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10 Killed In Attack At Buffalo Grocery Store; Police: Shooter Had Plans To "Continue His Rampage"; Sheriff: Gunman Inspired By Racist "White Replacement" Conspiracy; Buffalo Suspect Investigated Last Year Over School Threat; Pelosi: Gun Control "A Huge Priority" For Democrats; Biden To Visit Buffalo Tomorrow Following Racist Massacre; Dem Senate Candidate John Fetterman Suffers Stroke Ahead Of Primary. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A sober day, it is a race massacre in Buffalo. 10 people killed at a supermarket in a black neighborhood. What we know is chilling. The white gunman drove 200-mile. He picked his target. He surveilled the store, and authorities say he was motivated by hate.

Plus, Moscow is running into quicksand in Ukraine. Russian forces again shrinking their ambitions as they struggle to check off battlefield objective. And high drama in Pennsylvania. A pair of Senate primaries tomorrow, the Democrat leading in the polls have suffered a stroke. The Republican contest is a free for all between a TV surgeon, a hedge fund tycoon and a big lie believer.

We begin the hour though with the horror in Buffalo, and a law enforcement consensus. It could have been much, much worse. Buffalo's top cop telling CNN this morning, more could have been killed. Investigators have evidence, the shooter plan to continue his rampage at a nearby superstore. Buffalo's mayor says the shooter's motive is hauntingly clear. He quote, came here with the express purpose of taking as many black lives as he could.

The authorities this hour now paging through a racist screed, allegedly written by the shooter. A document filled with great replacement theory, conspiracies, careful attack planning, and idle like worship of other mass shooters. 10 were killed in the Buffalo attack. More soon on all of the victims. 11 of the 13-shot were African American. In Buffalo today, a mixture of grief, disbelief and pleading that racism is very real, and very dangerous.


ULYSEES O. WINGO SR., BUFFALO CITY COUNCIL: This is just clear to the rest of the country that racism, white supremacy still exists, and is a threat to black folks in America. If you particularly are not trying to eradicate white supremacy, if you are not particularly trying to eradicate racism, then I implore you to get on board.


KING: Let's go straight live to the scene out of Buffalo and CNN's Joe Johns. Joe, what's the latest?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: John, right now I'm at Durham Memorial A.M.E. Church in Buffalo, New York. This is where a news conference is going on right now. With the family of a woman named Ruth Whitfield. She of course, the oldest individual shot and killed in this spree on Saturday afternoon.

86 years old, the mother of a former city official here in Buffalo. Ben Crump talking to reporters about what he sees, having been engaged by the family as next steps. And he's also got co-counsel here talking about things that need to be done, including future legislation, and so on.

Now, to talk a little bit about this suspect. As you said, he is 18 years old. From a town about 200 miles away, drove three hours after casing this supermarket and letting loose that brief spree before police arrested him, just about two minutes later.

We know a variety of things. We know about that 180-page screed that you mentioned that has so much information, probably the headline from today, at least is that authorities say, they believe this individual who started the shooting in the supermarket would have continued the shooting out on the street and perhaps in other buildings, had he not been stopped as quickly as he was. Because he related his intentions in the 100-page manifesto.

Of course, we also know a little bit more about the weapon that was used. This was a Bushmaster XM-15. Of course, Bushmaster, as you know, John, has been in the news before going all the way back to the D.C. sniper cases and new town. So, there are a lot of questions here about what could be done with legislation to change the picture with certain firearms that cause a lot of problems. John, back to you.

KING: Joe John, for us live in Buffalo, to appreciate the live reporting. Let's get some expertise now from our CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, and Cynthia Miller-Idriss, she's the director of Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab in American University. She's also the author of this book, Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right.


Phil, let me start with you. They have the shooter in custody. The question is building a case now, to bring the charges and to find out, A, anyone else involved. Walk us through what is happening today, both in Buffalo and his home 300 miles away and more?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You got to think about a couple of aspects here. One is imminent threat, which we've already resolved in the first 24 hours, actually the first hours, you want to ensure that there's nobody who's sympathizers, for example, somebody he went to school with, but you mentioned one individual in custody. That the second question, as you're saying, is whether anybody knew to a point where they might be charged. Remember, recently, we had parents charged in a case where they were found culpable in - culpable for a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

So, there's going to be questioned as he acquired the material over months. He was brought in before as you know, as he acquired the weapon, as he altered the weapon about whether somebody else knew. That's got to be a priority right now.

