(WASHINGTON) — The son of the oldest victim in the Buffalo, New York supermarket shooting is expected to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in a hearing on domestic terrorism in the wake of the apparent racially-motivated attack that left 10 Black people dead, including his 86-year-old mother, and a national reckoning over gun violence as lawmakers consider gun safety legislation this week.
The hearing, which kicks off at 10 a.m., is titled, “Examining the ‘Metastasizing’ Domestic Terrorism Threat After the Buffalo Attack” and will examine “the continued threat posed by violent white supremacists and other extremists, including those who have embraced the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, as well as the federal government’s response to this threat,” according to a committee release.
Lawmakers on the, at times, divisive committee will hear from Garnell Whitfield Jr., the son of Ruth Whitfield, the oldest victim in the Buffalo shooting, who was mourned by her family in an emotional press conference last month. Whitfield was returning home from visiting her husband in a nursing home, what her son called “a daily ritual” for eight years of their 68-year marriage, when she stopped by the Tops grocery store to pick up groceries, and the gunman opened fire.
“For her to be taken from us and taken from this world by someone that’s just full of hate for no reason … it is very hard for us to handle right now,” Garnell said at the time.
“We need help. We’re asking you to help us, help us change this. This can’t keep happening,” he added.
At the same press conference, civil rights attorney Ben Crump slammed what he called the “accomplices to this mass murder” and the cause of the indoctrination of hate among young people, referring, in part, to far-right-wing websites, politicians and cable news pundits.
“Even though they didn’t pull the trigger, they did load the gun for this young white supremacist,” Crump said. “Black America is suffering right now and we need to know that our top leader in America reacts and responds when we are hurt.”
Other witnesses on Tuesday’s panel include Michael German, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent and fellow at the Brennan Center For Justice; Robert Pape, professor and director of The Chicago Project on Security and Threats at The University of Chicago; Justin Herdman, a former U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Ohio, and legal scholar Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and a frequent witness called by Republicans on the committee.
ABC News previously reported on evidence indicating the Buffalo shooting was a calculated, racially-motivated execution by the suspect, an 18-year-old white male, according to multiple sources and a review of FBI cases and testimony. The gunman, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and is being held without bail, allegedly wanted a race war and live-streamed his attack in an apparent effort to spur others to kill minorities, sources said.
Included in a 180-page document posted online by the shooter was a far-right conspiracy idea called the “great replacement theory,” which baselessly claims that white populations are being intentionally replaced by minorities and immigrants. Democrats have slammed the theory and moved to fund new programs to target domestic terrorism, while some Republicans have faced backlash for echoing notions of the theory in their talking points.
The hearing comes as the Democrats on Capitol Hill ramp up efforts to push for legislation that would require stronger background checks for gun buyers and incentivize state red flag laws following the recent mass shootings. Twenty-one people, including 19 children, were killed in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, just 10 days after the mass shooting in Buffalo. Another mass shooting on June 1 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, claimed four lives after a gunman stormed a medical facility with an AR-15-style rifle that police say he bought hours before the massacre.
Zeneta Everhart, who says her 21-year-old son, Zaire Goodman, is still recovering from gunshot wounds in the Buffalo shooting, one of three others injured there, as well as Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grader who survived the shooting in Uvalde, are both expected to testify at another hearing on gun violence on Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The FBI announced it was investigating the Buffalo mass shooting as a hate crime and case of “racially motivated violent extremism” after Erie County Sheriff John Garcia described the attack as a “straight-up racially motivated hate crime.”
Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block a bill last month designed to combat domestic terrorism from advancing to a key vote. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, D-Ill., was the only Republican in either chamber of Congress to vote for the measure, which would have created new offices within the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and FBI to “monitor, analyze, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism.”
Tuesday marks the third in a series of hearings this committee has held on domestic terrorism.
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