Will the Buffalo shooter incident spark new Orwellian measures?

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — In the wake of 18-year-old Payton Gendron allegedly opening fire on people in the parking lot of a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sunday, May 15, a 180-page manifesto has emerged, suggesting that Gendron “belongs to a global fraternity fused by the internet and fixated on the idea that white people are being intentionally replaced,” according to the Washington Post.

The notion that the internet was used by an individual as a tool to collect information ahead of a politically or ideologically motivated act of violence is routinely used by authorities to argue that a further crackdown on basic freedoms is required. A common argument is that more surveillance via data collection leads to increased safety which could have prevented the incident in question. This conveniently ignores various reports, including by the Department of Homeland Security, concluding that mass surveillance has done little to thwart major terrorist attacks.

Another argument evoked by proponents of increased regulation in response to such incidents is that internet censorship could have saved lives. The theory goes that access information enabled the perpetrator to formulate ideas that may have fueled the violent act. But the notion of holding concepts — however controversial — responsible for the acts of a rare individual is a mighty slippery slope. The same argument could be used to ban virtually anything deemed “triggering” — which, in today’s “woke” culture, is an awful lot. There is no such thing as zero risk, and the trade-off of cracking down on first amendment freedoms should be heavily weighed.

If not, we can already see, elsewhere in the world, what can happen. Greater regulation and control of the internet is precisely what China has implemented with its social credit system, combining digital identification with an individual’s internet footprint and also their financial resources. The system provides total state control and surveillance over what individuals can view, do, and spend — all in an apparent effort to quash potential dissent.

Is this what Americans really want? It’s certainly the direction in which Europe is headed, one step at a time, as each authoritarian move is justified by a convenient security-related excuse.

The European Union has combined a verifiable digital identity with a wallet under the pretext of “trust” and “security”: “EU citizens not only expect a high level of security but also convenience whether they are dealing with national administrations such as to submit a tax return or to enroll at a European university where they need official identification. The European Digital Identity wallets offer a new possibility for them to store and use data for all sorts of services, from checking in at the airport to renting a car,” according to EU Internal Market commissioner, Thierry Breton.

And what exactly prevents such a system from blocking a user’s bank accounts based on ideological reasons, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government recently did with the Freedom Convoy anti-COVID jab mandate protesters, when financial institutions were ordered via emergency measures to block bank accounts of participants in the movement?

The Freedom Convoy incident also showed how easy it can be for authorities to falsely accuse foreign adversaries of fomenting a “threat to democracy,” as Trudeau called the protesters.

Former Bank of Canada and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney wrote in the Globe and Mail at the time of the protests: “Foreign funders of an insurrection interfered in our domestic affairs from the start.” Evidence of malicious foreign adversary funding has yet to materialize, according to the Toronto Star, but the perception can nonetheless be exploited by governments in these acute incidents against foreign actors that it dislikes.

For instance, the notion of labeling Russia a state-sponsor of terrorism has gained steam among the most prominent neoconservatives, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. While citing no actual evidence of why such a label would be warranted, officials appear to be capitalizing on an opportunity presented by the proxy war between Russia and NATO allies in Ukraine in order to ram through a previously unthinkable measure on the back of public emotion, fear, confusion, and ignorance.

The idea of conflating terrorism and Russia has long been a tactic of the EU in routinely and oddly mentioning “Russian and ISIS propaganda” in the same reports, going back at least as far as 2016. And just one day before the Buffalo shooting, Business Insider, quoting analysts, suggested that “Russia could strike back at the West by calling on its network of white-supremacist groups to commit terror attacks there.”

Notwithstanding the fact that it was the West, that trained actual neo-Nazis now integrated into the Ukraine army, the tragedy in Buffalo risks opening yet another window for authorities to manipulate an unsuspecting public into ceding not only more of our freedoms under misguided pretexts, but also our grasp of reality – all so that they can tighten a few more notches on our leash.