NBC reporter Ben Collins faced a slew of intense backlash for insinuating that the Buffalo, New York, shooter’s racist motivations actually stemmed from a toothache that he wasn’t able to get fixed due to inaccessible health care.
Collins, who covers disinformation, extremism and the internet for the outlet, posted a lengthy Twitter thread on the matter Friday, where he drew a correlation between suspected killer Payton Gendron’s attack that killed 10 people grocery shopping in a Black community and a dentist’s inability to fix his tooth. Collins said he “blamed the Jews” instead of insurance problems and carried out the massacre “because he thought he would finally get help for his tooth from the healthcare in prison.”
It didn’t take long for Collins’ thread to elicit outrage and corrections from thousands of people on social media. Many pointed out that his attempt to seemingly add context or motive to what was a racist act was racist in and of itself.
“Retweet if you’ve had a toothache and didn’t massacre a bunch of innocent people,” wrote “Game Theory with Bomani Jones” writer Rod Morrow on Twitter.
“I know people are rightfully upset about this hot mess of a thread,” added “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot” author Mikki Kendall. “I just want to point out the lengths people are going to explain away the decision to murder 10 people. The toothache was an excuse to do what he wanted to do which was massacre unarmed elders.”
Gendron, who is 18, posted a 180-page white supremacist Discord manifesto where he said he was inspired by a racist conspiracy called “replacement theory,” which arch-conservative figures like Tucker Carlson have espoused. The baseless “theory” claims that white people are being “replaced” and disempowered by people of color. Gendron drove more than 200 miles from his hometown to a predominantly Black neighborhood to carry out his heinous acts with a legally purchased assault rifle. Tops Friendly Market, where the shooting took place, was known as a safe communal gathering spot.
The massacre claimed the lives of 10 people and injured three others, ages 20 to 86. Eleven were Black and two were white. They are Roberta A. Drury, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackniel, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey, Pearl Young and Ruth Whitfield. Zaire Goodman and Jennifer Warrington were treated and released from the hospital, while Christopher Braden had non-life-threatening injuries. GoFundMe has compiled a list of verified fundraisers people can donate to.