When Joe Biden talks about his decision to run against President Donald Trump in 2020, the story always starts with Charlottesville. He says it was the men with torches shouting bigoted slogans that pushed him to join what he calls the “fight for America’s soul.”
Now Biden is facing the latest deadly manifestation of hatred after a white supremacist at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, targeted Black people with an assault rifle and killed 10 people, the deadliest racist attack since taking office.
The president and his wife, Jill Biden, will visit the city on Tuesday, and their first stop will be a makeshift monument outside the supermarket. They are also expected to meet privately with the victims’ families, first responders and local officials before the president makes public statements.
In a speech at a nearby community center, the White House said Biden plans to call for stricter gun laws and urge Americans to reject racism and embrace the diversity of the nation.
This is a message Biden has conveyed several times since becoming the first president to specifically address white supremacy in an inaugural address, calling it “domestic terrorism we must oppose.” The pandemic in Ukraine is preoccupied with crises that include inflation and war.
“It’s important for him to come forward and offer his condolences for families and the community,” said NAACP chairman Derrick Johnson. “But we are more concerned with preventing this from happening in the future.”
It’s unclear how Biden will attempt to do this. Proposals for new gun restrictions were routinely blocked by Republicans. Additionally, it seems that utter racism is only spreading in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The White House said the president and first lady would “deplore the community where 10 people were killed in a senseless and horrific mass shooting”. Three more people were injured. Nearly all the victims were Black.
Biden learned of the shooting by homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall before attending church services near his family’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, according to the White House. He called again later and said law enforcement had concluded that the attack was racially based.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, told a Buffalo radio station that she had invited Biden to the city.
“I said Mr. President, it would be very powerful if you came here,” said Hochul. “This community is suffering so much, and seeing the president of the United States gives them the attention that Buffalo doesn’t always get.”
On Monday, Biden paid special homage to one of the victims, Aaron Salter, a retired police officer who worked as a security guard at the store. He said that Salter “died his life trying to save others” by shooting at the gunman, but that he himself was killed.
Payton Gendron, 18, was arrested at the supermarket and charged with murder. He pleaded not guilty.
Prior to the shooting, Gendron reportedly posted an online post full of racism and antisemitism. The author of the document identified himself as a supporter of Dylan Roof, who killed nine Black congregants at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, and Brenton Tarrant, who targeted mosques in New Zealand in 2019.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron was “a man with hatred in his heart, soul and mind” and described the attack on the store as “an absolute racial hate crime”.
So far, researchers are looking at Gendron’s connection to what’s known as the “great substitution” theory, which claims that white people are deliberately invaded by other races through immigration or higher birth rates.
Racist ideology is often entwined with antisemitism, in which Jews are identified as criminals. During the 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us”.
“Many of these dark voices still exist today,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday, adding, “The President is as determined as then. . . . violence.”
In the years since Charlottesville, substitution theory has moved from online to mainstream right-wing politics. According to a December poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center, one-third of US adults believe there is “a group of people in this country trying to replace Native Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.” For Public Relations Research.
Leading Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson accuses Democrats of orchestrating mass immigration to consolidate their power.
“The country is being stolen from American citizens,” he said on August 23, 2021.
Repeating the same theme a month later, he said, “This policy is called big change, replacing old Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”
Carlson’s show regularly receives top ratings on cable news, and he responded to Monday night’s outrage by accusing liberals of trying to silence their opponents.
“So you can’t be allowed to express your political beliefs out loud just because a mentally ill teenager killed foreigners,” he said.
His comment reflects how this conspiratorial view of immigration spread to the Republican Party ahead of this year’s midterm elections that will determine control of Congress.
Rep. from RN.Y. Facebook ads released last year by Elise Stefanik’s campaign committee said Democrats wanted “PERMANENT ELECTION REVOCATION” by granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. The plan “will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
Alex DeGrasse, a senior adviser to Stefanik’s campaign, said Monday that he “never advocated a racist position or made a racist statement”.
Stefanik is the third-ranked leader of the Republican Party group, replacing R-Wyo’s Liz Cheney, who angered the party with her condemnation of Trump after the January 6 attack on the House.
Cheney said in a tweet Monday that the committee leadership “enables white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism.” History has taught us that what starts with words ends much worse.”
Replacement theory rhetoric also swirled in Republican primary campaigns.
“The Democrats want open borders so they can take in tens of millions of illegal aliens and issue amnesty – that’s their electoral strategy,” Blake Masters, who is running for the Republican Senate primary in Arizona, tweeted hours after the Buffalo attack. “Not on my time.”
A spokesperson for Masters did not respond to a request for comment.
Jean-Pierre stated that the White House will speak more broadly about racism than selecting specific individuals for criticism.
“When you start saying people’s names, you get away from that topic,” he said.
While Biden does not speak directly about his theory of substitution, his warnings about racism remain a fixture of his public speaking.
“I really think we’re still at war for the soul of America,” said Biden, three days before Buffalo was shot at a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago.
Biden says he doesn’t plan to run for president in 2020 – having already fallen short in the previous two campaigns, serving as vice president and then stepping aside as Hillary Clinton consolidates her support for the 2016 race and is happy to spend some time. Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
But he said he was disgusted when “these people came out of the fields in Charlottesville, Virginia with torches in their hands” and “repeated the same anti-Semitic slogan in the streets everywhere from Nuremberg to Berlin in the early ’30s.”
He recalled how Trump had responded to questions about the rally that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, a young woman who was there to protest white supremacists.
“He said there were very good people on both sides,” Biden said.
“We can’t let that happen, guys,” he added.
NAACP chairman Johnson said the country “ultimately needs to chart a course so that we as a nation can begin to tackle domestic terrorism like foreign terrorism — as aggressively as possible.”
“White supremacy and democracy cannot go together,” he said.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews from New York contributed to this report.