In the wake of this weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, there’s been little doubt in subsequent media analysis that Tucker Carlson and Fox News bear responsibility for mainstreaming dangerous, white nationalist rhetoric — the type used by violent young men like Payton Gendron, the Buffalo shooter. But while Carlson deserves scrutiny for his role in the rising white supremacist violence, especially with older demographics, the vast online networks where young white men like Gendron become radicalized and motivate each other to perform violent attacks mainstreamed these ideologies long before him.
To be sure, Carlson’s talking points on white supremacist beliefs like “replacement theory” are nearly indistinguishable from the language espoused in the manifestos of mass shooters. However, 18-year-old Gendron explicitly wrote in his manifesto that it was on 4Chan and other online spaces where he “learned through infographics, shitposts and memes that the White race is dying out.” Whether he occasionally tuned in or not, a segment on a cable news network mostly consumed by people 35 and older wasn’t noteworthy enough to mention. And yet, even though politicians, the FBI and national media outlets have long acknowledged the growing threat of these radicalizing online forces, such spaces have continued to develop and evolve with little hindrance — and are doing the work of popularizing hate among a growing class of young men.
Take, for instance, the phrases that make sense only to those white supremacist memes and message boards that were scrawled on the weapons Gendron used in his racially-motivated mass murder. Among the many examples of what the Anti-Defamation League describes as “internet slang phrase[s] used on image and message boards to degradingly refer to Black people,” are the words “black bros… I don’t feel so good,” “#BLM mogged” and “We wuz kangz.” And Gendron’s manifesto, though largely copied from previous mass shooters’ screeds, featured racist and anti-Semitic comics created by illustrators championed within online white supremacist circles.
This is the language of the type of young man who is fluent in the online branding of outright white supremacy. By his own accord, it’s the world in which Gendron, username jimboboiii, had deeply embedded. Moving beyond the anonymous, vitriolic Chan websites where violent racist ideologies foment, guys like Gendron funnel into more organized platforms such as Gab, Telegram, Discord and Reddit.
These spaces, which largely cater to audiences between the ages of 16 and 25, are home to a seemingly splintered, but deeply rooted network of white supremacist groups. According to a study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, there were 208 tightly knit white supremacist-specific channels on Telegram alone in 2020, many of which were growing exponentially, some boasting tens of thousands of members. “In many instances,” the authors explains, “channels which were not explicitly violent still directed their followers to channels where endorsement of violence is commonplace.”
The handful of white supremacist online influencers that have sprouted up in the last few years, however, aren’t shy about addressing the issue head-on. Founding member and leader of the openly white supremacist, anti-Semitic “Groyper Army” and “America First” movements, Nick Fuentes has amassed a cult following by co-opting the virulent racism found on social media and anonymous imageboards into a sardonic brand of counterculture.
“I’m speaking the language of other zoomers,” Fuentes remarked in 2020. “If you’re a young person online, I mean, this is the language of our generation.” In October 2021, Fuentes continued his pursuit to capture the attention of the younger online audience when he launched a right-wing rendition of Twitch called Cozy.tv. Since then, he’s recruited headlining streamers such as Baked Alaska and Alex Jones while amassing a bullpen of newer, ideologically-aligned hosts like JoeTheBoomer, Wurzelroot, PartyGoy and Jimbo Zoomer, each keeping the platform’s conspicuously young, “extremely online” viewers occupied, further embedding them into the growing network of white supremacy.
Whereas Carlson reaches some three million weekly viewers on his daily evening program, Cozy.tv’s 40-plus streamers, each with their thousands of viewers, give intimate and personal displays of hate speech 24 hours a day. Fuentes, who’s in regular contact with his 45,000 subscribers on Telegram and 137,600 followers on Gab, broadcasts his own brand of racism to 18,000 followers on Cozy.tv for two to four hours a night. “Big story obviously, all weekend, a lot of news, what a gift!” Fuentes exclaimed, kicking off his livestream on Monday, the first since the Buffalo shooting. “Well, let’s rewind. … I’m not saying it’s good — some of it is very tragic and bad; some of it is very interesting.”
With a wry smile Fuentes continued, as if rehearsed, to walk back his initial excitement. “The mass shooting in Buffalo New York […] is a very bad thing, very evil, horrifying and tragic thing. I’m not trying to make light of it, I misspoke,” he explained. Then, within a breath, he pivoted. “That being said, it does not change the fact that white genocide is real, it is occuring now and it is wrong,” he urged his young viewers. “This is the idea of our lifetime, it’s the number one most impactful trend of our lifetimes.”
But where Carlson might otherwise leave his audience stewing in anger, Fuentes’ jocular, ironic disposition allows him the cover of plausible deniability. Most importantly, his young, growing audience of men already know what’s behind the wry smile and in-jokes, and they echo the vitriol in a chorus on the live chat, then over on Telegram, and Reddit, and 4chan and on and on and on. Until, as with Gendron, it all becomes far too real — and tragic.
“I don’t want to be replaced 😞,” wrote a member of a Fuentes fan group on Telegram during the beginning of his livestream. “The White man will rise once again. THIS COUNTRY WOULDNT EXIST WITHOUT WHITE PEOPLE.”