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Slovakia shooter mimics gunman in Tops massacre

Experts' fears become real as copycat in gay bar killings cites Buffalo attack

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Slovakia shooter mimics gunman in Tops massacre

Associated Press People gather to join a rally of thousands in Bratislava, Slovakia, last Friday to protest the fatal shooting of two gay men in the capital by a right-wing extremist gunman.

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The white supremacist who killed 10 people at Buffalo's Jefferson Avenue Tops repeatedly wrote that he hoped his actions would incite others to violence.

On Oct. 12, such an attack occurred half a world away. A 19-year-old white supremacist gunned down two patrons outside a popular gay bar in Bratislava, Slovakia – writing online that the accused Buffalo gunman, Payton Gendron, gave him "new inspiration" to kill.

"Saint Gendron gave me the final nudge," the accused gunman wrote, using an honorific for mass shooters that is common in violent far-right communities. The gunman also wrote that he targeted the bar, called Tepláren, based on advice in Gendron's online writings.

Experts on extremism said the Bratislava shooting is the first known copycat attack to follow the massacre in Buffalo – but it's almost certainly not the last. Instead, the Buffalo massacre represents one link in a long and tragic chain that connects communities across the world, from Muslim New Zealanders to Black Buffalonians to gay and transgender Slovakians.

Motivated by a racist conspiracy theory sometimes called the "Great Replacement" – and radicalized to violence on extremist platforms – these attackers represent what experts have called a new generation of white supremacist terror.

"I think attacks like the one at Tepláren or in Buffalo are undermining the basis of democracy and freedom in our countries," said Roman Samotny, the owner of Tepláren, in an email to The Buffalo News. "They have attacked something very precious at the heart of our nations."

While the Bratislava attacker targeted a different community than the Buffalo gunman, the two men shared an ideology, a strategy and a path to radicalization, said Jacob Ware, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies far-right extremism.

Both subscribed to a series of racist and anti-Semitic conspiracies, collectively known as the "Great Replacement" theory, that suggest white people have been systematically supplanted by people of color.

Both concluded that only violence could address that imagined situation by publicizing their ideology and sowing fear – a strategy sometimes called neo-fascist accelerationism.

Both shooters also became radicalized over several years through far-right internet communities, including the anonymous message board site 4chan. Among other beliefs, the Slovakian gunman wrote, these communities introduced him to the false idea that the LGBT rights movement is part of a larger conspiracy to suppress white birth rates and thus further "replace" the white population.

"The fact of the matter is that not enough has happened to keep this from happening again," said Garnell Whitfield, whose mother, Ruth,was killed in the Tops massacre. "We are living in sick times. There is a lot of hatred in the world and a lot of discriminatory systems and people."

Local media has identified the gunman in Slovakia as Juraj Krajcik, the son of a former far-right politician. Since his early teens, he wrote, he had lurked around the edges of extremist circles, gradually coming to idolize several past mass murderers.

But it wasn't until last May, after watching video of the Buffalo massacre, that Krajcik said he finished writing his socalled "manifesto" – a hallmark of accelerationist attacks – and began looking for targets.

Authorities say Gendron, an 18-year-old college student from Conklin, drove 3½ hours to a Buffalo supermarket where he murdered 10 Black people and wounded three others on May 14, all while livestreaming video from a camera mounted on his helmet.

"The final nail in the coffin was Payton Gendron," Krajcik wrote. "His livestream gave me new inspiration."

The Slovakian gunman chose to target Tepláren, he added, after watching the fallout of the attack on Tops. His writings suggest he followed coverage of the attack, referencing the biographical details of one victim and quoting from a racist screed the Buffalo gunman published. Speaking to The News on Thursday, Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was wounded in the Tops shooting, called it "morally disgusting" that someone would praise Gendron or his writing.

Gendron, Krajcik wrote, had damaged "the cohesiveness and safety of an entire community" by choosing an unexpected target filled with normal people, as opposed to celebrities or politicians. He said he hoped to mimic that decision.

On the evening of Oct. 12, Krajcik waited outside Tepláren – one of only two gay bars in the city, Samotn฀ said, and a hub for the gay community there – and shot three people outside the bar, killing two of them. Police identified the two men only by their first names and initials: Matus H. and Juraj V. Matus, 23, was a student at Charles University, according to the Slovakian news site Denník N. Twenty-six-year-old Juraj was "a ray of sunshine," one friend told the site, and worked as a visual merchandiser at H&M.

Police found the gunman dead the next morning of a selfinflicted gunshot wound.

"The perpetrator here in Bratislava … quotes Gendron's ideas and calls him 'Saint Gendron,'" said Matej Medveck, a researcher of far-right and neo Nazi extremism at Bratislava's Institute for Military History. "So one may say the Buffalo attack really played a crucial role here."

Disrupting that radicalization process has proved difficult, however, for both law enforcement and platforms. According to a 2020 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, far right terror attacks in the U.S. have risen steadily since 1994 – and steeply since 2014.

The advent of social media has especially "lowered the barrier to entry," Ware said, making it easy for young men with pre-existing personal grievances to find community and belonging among white supremacists. While attackers like the ones in Bratislava and Buffalo are sometimes described as "lone actors," he added, the shooters are better understood as members of a leaderless far-right movement that since 2011 has orchestrated at least eight attacks.

In addition to the Buffalo and Bratislava attacks, those include shootings that collectively killed 75 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, Poway, Calif., and El Paso, Texas. Experts fear the Covid-19 pandemic created conditions that may spawn yet more attacks.

For now, however, Bratislava – much like Buffalo – is still contending with the pain and horror of its attack. The shooting sparked renewed calls for LGBT rights in Slovakia, where Tepláren owner Samotn said homophobia and anti-LGBT hate speech are rampant even among politicians.

Days after the Oct. 12 shooting, an estimated 20,000 people – including Slovakia's president – took part in a vigil and rally for the victims. Since then, Samotn has become a vocal advocate for new anti-discrimination policies and spearheaded a campaign to help schools and businesses become "safe spaces" for LGBT people, much like Tepláren.

Once broken, however, that sense of security can prove difficult to recover.

"We are still not sure if Tepláren as a physical space will be able to live on after what happened," Samotn said. Both victims were his personal friends. "We still hurt and for now we can't really imagine how we could ever feel safe and happy in this place again." Staff reporter LouMichel contributed to this article.

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