BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Following Saturday's mass shooting at a Tops supermarket on Buffalo's East Side, New York state Assemblyman Pat Burke's now former staff members said he indicated he wanted to make a fiery speech on the Assembly floor denouncing white supremacy and the so-called Great Replacement Theory.

Community Relations Director Matthew Dearing and Communications Director Brendan Keany said the lawmaker on Sunday directed them to put together a background document. By Monday, they said Burke's attitude seemed to change.

"He then called us for a team meeting and told us in no uncertain terms that we needed to stick to the previous program, that emotions were high because only, seemingly, because the event happened in Buffalo and that he was not going to lose his seat over this issue," Dearing said.

Dearing, Keany and Legislative Director Nicole Golias, who was also on the call, felt it was clear Burke was worried taking too strong a stance would not play well in his traditionally white Irish Catholic district. Dearing, Burke's only Black staffer, said he was directed to turn his attention to gathering volunteers to collect independent nominating petitions for Burke.

On Tuesday, he said he spoke with Burke about a number of concerns including his belief people would rather be volunteering to help people in the community right now.

"We had a conversation that started out calm and became pretty heated, eventually with me attempting to tell him that I had spent a lot of time with my family consoling them because I have four Black young sisters and that they were afraid to go to school," Dearing said.

He said Burke didn't have to have the same conversation because, despite the lawmaker's wife being Puerto Rican, his children could pass as white. The staffer said Burke used expletives, repeatedly telling him he was the boss, leading to the staffer at one point, in his own words, taking a "minstrel tone" with Burke.

Shortly after, Burke came to the office and fired all three staff members for what he told The Buffalo News was "gross insubordination."

"I'm the only person who was on that phone call so I'm not going to say one way or another whether I agree with that determination for me, but he and I did have an exchange," Dearing said. "Nicole said not a word and all Mr. Keany did, all Brendan did, was give an honest answer to his question."

Golias said she was shocked she was fired too.

"I really thought that we would have the opportunity to speak with him and advise him as we do," she said.

Both she and Keany said they don't regret standing by Dearing, even though they were surprised.

"He put me on the spot like that, asked me if I agreed with them and I said 'yeah I do' and that was that. He said 'you're fired.' He walked to the back to the office and we all got our stuff and left," Keany said.

In a statement, Burke said he found accusations with the staffers bizarre, offensive and completely off-base, pointing to both history of speaking out against white supremacy and comments he made against racism and extremism this week.

He said he couldn't retain a staff he no longer trusts or no longer trusts him. Dearing maintained while he does not believe Burke is a racist, he didn't go far enough to oppose any racism that might exist in his district.

"The three of us were willing to stand up for what we believe and lose our jobs. It's a shame he wouldn't be willing to do the same," he said.

The staffers haven't considered a lawsuit or to push for an Assembly investigation at this point, but said they're keeping options open.