Like so many around the world, I have been utterly sickened by and grieving over the recent massacre in Buffalo, NY of 10 people in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, NY. Many of the victims of the 18-year-old white terrorist were Black, “including Aaron Salter, a security guard who tried to stop the shooting; local activist Katherine Massey; and substitute teacher Pearl Young.”
Dr. Meredith Warren has written an important thread on references to sacred texts in the Buffalo terrorist’s manifesto, noting that the roughly 4 pages of “quotations” from Jewish texts are all either invented or wildly out of context. As part of my scholarship on religious language, I too have been reading and analysing this vile document, and like Dr. Warren, I was surprised to find no direct quotations of the Bible. Yet, the absence of these quotations nevertheless speaks volumes in light of two key parts of the text, where Gendron does mention Christianity and does mention the Bible.
Early in the document, Gendron writes,
Are you a Christian?
No. I do not ask God for salvation by faith, nor do I confess my sins to Him. I personally believe there is no afterlife. I do however believe in and practice many Christian values.
Later in the document, in a section containing violently anti-semitic and otherwise racist, transphobic and conspiracy-theory laden images and texts, he includes this heading, above a section purporting to show evidence that certain Jewish communities conceal criminals, even child molesters:
Does this look Biblical to you?
There is so much that needs to be said about this 180-page document. And it takes a while to take in all the horror. One thing I will be critically examining and reflecting on over the coming days and months is the Buffalo terrorist’s claim to believe/practice “Christian values” and his vile positioning of Jewish texts (which, again, he misquotes/invents) against what’s “Biblical.” I’ve mentioned elsewhere how the word “Biblical” often operates mostly as sacred branding (see this play itself out here). This branding dissolves the boundaries between ourselves and the divine, sacralising our ideology and its outworkings. BiblicalTM.
When I saw Gendron using this strategy, I immediately remembered former British PM David Cameron’s words about “Christian values” in his 2016 Easter message, words which are still stuck like some horrific glue in my head:
We must show that in this struggle of our generation we will defeat the pernicious ideology that is the root cause of this terrorism by standing up proudly for our values and our way of life.
No doubt many will use Gendron’s disavowal of personal belief in God to claim, as they have done many times over, that he isn’t “one of us.” Yet his words and actions constitute another (another!) violent exposure of the racist fault lines deeply embedded in the Christian religion. And this is something that should challenge all (especially white) Christians.