KING: So, Cynthia, come in on that point. You've looked at this, especially this manifesto, some of which is plagiarized. Apparently, from prior screeds of hate and violence. You call this textbook 18- year-old home a lot during this pandemic. Walk through what you see here as the red flags?

CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS, DIRECTOR OF POLARIZATION AND EXTREMISM RESEARCH INNOVATION LAB IN AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Yes. There were a lot of red flags down early on. I think he reports himself in his online diaries and in his manifesto, that he spent a lot of time board online at the start of the pandemic, got embroiled in websites that promote a lot of conspiracy theories of scientific racism, propaganda, false claims about minorities and about historically marginalized groups and immigrants, got radicalized there.

And then, but really did show some early warning signs that could have been caught. I mean, was reported by the school for threats, had written in his online diary about animal cruelty. There were signs that, there was something not right here. And that really, we need better systems to catch kids like this and adults like this before it comes to violence.

KING: Well, let me stick with you for a second then if we. What is the trip wire? I don't know the right word for it. In the sense that, we do have a First Amendment right. You can say things, authorities can visit. At what point or what needs to be done in terms of whether it's the laws, whether it's policies at schools, so that when something gets looked into, you just say, OK, he answered our questions move on.

MILLER-IDRISS: Yes, a great question. I mean, the first thing we need to do is treat this entire problem of domestic violent extremism, not only as a security problem, but as a societal one. And that's what we're hearing from folks on the ground in Buffalo.

And what we've heard in El Paso and Pittsburgh, and other places where this same conspiracy has mobilized terrible violence, is that this isn't just a problem of learning how to barricade the doors better or catching people right before they can commit violence.

But we have to invest in early prevention and in understanding how to reduce the persuasiveness of propaganda of understanding how to improve digital literacy, media literacy, and also interrogating the issues of racism, so that people meet that propaganda online as they will, because it circulates widely, but do not get end up being persuaded by it. Don't go down that rabbit hole. And I think until we can start seeing it as a societal problem, the way that our allies do multi agency, department of education, health and human services, use agencies and not just a department of homeland security for all the good they're trying to do with prevention work, it's not enough.

KING: Phil, we have as Cynthia knows, we've had this conversation too many times. We go through a long list of hate inspired whether it's had a Jewish synagogue, whether it's at a gay nightclub, or whether it's at a black church, we go through this too many times and we have the same conversation. So, this the shooter here, the suspect, at one point visited by the New York State police have returned in a high school project about murder suicide.

How especially given where in the United States of America and in one rural community, the thoughts about guns are one versus an urban community, they might be something else. How can you have a uniform system of at least just a solid checklist?

MUDD: I don't think you can. Look, there's going to be questions about whether the internet, people in the internet business in Silicon Valley can take this stuff down and the age of free speech. I think that's very difficult to police, not only because you got to decide who's bad and who's violent, but also just in terms of volume.

I tell you one thing, in terms of the conversation about how you operationalize reaction to this. And what lawmakers do, is this question of red flags and tripwires. That is the police, the cops need cover for action. They need politicians to say, if you go into that house and your concern is even moderate, you can take the weapon. You don't have that right now, John.

If you want to stop this stuff, the family might not want to do it. You might not be able to get to the internet, but you can say we're going to lower the level at which you respond to a red flag, and you got to cover the cops to do that. They need politicians to help.

KING: And Cynthia, to the point of how this stuff, it's not just isolated on the internet anymore. Much of it is, I don't want to use the word mainstream, but it's more spoken about publicly as if it is more acceptable. So, what used to be considered the fringe, this replacement theory idea, that used to be a fringe, it's not so much the fringe anymore. How do you deal with that?


MILLER-IDRISS: Yes. This is a huge problem too. And we should say that there's ever indication including in this attackers' own report in his own words that, he was radicalized in these fringe spaces online. But we are seeing the mainstreaming or the legitimation of the same kinds of claims in different versions on cable news and by politicians, who claim that there is an orchestrated replacement of Americans, of white Americans going on in order to secure political power.

And so, that kind of reinforcement, I would say, even if it doesn't directly radicalize a kid like this, a team like this, it does make it harder for adults to perhaps capture and catch those early warning signs or red flags. If somebody is talking about something like white genocide or mentioning a great replacement, those are signs of at least a person who's being exposed to bad content and propaganda online.

