Fact Check: No support for claim two attackers were leftists

Coherent beliefs of the Buffalo shooter and Paul Pelosi’s attacker are hard to pin down, but they’re not leftists.

By Glenn Kessler / The Washington Post

The Buffalo shooter, heinous, evil being, absolutely there can be no excuse for it. We hear a lot about right-wing extremists, but this guy was an admitted socialist who was thankful that the conservative movement was dead. … The Pelosi attacking, David DePape was a leftist himself, a radical leftist. And the point is, there’s no exclusivity here.”

—Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., at a House hearing on white supremacy, Dec. 13

The House Oversight Committee held another in a series of hearings on the threat posed by white supremacists and militia groups. After about an hour of testimony by various experts, Biggs made the observations above about two men involved in high-profile attacks this year: Payton Gendron, who has pleaded guilty in the killings of 10 people at a Buffalo Tops grocery, and David DePape, who allegedly attacked Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif.

One wonders how closely Biggs had been paying attention to the hearing. What’s the evidence that either of these men were leftists at the time of the attacks?

Let’s first look at Gendron. Earlier in the hearing, one of the expert witnesses, Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League, noted that Gendron, 18 at the time of the Buffalo shooting, “was drawn to hateful content on 4chan. He incorporated this content into his online manifesto.”

4chan is a wholly anonymous, anything-goes forum that in recent years has evolved into an incubator of far-right propaganda and conspiracy theories. For instance, QAnon, the conspiracy theory that Democrats are a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, first emerged on 4chan in 2017.

“Extremists are learning from one another, echoing the violence of one attack in the planning for the next; from Charleston to Christchurch to Pittsburgh to El Paso to Buffalo,” Segal said in his written testimony. “Perhaps no one epitomizes this trend more than Buffalo attacker Payton Gendron.” He noted that Gendron posted a “virulently racist” 180-page screed explaining the reasons for the attack and chose “a specific store and ZIP code because he believed a high percentage of Black people lived there.”

When we asked Biggs spokesman Matthew Tragesser why he thought Gendron was a socialist, he said there was “ample evidence,” both in Washington Post reporting and in the manifesto. One of The Post articles cited by Tragesser noted that in his manifesto, Gendron references “eco-fascism,” an ideology that blames environmental problems on immigration and overpopulation. “I would prefer to call myself a populist,” Gendron wrote. “But you can call me an ethno-nationalist eco-fascist national socialist if you want, I wouldn’t disagree with you.”

National Socialism isn’t the same as what most Americans would consider left-wing socialism. It’s a reference to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party, known in German as Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. In English, that translates to National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Gendron, in effect, was a neo-Nazi.

Gendron wore a sonnenrad, a Nazi symbol used by modern white supremacists, and adorned his weapons with symbols and phrases closely associated with white supremacism.

Indeed, eco-fascism “is related to the racist ‘great replacement’ theory, which posits that white people are being intentionally replaced by non-white people,” said The Post article shared by Tragesser. “It has roots in the Nazi emphasis on ‘blood and soil’ and the need for a purified ‘fatherland.’”

When we pointed that out to Tragesser, he replied via email: “He is referring to the socialist elements [of the manifesto]. Anti-capitalism, nationalization of industries, abortion, etc. You can’t cherry-pick here.”

Who’s doing the cherry-picking here? At the hearing Biggs did not refer to these issues, though he did mention that Gendron attacked Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch for “being a Christian Zionist” and mentioned conservative commentator “Ben Shapiro multiple times, with rather pejorative terms, because of his Jewish heritage.”

This would suggest Gendron is antisemitic; but that does not make him a socialist.

Another article provided by Tragesser, a commentary published in the Washington Examiner, included a quote that referred to conservatism. But whether it reveals Gendron as a socialist is questionable.

“Ask yourself, truly, what has modern conservatism managed to conserve?” the shooter wrote. “Not a thing has been conserved other than corporate profits and the ever increasing wealth of the 1% that exploit the people for their own benefit. Conservatism is dead. Thank god. Now let us bury it and move on to something of worth.”

As for DePape, who is accused of attacking 82-year-old Paul Pelosi with a hammer, The Post reported that he “published hundreds of blog posts in recent months sharing memes in support of fringe commentators and far-right personalities. Many of the posts were filled with screeds against Jews, Black people, Democrats, the media and transgender people.”

Other posts contained delusional thoughts, including one posted on Oct. 24 — four days before the attack — about an invisible fairy that had attacked an acquaintance and sometimes appeared to DePape in the form of a bird.

Tragesser supplied a Fox News article highlighting that Democrats blamed the attack on right-wing rhetoric, but he otherwise did not explain why Biggs said DePape was a “radical leftist.”

Extremist researchers said that a review of DePape’s life and writings found that he had been radicalized over a period of eight years, moving from Green Party support and nudist activism to a mix of racist, anti-Jewish and misogynistic rhetoric. The turning point appears to have been in 2014 with GamerGate, which The Post described as “the vicious campaign of online abuse against female video game developers and critics, a precursor to the rise of coordinated right-wing or bias-fueled troll attacks.”

What motivates extreme violence is sometimes difficult to parse. Neither man was especially articulate, and easy categorizations are sometimes difficult. But Biggs is ignoring clear evidence that the Buffalo shooter and Pelosi’s attacker were advocates of far-right ideologies at the time they committed their attacks.

Instead, he cherry-picks the alleged shooter’s writings to claim he was a socialist and reaches back into the Pelosi attack suspect’s past to claim he was a leftist.

Biggs earns Four Pinocchios.

Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for nearly four decades. Send him statements to fact check by sending a DM on Twitter @GlennKesslerWP.

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