BUFFALO, New York—Sunday’s service at the Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church had its share of parishioners in pain over personal loss from the assault a day earlier by a white supremacist who killed 10 people at a local supermarket.
As Pastor George Nicholas recalled in an interview, one “visibly upset” young woman was close to a teacher who was gunned down.
Another parishioner lost their uncle, shot dead in the store’s parking lot, he said.
Yet another lost a good friend, Nicholas continued.
The pastor knew the family of Aaron Salter, the retired police officer who died in a shootout with the gunman. Two other parishioners, both retired cops, knew Salter from their days on the police force, he said.
Nicholas told The Daily Beast he did little preaching during his service. Instead, he turned the floor over to his parishioners, who he described as “hurting.” But the mood, he said, was not just one of grief—but also one of anger.
“They’re angry we live in a society in which this happens over and over again. We’re not safe in our own community,” Nicholas said.
The pastor shares that anger.
“I’m angry at a society that produces people like that,” he added.
The 18-year-old suspect in the massacre appears to have bought into multiple myths inculcated on the far right, from a bogus theory about a nonexistent plot to kill white people to conspiracies about a parade attack in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last December. The deluded thinking has been propagated in the darkest recesses of the internet but also, in some cases, primetime spots on Fox News.
“There’s been a constant drumbeat of propaganda the past five or six years, maybe longer,” Nicholas said, adding, “What do you think is going to happen?”
The church, located just a few miles from the site of the shooting, has been operating a food pantry since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nicholas said Highmark of Western New York, the region’s largest health insurance provider, made a delivery of food Sunday. The pantry, and similar efforts in the community, are especially vital because the Tops Market is the largest food retailer on the city’s predominantly Black East Side.
“The store is going to be closed for a while,” Nicholas said.
The pastor said several white friends of the church, including ministers, stopped by Sunday’s services. Nicholas called the gesture a “beautiful” one.
He said the shooting underscores the need for the country to confront the root cause of racism and the violence it has spurred.
“This is a problem within our culture, not just with the individual. We still don’t want to deal with it. It’s heartbreaking.”
Disclosure: Pastor George Nicholas serves on the board of directors of Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative reporting center in Buffalo that Jim Heaney leads as editor and executive director.