By CAROLYN THOMPSON (Associated Press)
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Tech and social media giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google bear responsibility for radicalizing the Buffalo supermarket shooter, who was fueled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, the victim’s relatives said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
“They were the conspirators, even if they don’t want to admit it,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference announcing a 171-page lawsuit, which seeks unspecified financial damages as well as changes in how the companies operate.
The suit names several online platforms including Facebook’s parent company Meta, Instagram, Google, Discord and Amazon — which owns Twitch, the livestreaming platform the shooter used to broadcast last year’s shooting. The suit also names RMA Armament, the maker of the gunman’s body armor, as well as the firearms retailers that sold him weapons.
Ten Black people were killed and three others were wounded in May 2022 when Payton Gendron opened fire at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, which he targeted after conducting research online. Gendron, who was 18 years old at the time, had driven 200 miles (322 kilometers) from his home in Conklin, New York.
He is serving a prison sentence of life without parole after pleading guilty to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate.
The lawsuit says Gendron admits he became addicted to social media and was “lured, unsuspectingly, into a psychological vortex by defective social media applications and fed a steady stream of racist and white supremacist propaganda and falsehoods.”
The mother of Zaire Goodman, who was shot in the neck and survived, described being “tagged” in a video that circulated widely online after Gendron livestreamed his rampage using a camera attached to the helmet he wore.
“No one should be looking at that,” Goodman’s mother, Zeneta Everhart, said.
Twenty-two users watched the violence in real-time on Gendron’s Twitch account, which was simultaneously broadcast on his Discord account, according to the lawsuit.
Just before the shooting, the gunman also made public 700 pages of an online diary detailing his plans, and linked to a Google document containing a self-described “manifesto” describing his racist motivations, the lawsuit said.
In response to the lawsuit, a spokesman for YouTube, which is owned by Google, said the company has invested in technology and policies to identify and remove extremist content.
“We regularly work with law enforcement, other platforms, and civil society to share intelligence and best practices,” José Castañeda said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
Kimberly Salter, whose husband, Aaron Salter, was the store’s security guard, said at a news conference Wednesday that “These are human beings’ lives that were taken by a murderer.”
Aaron Salter, a retired police officer, was fatally shot after a bullet he fired struck Gendron but was deflected by body armor, authorities said.
The body armor’s manufacturer, RMA Armament, said the lawsuit comes as a surprise and that its “products are intended for the protection of law-abiding private citizens, police departments and government partners.”
Other companies named in the suit did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
Buffalo attorney Terrence Connors, who along with Crump represents the families, said the legal team has thoroughly examined “the entire line of the gun distribution, the manufacturers of the body armor, the high capacity magazines that are plainly illegal,” as well as not social media platforms.
“What we found was downright scary,” he said.
The suit also names Gendron’s parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron, who the lawsuit claims armed their son despite warning signs that he was dangerous.
The Gendrons’ lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit is similar to one filed in May by other victims’ of the shooting. Attorneys said the lawsuits may be combined.
“There were many people who helped him load that gun,” Crump said. “And it is our objective to make sure that everybody that loaded that gun is held to account.”