WASHINGTON (AP) — A grocery store in Buffalo. A nightclub in Orlando. A Walmart in El Paso: All sites of hate-fueled violence against Black, Hispanic or LGBTQ Americans over the past five years. And all somber symbols of a “through line” of hate that must be rooted out, President Joe Biden said Thursday.
The administration gathered educators, faith leaders and others who have experienced violence firsthand for a discussion on how stop the violence, and promised action.
In 2020, hate crimes in the U.S. were the highest in more than a decade, and the Justice Department has pledged to increase efforts to counter it. Now, political violence fueled by lies about the 2020 election is overlapping with hate crimes: A growing number of ardent Donald Trump supporters seem ready to strike back against the FBI or others whom they believe are going too far in investigating the former president.
Biden spoke of a hate “through-line” that, along with racism, bigotry and violence, has long plagued the nation. Hate never goes away, he said, it only hides. And it is up to everyday Americans to stop giving it any air and to stamp it out.
“All forms of hate fueled by violence have no place in America,” he said.
The president’s somber, reflective tone on America’s long history of hate crime was in stark contrast to his sharp-tongued speech a few weeks ago, when he rebuked Trump-supporting Republicans for proliferating falsehoods about the 2020 election that have taken root and fueled violence.
On Thursday, Biden briefly mentioned the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as a moment that didn’t reflect “who we are” as a nation. And he said that hate had been given too much oxygen in politics, media and on the internet lately.
“The violence and the haters are in a minority. … Unless we speak out, it’s going to continue,” he said.
Biden pointed to new federal efforts to help schools, local law enforcement agencies and cultural institutions prevent and respond to such violence. He also called on Congress to impose stronger transparency requirements on social media companies, whose platforms allow anonymous hate to proliferate hate.
Among the attendees Thursday was Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. In remarks introducing Biden, Bro spoke about how losing her daughter was part of a bigger story.
“Her murder resonated around the world. But the hate did not begin nor end there,” Bro said. “While my daughter’s death received so much national and international attention, all too often these hateful attacks are committed against people of color with unacceptably little public attention.”
Other attendees included Sarah Collins Rudolph, who lost an eye and still has pieces of glass inside her body from a Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed her sister and three other Black girls at a Birmingham, Alabama, church 59 years ago. And the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man from Arizona who was killed in a hate crime four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Law enforcement officials across the country are warning and being warned about an increase in threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings in the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
“We must stand together and we must clearly say that a harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in her opening remarks Thursday. “We are at an inflection point in our history, and indeed, our democracy. Years from now, our children and our grandchildren, they’re going to ask us, ‘What did you do in that moment?’”
Brandon Wolf, an LGBTQ activist, recounted from the lectern at the “United We Stand Summit” his experience being inside Pulse nightclub in 2016 in Florida when a shooter opened fire. He was in the bathroom at the time the shooting started.
“I remember panic, a sprint for the emergency exit,” he said. “I remember willing myself to put one foot in front of other, eyes locked on a sliver of light from a door left ajar.”
Wolf survived, but the shooter killed 49 people who were mostly LGBTQ and people of color. He told the crowd he knows firsthand how important it is to counter hate.
Civil rights groups in attendance said the summit was not just lip service, and they were planning for action.
“There was simply not talk and reflection today, but a commitment to action, by the government,” said Marc Morial of the National Urban League.