The Buffalo Shooter, Stochastic Terrorism, and How to Counter It
By Todd Morley
On March 15th, 2022, 18-year-old Payton Gendron walked into a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, NY and opened fire on innocent civilians. A calculated and premeditated attack, typical of the shootings that have become tragically routine across the United States. Unlike most, this particular attack was livestreamed on the streaming platform Twitch to a small audience of Gendron’s friends. This is not the first instance of a shooting broadcast for entertainment, but this recent example belies a disturbing trend. Gendron uploaded hundreds of pages of material to the 8chan and 4chan online message boards prior to the attack, including a self-described manifesto outlining the rationale for his attack. These documents show that Gendron drew a significant amount of inspiration from the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand – his manifesto explicitly states that seeing the impact of that attack was what convinced him to begin planning his own. He adorned his firearms with similar style: internet in-jokes and the names of previous neoreactionary shooters like Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik. His manifesto, a 180-page screed of neo-fascist and racial determinist hate laced with memes and infographics makes repeated reference to conspiracy theories that inspired the Christchurch shooter: White Genocide, Jewish conspiracies, and the pressures of climate change encouraging an eco-fascist overthrow of the current global order. Whether either shooter sincerely held these beliefs is beside the point. These conspiratorial and apocalyptic narratives are clearly effective in motivating disaffected young white men to entertain the idea of racially motivated mass violence. More than another mass-shooting, the Buffalo attack was an example of a growing trend of stochastic terrorist violence.
What is Stochastic Terrorism?
The modern stochastic model of terrorism is commonly traced to mathematician and risk analyst Gordon Woo. Simply put, Woo asserted that there was a quantifiable relationship between seemingly random acts of terrorism and the perpetuation of hateful rhetoric in public discourse, accompanied by catastrophising and fear generation in media sources. It is commonly understood of terrorism that it seeks publicity as a means of disseminating a particular political message to indirect targets. A stochastic model would say that this relationship with media is actually an observable feedback loop: terrorism generates media coverage and public debate regarding the ideological motivations of the shooter, which in turn inspires further terrorism. The greater quantity of media coverage, and thus widening political discussion to include fringe views, has a causational effect on the frequency of these seemingly random terror attacks. In a stochastic model, the political effect desired from an attack is creating a more conducive atmosphere for further, and more frequent, “lone wolf” attacks.
This model of terrorism does fit far-right extremist shooters like Gendron, but the terminology of “random” is somewhat misleading. While the means and methods of far-right terrorism carry little broader strategic logic, targets are deliberately chosen for maximum political effect. The Christchurch shooter was deliberate in his attack on mosques in a liberal democracy renowned for its tolerance. The El Paso shooter similarly chose his location deliberately to maximise the number of Hispanic victims. The specifics of each incident might be considered “random” on a macro scale, but each were motivated by a wider ideological ecosystem supported by internet communities, fringe politicians, and portions of the mainstream media.
In the case of the Buffalo shooting, quantitative evidence is hardly necessary to draw a connection to previous attacks. In his manifesto, the shooter explicitly states that the Christchurch attack was his inspiration. The El Paso shooter was similarly inspired by Christchurch, and both shooter’s names were written on Gendron’s weapons. None of these shooters had prior contact or affiliations; the only shared trait between them was their radical ideology. If this is the case, how can counter-terror practitioners best combat this worrying trend?
How Can We Prevent It?
If we are to prevent attacks like this from occurring, traditional methods have proven insufficient. Policing is ill-equipped to deal with this style of threat, given the limited warning these attacks give off and the infeasibility of the large-scale surveillance necessary to monitor every individual encountering these online communities. Rather than attempting to counter individual attackers, focusing on countering the wider ideology surrounding these attacks should be prioritised. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is the term for counter-terror programs aimed at preventative community engagement as opposed to reactive and otherwise punitive measures. These programs have yielded positive results in countries like Germany and Norway in combatting white-nationalist groups, focusing on counselling, community deradicalization, and educational programs designed to counter harmful conspiracies. Stochastic terror does pose a unique challenge to traditional CVE approaches given how private the radicalisation process can be. Gendron claims he was radicalised by the 4chan online message board in 2020 during Covid lockdowns, spiralling into a hateful ideology in the privacy of his own bedroom without the need to contact a wider organisation. While a first impulse may be an attempt to ban 4chan and it’s more radical counterpart 8chan, these efforts have proven fruitless in the past. ISP bans are relatively easy to circumvent, and the media attention received by such bans are more likely to draw disaffected young people to these spaces as an act of transgression.
The model of stochastic terrorism does provide a potential answer, though a difficult one. The likelihood of these attacks is heightened by the public normalisation of dangerous white-nationalist rhetoric. The motivating myth of Gendron’s attack, The Great Replacement, is not solely the purview of fringe conspiracists. This narrative is regularly pushed by public figures such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and reinforced by numerous far-right political figures across the developed world. Given the difficulties of identifying stochastic attackers prior to their attacks, combatting the ideological ecosystem that ferments their violent ideas is crucial. Further funding and focus on CVE efforts can be effective in this regard. Early intervention and de-radicalisation programs disseminated to educational institutions and in internet spaces have had a demonstrable impact on at-risk communities in the past, and can have a long-term harm minimisation impact that security-focused counterterrorism policies lack.
