said. “For her to be murdered, taken away from us by someone so full of hate is impossible to understand and even harder to live with.”
Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said domestic terrorism is “one of the most serious threats facing America today” and called out conservative talk show hosts — specifically Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Lou Dobbs — for radicalizing their listeners.
Durbin said the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which he first introduced in 2017 but again failed to move forward two weeks ago, was a first step to combatting extremism.
The bill passed the House in a party-line vote in mid-May, with only Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) voting with Democrats, while the Senate split 47-47 on the bill days later.
Republican senators argued that new federal laws and offices are not needed to monitor and prosecute domestic terrorism because politically motivated violence is already covered by existing laws.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel’s ranking member, agreed with Durbin about the danger of domestic terrorism during Tuesday’s hearing, but said the conversations should not be limited to white supremacy.
“We have the time and the resources to combat violence committed under the banner of every deadly ideology,” Grassley said. “We do not have to choose.”
Durbin said lawmakers must speak in “one voice” and repudiate any rhetoric that resorts to violence.
“When gunmen are slaughtering babies, grandparents and other innocent children, Americans in grocery schools, neighborhoods and houses of worship, we have a responsibility to do something,” Durbin said.
A bipartisan group of senators are also negotiating on a limited package of gun reforms focused on incentivizing state “red flag” laws targeted individuals deemed a threat, and strengthening background checks for firearms purchases.
Whitfield asked senators to imagine the faces of their mothers as they look at his mother’s face and ask themselves if there really is nothing they can do about the epidemic of gun violence.
Whitfield said senators unwilling to act on the issue should yield their positions “because “the urgency of the moment demands no less.”
“My mother’s life mattered,” Whitfield said, choking up. “My mother’s life mattered and your actions here today will tell us how much it matters to you.”