WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The US Justice Department on Wednesday (June 15) filed federal hate crime charges against an 18-year-old white supremacist accused of killing 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, last month.
Payton Gendron faces 26 counts of hate crimes and firearms offences, according to a criminal complaint.
“We fully recognise the threat that hatred and violent extremism pose to the safety of the American people and American democracy,” said Attorney-General Merrick Garland, who travelled to the site of the May 14 mass shooting on Wednesday and met with victims’ families.
“We will be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes.” Gendron could potentially face the death penalty if found guilty, Garland said.
The attorney-general declined to say whether capital punishment would be sought. He said the Justice Department will follow the proper legal process and consult with the survivors and victim’s families before making a determination.
Gendron has already pleaded not guilty to 25 state criminal charges, including first- and second-degree murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate.
New York’s domestic terrorism hate crime charge alone carries a penalty of life imprisonment without parole on conviction.
Gendron killed 10 people and wounded three at the Tops Friendly Markets in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo before surrendering to police.
The 18-year-old – who broadcast the attack in real time on Twitch before being cut off by the livestreaming service – apparently posted a white supremacist rant and a lengthy checklist and account of his preparations online before the rampage. In his lengthy post, he indicated he had been inspired by previous racially motivated mass killings.