Legislative Director Nicole Golias, Director of Community Relations Matthew Dearing and Communications Director Brendan Keany claimed they were all ousted from Democrat Assembly member Patrick Burke’s office on Tuesday following a heated disagreement about his handling of the 14 May massacre where a self-proclaimed white supremacist and racist allegedly murdered 10 Black people.
In the hours after the shooting, Mr Burke – who represents Buffalo – tweeted that he was “sickened” by the “racially motivated” attack and he has vowed to bring forward legislation to root out extremism.
However, the three former staffers told News 4 that he originally planned to do more before backing out amid fears for his seat.
According to the now ousted staffers, Mr Burke planned to make a speech on the Assembly floor condemning white supremacy and the debunked “great replacement theory” that suspect Payton Gendron touted in a disturbing online manifesto.
The lawmaker then allegedly had a sudden change of heart and canned the idea hours later, they claimed.
When the staffers then tried to encourage him to that he needed to call out the issue, they claimed he told them he didn’t want to risk losing his seat by taking a stand over white supremacy.
The trio said they were then fired over the disagreement.
“The direct quote was, ‘I’m not giving up my seat for this issue,’” said Mr Dearing.
“We stood up for what we believed in and we lost our jobs because of it,” he added.
Ms Golias said she had to speak up because it was “deplorable” for a lawmaker so close to the issue to be “not doing anything”.
“With anyone not doing anything, especially this close to the issue, is just astounding and deplorable,” she said.
“I don’t think we could live with ourselves if we didn’t say this is what’s right, and this is what we need to do.”
The Independent has reached out to Mr Burke’s office for comment.
The Assembly member denied the version of events in a statement to News 4, calling the accusations “bizarre” and pointing to his “long history” of speaking out against white supremacy.
“In a discussion with these staffers, I found their accusations bizarre, offensive, and completely off base considering my long history of speaking out against white supremacy and my actions and statements over the past week,” he said.
He said the three staff members were terminated because he can “no longer trust” them.
“It was clear that they no longer believed in me or the decisions I make,” he said.
“I cannot retain a staff that I no longer trust or that no longer trust me and had to make the difficult decision to fire them.”
Following last week’s shooting, Mr Burke has made several comments condemning the attack
“I’m sickened by the news of a racially motivated mass shooting in my city,” he tweeted on the day of the mass shooting.
“If the information is accurate, the shooter live streamed part of the shooting and scrolled on the barrel of the gun was the N word.
“Heartbroken for the victims, their families, and all of Buffalo.”
On Tuesday, he shared an article about the attack and hit out at the spread of white supremacy and announced he was putting forward legislation to tackle extremism.
“I stood with my colleagues to condemn the act of terrorism in Buffalo,” he tweeted.
“White supremacy and nativism are purposefully being spread across our nation. More than thoughts and prayers, we need action. I’m submitting legislation to root out extremism.”
Calls have been growing from the families of victims of the Buffalo shooting and civil rights activists for officials to take action to crack down on white supremacy in the wake of the attack.
President Joe Biden visited the scene of the massacre on Tuesday where he condemned the “poison” of white supremacy.
“Now’s the time for people of all races, from every background, to speak up as a majority ... and reject white supremacy,” he said.
All 10 people murdered in last Saturday’s mass shooting were Black.
The 18-year-old suspect has described himself as a white supremacist and is believed to have handpicked the Buffalo community, driving three hours from his home in Conklin to the area, because it is a predominantly Black community.
In an online manifesto which appears to have been posted by the gunman, Mr Gendron called himself a racist, white supremacist and antisemite and detailed how he had been inspired by other white supremacist mass shooters to carry out the attack.
He also cited the debunked “great replacement theory” which has repeatedly been spouted by right-wing personalities such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson – an extremist conspiracy theory that falsely claims there is a plot to diminish the influence of white people.
Following his arrest, he made “disturbing statements” about his motive, making clear that he was “filled with hate toward the Black community” and was targeting Black people, according to officials.
His firearm had the n-word written on it and the number 14 – an apparent reference to a conspiracy theory.
The horror attack unfolded last Saturday afternoon while innocent residents were shopping at the Tops Friendly Market grocery store.
Mr Gendron, dressed in tactical gear and armed with an assault rifle, opened fire outside the store first before moving through the supermarket aisles where he shot 13 people, killing 10.
Officials have since said that the gunman planned to continue the mass shooting at at least one other location in the community.
Questions are also mounting over how he was able to access a firearm after it emerged that he previously threatened to carry out a mass shooting at his school.
More charges are expected to be filed against Mr Gendron by the state and the US Department of Justice is also investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism and terrorism.
If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces New York’s maximium penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If charged and convicted of federal charges, he could face the death penalty.
He is currently being held on suicide watch and without bail in the custody of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.