President Joe Biden condemned the “poison” of white supremacy in the “body politic” in the United States after a gunman killed 10 people at a market in a majority Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, on Saturday.
“Hate and fear are being given too much oxygen by those who pretend to love America but who don’t understand America,” Biden told a group of victims’ families, local officials and first responders in Buffalo on Tuesday.
“We’re the most multiracial, most dynamic nation in the history of the world. Now’s the time for the people of all races, from every background, to speak up as a majority of Americans and reject white supremacy.”
Biden’s remarks were a response to the actions of Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white male, who police say travelled 320 kilometres (200 miles) from his hometown in rural New York to kill Black people in Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city.
The shooter wore a bulletproof vest and painted the N-word on the barrel of his semi-automatic rifle and the number “14”, a reference to a white supremacist slogan. He issued a 180-page manifesto that pushed anti-Black and anti-Jewish conspiracy notions called “replacement theory”. And he broadcast the first two minutes of his shooting spree on Twitch, an online streaming platform popular with video gamers, according to law enforcement.
“These actions we’ve seen in these hate-filled attacks represent the views of a hateful minority. We can’t allow them to distort America,” Biden said, calling the racism that motivated Saturday’s mass shooting “evil”.
Replacement theory is a racist ideology, which has moved from fringe white nationalist circles to mainstream politics, that alleges white people and their influence are being intentionally “replaced” by people of colour.
The nation must “reject the lie” of the racist “replacement theory” espoused by people like the Buffalo market shooter, Biden said.
Biden renewed his calls to ban assault-style weapons and said Congress must “address the relentless exploitation of the Internet to recruit and mobilise terrorism”.
“It’s important for him to show up for the families and the community and express his condolences,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “But we’re more concerned with preventing this from happening in the future.”
Proposals for new gun restrictions have routinely been blocked by Republican politicians in a divided Congress in recent years.
Biden acknowledged it will be difficult to push gun control measures but said that he would not give up on seeking to enact changes to curb gun violence.
“I’ve got to convince the Congress,” he told reporters as he departed Buffalo.
“Part of what the country has to do is look in the mirror, that’s the reality. We have a problem with domestic terrorism. It’s real.”
In his remarks Tuesday, Biden paid tribute to each of the 10 people who lost their lives, describing them as model citizens, beacons of their community and deeply committed to family.
Three more people were wounded. Nearly all the victims were Black, including all those who died.
The shooter’s hateful writings echoed those of the white supremacists who marched with torches in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, a scene that Biden said inspired his decision to run against President Donald Trump in 2020 and that drove him to join what he calls the “battle for the soul of America”.
Gendron was arrested at the market and has been charged with first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held on suicide watch. The FBI has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the incident.