Protecting Children from Radicalization: A Response to the Buffalo Racial Extremist Shooting
By Kerry O’Brien Smith, PhD
In response to the recent violent shooting in Buffalo, NY by 18-year-old, Payton Gendron, the American Leadership and Policy Foundation (ALPF)’s Children Protected from Radicalization (CPR) program would like to express concern for the importance of families and parents watching for the warning signs of the extremist radicalization of America’s youth. Adding in the element of real-time social media outlets, a trend is spreading among young pre-teen and teenage Americans to conduct violent acts while filming themselves doing so. Payton admits he was inspired by New Zealand shooter Brenton Turrant, who killed 51 people in two mass shootings in two mosques in 2019. He also published an extensive manifesto outlining the planned extremist attack and named past extremists that inspired his acts of violence, including Dylann Roof, the young man who killed nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church in 2015 and Anders Breivik, the young Norwegian man who killed 77 people in 2011.
Research reports that Gendron was primarily radicalized online. In 2021, he made verbal threats to harm Susquehanna High School in his hometown of Conklin, NY, and he was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation in June 2021. He was hospitalized for a day and a half while the evaluation was being conducted. He was released and no further inquiry ensued. Gendron started browsing the message board 4chan, a hotbed for racist, sexist, and white supremist extremist content, in May 2020 "after extreme boredom" during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a CNN report. Posts he had read on the site made him believe "the White race is dying out," among other racist beliefs, and led him down a rabbit hole to other extremist websites, the document states.
The American Leadership and Policy Foundation (ALPF), America’s only citizen-directed research and policy foundation producing world-class policy analysis, launched a nonpartisan, nationwide public service announcement (PSA) campaign and lecture series in 2016 directed to families about efforts to protect America’s youth from radicalization, violent extremist groups, terrorism, and radical views.
The campaign, Children Protected from Radicalization, or CPR, is celebrating its five-year history with ALPF. Supported by research from national thought leaders, experts, and professionals trained in topics of countering violent extremism (CVE), terrorist deradicalization, terrorist radicalization, resilience, global security issues, and national security issues, CPR remains a unique program aimed at bolstering resilience and counter strategies to mitigate and minimize ideological-motivated violence to further political, social, or religious goals. ALPF is proud to continue to support this unique program for families and local communities that are concerned about what they can do on the local, state, and national levels to protect our nation’s youth from radical ideologies.
Because of the tragic event that took place in Buffalo on May 14, 2022, CPR would like to remind families, parents, teachers, and concerned family members to be aware of their children’s and students’ behaviors. Here is a list of steps you can take to create a safety net for youth who may be susceptible to becoming radicalized:
Be aware of your children’s friends. Your children’s friends should not be primarily online friends from social media and gaming sites. Friends are neighbors, classmates, teammates, etc. Get to know your children’s friends, and take time to ask them questions and exchange formalities and civilities. This alerts your children’s friends that you are watching them.
Watch for radicalized behavior. Radicalized behavior can include anger, a continual negative attitude, thrill-seeking behaviors, addictive behaviors, risky behaviors, a sudden interest in becoming more religious or political, changes in appearance and dress style in a specific way, losing interest in hobbies or education, changes in a person’s circle of friends and disinterest in old acquaintances, increased social isolation, approval of the use of violence to support an idea or cause, racial intolerance or discriminatory behavior towards people of different ethnicities, sympathizing with extremist groups, visits to extremist websites, increased internet/social media usage, arguing with friends and family more frequently, developing a belief that people with different values, religions, or principles are less than acceptable, and/or glorifying violence or advocating extreme messages.
Visit your child’s browsing history on their phones and computers. Keep track of the websites that your child visits. Ask them about the websites. Visit the websites to search for appropriate content. If you find inappropriate content, talk to your child about how you are aware of his/her Internet activity, and talk to your child about why the content is inappropriate and the consequences involved in participating in inappropriate or illegal activity.
Ask questions about your child’s gaming experience. Are they speaking/playing with a particular player? Do they know his/her name or what part of the world he/she lives? Do the players ever speak about anything other than the game?
Be aware of what YouTube videos and TikToks your child is watching. Watch the YouTube videos and TikToks with them. If you find inappropriate content, talk with your child about why the content is inappropriate and how the behavior will result in arrest, legal sanctions, or worse. There are many YouTube channels and TikToks that film illegal behaviors with commentary and laughter, making impressionable youth believe that the content is “cool.” Speak with your child about the consequences of illegal and inappropriate behaviors. Discuss the idea of the sensationalism of violence, ridicule, lack of respect, illegally filming others without consent, etc.
If you would like to know more about the American Leadership and Policy Foundation’s Children Protected from Radicalization program, or to make a tax-deductible donation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.alpf.org.