 Gendron, Payton. Buffalo Manifesto. 2022, p.8.
 Woo, Gordon. “Quantitative Terrorism Risk Assessment”. The Journal of Risk Finance (2002), p.9.
 Ibid., p.9-13.
 Amman, Molly, and J. Reid Meloy. “Stochastic Terrorism: A Linguistic and Psychological Analysis”. Perspectives on Terrorism 15, no.5 (2021), p.3-4.
 Tarrant, Brenton. The Great Replacement. 2019, p.11.
 Crusius, Patrick. The Inconvenient Truth. 2019.
 Hardy, Keiran. "Countering Right-Wing Extremism: Lessons From Germany And Norway". Journal Of Policing, Intelligence And Counter Terrorism 14, no. 3 (2019): 262-279.
 Gendron, Buffalo Manifesto, p.13.
 Gertz, Matt. "White Nationalists Thank Tucker Carlson For Mainstreaming Their “Great Replacement” Conspiracy Theory Following Buffalo Massacre". Media Matters For America, 2022. https://www.mediamatters.org/white-nationalism/white-nationalists-thank-tucker-carlson-mainstreaming-their-great-replacement.
 Savoia, Elena, Megan McBride, Jessica Stern, Max Su, Nigel Harriman, Ajmal Aziz, and Richard Legault. "Assessing The Impact Of The Boston CVE Pilot Program: A Developmental Evaluation Approach". Homeland Security Affairs (2020).
About the Author(s)
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There are two sets of…
There are two sets of definitions for "stochastic terrorism." The first was developed by Dr. George Woo in 2003 with respect to overall prediction of violence with respect to terrorist agitation for action, per AQ. The one used here is a non-technical version that claims there is a the violence is a statistically predictable result of specific people speaking with a unpredictable person acting upon it. It's not supported by anything resembling proof or evidence -- it's "ipse dixit", or "because I said so".
You'll notice there is no offer of any study, anywhere, showing what this threshold for talk/agitation is or how it is defined. It's the same rhetoric we see now in China and Russia, and have seen in other authoritarian regimes, which links "anti-social violence" to political opponents. There is a simple test -- why is there no use of the term when the same pathology exists in other violent events, including various police shootings, the shooting of Rep. Scalise, and other "lone wolf" attacks by the left. This puts it in the same category of Soviet (or modern Russian) rhetoric or the "social credit monitoring" of China as it cracks down on Hong Kong -- it's about about "what" is done, but "who" is doing it. If this was a legitimate argument, there would be an offer of some statistical basis that would constitute how various inputs created or approached an understood threshold. As presented, all that it takes is someone to fit a political template, even if deemed mentally incompetent, and then blame everyone saying "bad things." The accusation is sufficient for guilt.
This is Small Wars Journal. What do we do when we see a terrorist? We shoot them. Anyone tagged with "terrorist" is a target. This misuse of a legitimate technical concept is a way to use targeting language on a group. It's the same way journalists and political activists were called "terrorists" in Central America, only to be followed up by "concerned citizens acting" (ie, "death squads.") We understand what terrorism is and what happens when someone is tagged as a terrorist, which is precisely why the term is used. The guy that shot Scalise was repeating the Democratic rhetoric about Republicans being "the Taliban".
It's not that there aren't jerks and nutjobs listening to rightwing stuff and becoming violent - this is real, as are the Muslims doing the same thing. It's the fact "it's different" when others do the same who can't be made out to be "on the right", such as the Brooklyn shooter James Heard and his obvious influence by social media or the Dallas and Baton Rouge mass murders of police where the shooters, again, were politically active, on social media, and listened to a lot of social media. If stochastic terrorism was a legitimate accusation, it would not be dependent on political alignment to be applicable.
It's an exercise in confirmation bias. Both the hard left and hard right will accuse political opposition of being "traitors" and "disloyal" or the like because this is what extremists do -- demonize anyone who is not with them as an enemy. Terrorists are illegal combatants and are legitimate targets. This article fails to tackle the subject in a serious academic manner. It stay on a predetermined course and fails to demonstrate critical thought. Keep in mind it's coming from a country that has an Official Secrets Act and is allowed to censor individuals and organizations. The use of stochastic terrorism as presented here is 100% against the traditions of the liberal democracy as exemplified by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
If you go on Google Scholar, you'll see other papers abusing the term in a similar way, and all of them avoid actually dealing with any sort of measuring of rhetoric let alone citing a statistical correlation. The paper that compares the original technical use and this other partisan use is at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/364954657_AI_and_Stochastic_Terrorism_-Should_it_be_done
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The likelihood of these…
The likelihood of these attacks grows since the supporting evidence for the replacement theory, the reasons why it poses no threat to "white" culture, and how demographic changes impact pluralistic societies are not well discussed. The moral thing to do in a free society would be to refute the hypothesis using facts and evidence.
the likely hood of these…
the likely hood of these attacks increase as there is no real discussion of the underling data that supports the replacment theory, why it is not a threat to "white" culture and how demographics shift affect a pluralistic society. In a free society the responsible thing to do would be to argue against the theory with facts and data.