And that's an opportunity then to go in and start to reach out to organizations that specialize in this to get the therapeutic engagement and offer ramping support. By the time someone's already radicalized, as we know all too well, disengagement, de- radicalization, evidence on that is very, very thin. It's hard to pull somebody back once they're a true believer, but you can prevent people from going down the rabbit hole to begin with, and that has to be done early on.

KING: Cynthia Miller-Idriss and Phil Mudd, appreciate your thoughts. Today, we'll stay on this story. Sadly, again, we're having this conversation again. And we'll stay on throughout as we learn more about this case. Next for us more on this racist massacre in Buffalo. President Biden will visit tomorrow to meet with the victim's families. And a prominent House Republican says, the GOP is part of the problem.



KING: Tomorrow President Biden will head to Buffalo to console families broken by this latest racist massacre. Today in Washington, you hear familiar refrain, that Congress should do something about gun violence. It is a familiar refrain because such calls follow every mass shooting. And there are way too many of those. And familiar because those demanding changes in Congress simply don't have the votes to pass anything significant.

On Sunday, right here on CNN, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting, another attempt at strengthening requirements for background checks.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It is a huge priority for us. And it has been a huge priority for Joe Biden, for President Biden. There has to be, there has to be an end to overwhelmingly popular, and people of - members of the NRA, gun owners, hunters and all the rest. They have to have a background - they have to have the background check.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Arlette Saenz, CNN's Kasie Hunt, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We were talking before we came on the air to this, you know, well-meaning lawmakers, people at home can debate gun control. They have their views on it, but well-being lawmakers every time after one of these say we're going to do something and yet.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes. You know, in March 2021, one of the first things the new Congress did was passed two-gun bills. One, required universal background checks. The other one, you know, gave the federal government more time to complete background checks before, you know, someone can automatically go ahead and get their gun.

They pass it in the House with the Democratic majority. And then the Senate, you know, did nothing. The Senate has that 60-vote filibuster threshold, that keeps a lot of legislation from moving forward because Democrats know, they don't have the votes. And they know that Republicans will use the filibuster to block action on gun bills, is just almost a non-starter.

So, I think Republicans what they rely on is kind of waiting out the outrage. You know, right now, there is a lot of energy, there is a lot of discussion. But what they assume and what they know to be true is perhaps in a few days or weeks' time, most of the nation will have moved on.

KING: And so, the president goes to Buffalo tomorrow. He has taken some executive actions. He knows it's hard to get legislation through on ghost guns and gun stocks in the light of that. But is there any reasonable expectation in a midterm election year on top of everything else, of any new congressional actions? Or is this trip largely? You know, I'm your president, I'm here to say, you know, hey, we're to be with you at this moment.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that this is the opportunity for him to once again play consoler-in-chief, be there on the ground, visiting with those families who've lost their loved ones, as well as talking with the local officials who have been running this response.

I think one thing that's been notable in the president's response to this shooting is that you haven't heard him come out and push for more gun safety reform laws. He's really been focused in on the hate fueled violence that perpetrated this attack. That's something that really has animated President Biden.

If you think back to his campaign, he said he got into it, because of those clashes in Charlottesville in the way that the former president has responded. And you've really seen Biden lean into that, saying that this is an example of the need to root out hate in this country.

KING: And to the point about hate and words that can foster hate or at least encourage hate. The manifesto from this shooter includes this so-called replacement theory. The idea being that, you know, that new immigrants are coming into the United States, that people who are not white are coming into the United States to replace us that some would say naturally born Americans, a lot of people of color are naturally born Americans. But that, it's a fringe idea, but it makes its way into mainstream politics like this.


REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA): What appears to them is we're replacing national born American, native-born Americans put to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.

REP. BRIAN BABIN, (R-TX): To know what the Democrats are up to here. They want open borders. This is exactly their strategy. They want to replace the American electorate.


J.D. VANCE, (R) OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: Democrat politicians who've decided that they can't win reelection in 2022, unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here. That's what this is about.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): This administration wants complete open borders. And you have to ask yourself, why. Is it really, they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure there that they stay in power forever?


KING: Now, when people in our business suggest that maybe politicians should be careful with their rhetoric, because there are people out there who might not be stable or who might have nasty and hateful ideas, who get encouraged by things like that, they push back and say, no, they have every right to free speech.

