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.
See further reactions below:
It wasn’t the toothache. It was the all white town. The all white schools. The casually racist jokes at the dinner table/school football game/Xbox livechats/4chan msgbds that stopped being jokes at some point. That’s how the fuck we got here.
— Your Tiny Journalist Friend. (@thewayoftheid) May 20, 2022
The "mass shooter had a toothache so socialism would've saved all them innocent Black people" thread is PEAK Twitter.
Sometimes the only thing to say is the obvious thing. But that's not rewarded with likes and retweets.
So you gotta stretch until you find a good angle.
— Rod (@rodimusprime) May 21, 2022
This tweet is an extension of the culture that bred the shooter.
— Frantz Fanon was right (@BBQHotLinks) May 20, 2022
I want to tell a quick story.
Hitler loved to paint. He wrote about it a lot in Mein Kampf.
But people didn’t like his work. And, instead of blaming his poor aesthetic sense, he blamed the Jews. Ergo to prevent the next Holocaust we need to fund elementary school art classes. https://t.co/0alfkKBqfm
— Michael Eisen #912238 (@mbeisen) May 21, 2022
I want to tell a quick story about her journalists trying to find excuses for white mass murderers driven by one thing alone #WhiteSupremacy unfortunately I only have 240 characters and that would take me way too long to tell a quick story because they do this shit every time. https://t.co/JUK1Ly9hTw
— Maysoon (@maysoonzayid) May 21, 2022
This thread is totally incoherent but it displays all the failings of ‘disinfo’ and the style of reporting that came up around 2016 that focused deeply on interpreting discords, white nationalist chat rooms, etc. all that stuff is driven by ‘hey I found the REAL reason’ nonsense https://t.co/0C20FdhHlx
— kang (@jaycaspiankang) May 21, 2022
White people will latch onto ANY thing to excuse and justify anti-Black racism and mass murder committed by other white people, because they refuse to admit that racism is driven purely by hate.
Creating a thread like this to get people to empathize with that cretin is racist. https://t.co/Xh4IIczP4w
— Carolyn Hinds – Petite Possee
(@CarrieCnh12) May 20, 2022
Dude. He shot Black people because he hated Black people. His toothache and lack of healthcare might be factors but he didn’t drive three hours to shoot dentists. He shot people who look like me. Whatever posturing you’re doing to sound clever is insulting. Stop.
— Leslie Streeter (@LeslieStreeter) May 20, 2022
“He had a toothache and couldn’t afford to get it fixed!”
This is fucking bullshit. He had like $4500 in tactical gear. I hope his fucking jaw rots off. And fuck you for playing white supremacist pretend.
— Dennis Detwiller (@drgonzo123) May 20, 2022