In Buffalo, Biden will confront the racism he promised to fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Joe Biden talks about his decision to run against President Donald Trump in 2020, the story always begins with Charlottesville. He says it was the men with torches shouting bigoted slogans that led him to join what he calls the “battle for the soul of America.”

Now Biden is facing the latest deadly manifestation of hate after a white supremacist attacked Black people with an assault rifle. in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and left 10 dead, the deadliest racist attack since he took office.

The president and first lady Jill Biden will visit the city on Tuesday, where their first stop will be a makeshift memorial outside the supermarket. They are also expected to meet privately with victims’ families, first responders and local officials before the president makes public remarks.

In a speech at a nearby community center, Biden plans to call for tougher gun laws and urge Americans to reject racism and embrace the nation’s diversity, the White House said.

It’s a message Biden has delivered multiple times since becoming the first president to specifically address white supremacy in an inaugural address, calling it “domestic terrorism that we must confront.” Yet such beliefs remain an entrenched threat at a time when his administration has been preoccupied with crises related to the pandemic, inflation and the war in Ukraine.

“It’s important to him to come out to the families and the community and express his condolences,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP. “But we are more concerned with preventing this from happening in the future.”

It’s unclear how Biden will attempt to do that. Republicans have routinely blocked proposals for new gun restrictions. Also, the racism heard in Charlottesville, Virginia seems to have spread.

The White House said the president and first lady “will grieve with the community that lost 10 lives in a senseless and horrific mass shooting.” Three more people were injured. Almost all of the victims were black.

Biden was briefed on the shooting by his national security adviser, Liz Sherwood-Randall, before attending church services Saturday near his family’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, according to the White House. She called back later to tell him that police had concluded the attack was racially motivated.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, told a Buffalo radio station that she invited Biden to the city.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, he would be so powerful if he came here,’” Hochul said. “‘This community suffers a lot and seeing the President of the United States show them the attention that Buffalo doesn’t always get.'”

On Monday, Biden paid special tribute to one of the victims, retired police officer Aaron Salter, who worked as a security guard at the store. He said Salter “gave his life trying to save others” by opening fire on the gunman, only to die himself.

Payton Gendron, 18, was arrested at the supermarket and charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prior to the shooting, Gendron reportedly posted a speech online brimming with racism and anti-Semitism. The author of the document described himself as a supporter of Dylan Roof, who killed nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and of Brenton Tarrant, who attacked mosques in New Zealand in 2019.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron is “someone who has hate in his heart, soul and mind,” calling the attack on the store “an outright racist hate crime.”

So far, investigators are looking into Gendron’s connection to what’s known as the “great replacement” theory which unsubstantiated claims that white people are being intentionally invaded by other races through immigration or higher birth rates.

Racist ideology is often intertwined with anti-Semitism, with Jews identified as the culprits. During the 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

“A lot of those dark voices still exist today,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “And the president is determined as he was back then. . . to make sure we fight against those forces of hate, evil and violence.”

In the years since Charlottesville, replacement theory has moved from the online fringe to the mainstream of right-wing politics. A third of American adults believe there is “a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views,” according to a December poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center. for Public Affairs Research.

Tucker Carlson, the prominent Fox News anchor, accuses Democrats of orchestrating mass migration to consolidate their power.

“The country is being stolen from American citizens,” he said on August 23, 2021.

He repeated the same theme a month later, saying that “this policy is called the great replacement, the replacement of the American legacy with more obedient people from distant countries.”

Carlson’s show routinely receives the highest ratings on cable news, and he responded to the furor Monday night by accusing liberals of trying to silence their opponents.

“So because a mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, he can’t be allowed to express his political beliefs out loud,” he said.

His comment reflects how this conspiratorial view of immigration has spread through the GOP ahead of this year’s midterm elections, which will determine control of Congress.

Facebook ads posted last year by the campaign committee for Rep. Elise Stefanik, R.N.Y., said that Democrats want a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” by granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. The plan “would topple our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”

Alex DeGrasse, a senior adviser to Stefanik’s campaign, said Monday that she “has never advocated any racist position or made a racist statement.” He criticized the “disgusting and false reports” about her ads.

Stefanik is the third-ranking leader of the House Republican caucus, replacing Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, who angered the party with her denunciations of Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill.

Cheney, in a tweet on Monday, said caucus leadership “has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends much worse.

Replacement theory rhetoric has also been propagated through Republican primary campaigns.

“Democrats want open borders so they can bring in and amnesty tens of millions of illegal aliens; that’s their electoral strategy,” said Blake Masters, who is running in the Republican primary for Senate in Arizona. wrote on Twitter hours after the shooting in Buffalo. “Not on my watch.”

A Masters spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Jean-Pierre indicated that the White House would speak more broadly about racism than single out specific people for criticism.

“Once you start saying people’s names, you get away from that topic,” he said.

Although Biden has not spoken directly about the replacement theory, his warnings about racism remain part of his public speeches.

Three days before the shooting in Buffalo, at a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago, Biden said, “I truly believe that we are still in the battle for the soul of America.”

Biden said he had not planned to run for president in 2020 (he had already fallen short in two previous campaigns, served as vice president, then stepped aside as Hillary Clinton solidified support for the 2016 race) and was happy to pass. some time as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

But he said he was disgusted “when those people marched out of the fields in Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying torches” and repeating the “same anti-Semitic bile sung on the streets everywhere from Nuremberg to Berlin in the early 1930s.”

And he recalled how Trump responded to questions about the rally, which resulted in the death of heather heyera young woman who was there to protest white supremacists.

“He said there are very good people on both sides,” Biden said.

He added: “We can’t let this happen guys.”

Johnson, the NAACP president, said the country needs to “finally chart a course so that we can as a nation begin to address domestic terrorism as we would foreign terrorism, as aggressively as possible.”

He added: “White supremacy and democracy cannot coexist.”


Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.


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