However, one of their own, Liz Cheney, Congressman Liz Cheney, saying today the House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them. It is a challenge directly from Liz Cheney, who is persona non grata in the House Republican leadership, but she has a point.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: She absolutely has a point. And to those leaders, you know, who say, I mean, yes, of course, they have a right to free speech. But with great power comes great responsibility. And you've seen in this particular case, a direct line between this type of rhetoric, this type of, you know, thinking about a group of people to an action in the real world that caused the deaths and loss of life of real people, pillars of their communities, in a way that's just absolutely devastating for everyone. So, you know, I think every one of these members of Congress has to look themselves in the mirror and say, you know, what responsibility do I bear in this?

KING: What responsibility do I bear this? That's a great, fair, pretty neutral, straightforward question. When we come back, the tight-knit black community in Buffalo, now left grappling with the grief and anger for the victims. 10 dead, each one of them stories, heartbreaking stories.

One of the victims, Andre McNeil, he stopped by the Tops grocery store to grab cupcakes for his three-year-old son's birthday. His story tragic, like that of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield. She was the mother of the former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield. Whitfield was on her way home from visiting her husband in a nursing home. She stopped by that grocery store to get something to eat.

The former Buffalo police officer, Aaron Salter, who exchanged gunfire with the shooter, saving lives in the process. He worked as a security guard at that supermarket for several years after retiring from the police force.

Just moments ago, President Biden paying special tribute to Salter, sending his condolences to his family. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86. Pearl Young, Heyward Patterson, Geraldine Talley, Katherine Massey, Roberta Drury, Margus Morrison and Celestine Chaney.




KING: Pennsylvania is among five states holding primary elections Tuesday tomorrow. And the leading Democratic candidate in the commonwealth senate race is off the campaign trail. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman suffered a stroke, a mild stroke on Friday. His campaign did not disclose that until Sunday. Fetterman says his doctors tell him, he is fine, and we'll be fine. It was Gisele Fetterman, his wife, who insisted her husband visit the hospital Friday.


GISELE FETTERMAN, WIFE OF JOHN FETTERMAN: Hey, everybody. It's John and Gisele. As you can see, we hit a little bump on the campaign trail.

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN, PENNSYLVANIA: It was on Friday. I just wasn't feeling very well. So, I decided, you know, what, I need to get checked out. So, I went to the hospital.

GISELE FETTERMAN: I made you get checked out because I was right as always.


KING: CNN's Kristen Holmes, live for us now in Middletown, Pennsylvania, with more. It's been a wacky race anyway. And this one wow.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, John, Fetterman says, that his doctors say that he is recovering. He put out a statement saying that their campaign isn't slowing down a bit. But we have learned that he himself is certainly slowing down. He will not attend his own rally on election night on Tuesday will go on, but he will remain in the hospital recovering.

Now, this is important to note for several reasons. One, being that he now has not been on the campaign trail since Friday, when he started canceling those events. And this is a really critical race. And of course, he has had a substantial lead over his opponents that should be put out there.

But again, a critical race. And this has added some sort of a wild card factor here, particularly when you are just days until this election. And John, you know, cannot be underestimated this what's at stake for both of these parties. The state - the seat that is up for grabs that they will run for in November is currently held by retiring Republican Pat Toomey. And this is one of the only seats that Democrats believe that they might be able to flip, but of course, all of that depends on who the candidate is. John?

KING: Kristen, thanks so much for the live report. You're in a great place. As we have a busy primary week. Let's bring our reporters back into the conversation. Kasie Hunt, you were just up there interviewing the Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman on Thursday. This Senate race is a marquee race or number of great races in the country.

But as Kristen knows, this is one that Democrats think they might be at a pickup in a very tough climate for them. But the Democratic race, we spend a lot of time talking about the Republican races, is Democratic races to the candidates. This is part of the fight within the primaries this year. Fetterman, a former Bernie Sanders guy, viewed as more progressive. Conor Lamb was the poster child of 2018. This is the kind of democratic, more centrist Democrat who can win. There's a big struggle here for the party.

HUNT: It's a very big struggle for the party and it doesn't necessarily break down as clearly as we'd like to outline it this way, right? Like at, one of these events last week, when he was still on the campaign trail, Fetterman. Somebody told Fetterman, I wish, you should go join the squad when you're in Washington. And he said, well not, I'm not going to be a member of the squad. I'm going to be your senator.