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‘Straightforward terrorism,’ Biden says of Buffalo shooting

The president called white supremacy "a poison" threatening American democracy.

(CN) — Grieving the loss of life in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, President Joe Biden delivered an emotional address on Tuesday in which he labeled the supermarket massacre a terrorist attack motivated by white supremacy.

Speaking in Buffalo before community leaders, members of Congress and the families of the 10 victims killed during the weekend shooting, Biden described the lives of each person killed during the attack and took a long pause, holding back emotion, when telling the story of a father killed while buying a birthday cake for his son's third birthday.

"Evil will not win, I promise you. Hate will not prevail," Biden said. "White supremacy will not have the last word. For evil did come to Buffalo, it has come to all too many places manifest in gunmen who massacred innocent people in the name of hateful and perverse ideology rooted in fear and racism."

An 18-year-old white man is charged with opening fire and killing 10 people and injuring three others on Saturday at Tops Friendly Market, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo. Most of the victims of the mass shooting were Black, and several were elderly.

Law enforcement have since uncovered that the accused shooter, Payton Gendron, revealed white supremacist beliefs in online posts and traveled to Buffalo from Conklin, New York, targeting the store because of the high population of Black residents who lived nearby.

He posted online about a racist right-wing conspiracy known as "replacement theory," the idea that an increasing population of non-white people in the United States aims to replace and outnumber white people, posing a threat to white power and the white race. It's a belief oft described as fringe despite dating back to the early days of America when white people stoked fear about what it would mean for their monopoly on power if Black and non-white people gained freedoms such as emancipation, reproductive autonomy or the right to vote.

The Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a hate crime alongside the FBI.

"What happened here is simple straightforward terrorism, terrorism, domestic terrorism — violence inflicted in the service of hate and the vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group," Biden said. "Hate, that through the media and politics, the internet, has radicalized angry, alienated and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced — that's the word — replaced, by the other."

Biden called white supremacy "a poison" running through America and American politics.

"The ideology of white supremacy has no place in America," Biden said. "Silence is complicity. We cannot remain silent."

He called back to the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally, killing one person and injuring dozens.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Delavan Grider Community Center in Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, following Saturday's shooting at a supermarket. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Biden has throughout his time in office and his initial presidential campaign pointed to the Charlottesville carnage as the moment that spurred his campaign for the White House. During his inaugural address, Biden called out white supremacy as a form of domestic terrorism, a message he repeated in Buffalo in front of a crowd of mourning community members.

While much of his speech focused on a full-throated condemnation of racially motivated violence, Biden made one policy call for gun reform, referencing the shooter's use of an assault-style gun in the attack.

"This venom, this violence cannot be the story of our time, we cannot allow that to happen," Biden said. "Look, I am not naive, I know tragedy will come again. It cannot be forever overcome. It cannot be fully understood either. But there are certain things we can do, we can keep assault weapons off our streets."

Biden depicted the fight against white supremacy and racism as critical to not just ending racial violence, but to upholding American democracy.

"The American experiment in democracy is in danger like it hasn't been in my lifetime. Hate and fear are being given too much oxygen by those who pretend to love America and don't understand America," Biden said. "These actions we've seen in these hate filled attacks represent the small and a hateful minority. We cannot allow them to distort the real America. We cannot allow them to destroy the soul of the nation."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown spoke before Biden took to the stage. As the city's first Black mayor, Brown spoke directly to the families of the victims: "We are here to wrap our arms around you," he said.

Biden echoed a similar message to the families of the victims.

"From your pain, may we find purpose to live a life worthy of the loved ones you lost," Biden said.

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