President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the “American experiment” was “in danger” from the “poison” of white supremacy that has been allowed to “fester and grow”.
“Evil will not win,” said Mr Biden, who addressed a crowd of state and local officials and grieving families of victims of Saturday’s mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York grocery store. “In America, hate will not prevail and white supremacy will not have the last word.”
Mr Biden was in Buffalo to honour the victims of Saturday’s massacre, which was allegedly carried out by a self-described white supremacist who claimed to have been radicalised on internet message boards.
It was the latest in a string of killings committed by adherents of “replacement theory,” which posits a conspiracy exists in which Democratic elites are actively trying to replace white Americans with foreigners in hopes of retaining political power for themselves.
Such ideas, once confined to the fringe, are now mainstays of right-wing media discourse and are frequently discussed on heavily-watched outlets such as Fox News and included in campaign advertisements by mainstream Republicans.
Mr Biden called such rhetoric “evil” and said it had manifested itself in the alleged gunman, who had “massacred innocent people in the name of hateful and perverse ideology rooted in fear and racism”.
“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,” he said. “A hate that through the media and politics and the internet has radicalized angry, lost and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced by other people who don’t look like them and who are, therefore in a perverse ideology … lesser beings”.
Mr Biden said he calls on “all Americans” to “reject the lie” of “replacement theory” and condemned “those who spread the lie for power or political gain”.
“We need to say as clearly and as forcefully as we can that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America,” he said, adding that such “venom” and “violence” cannot be allowed to become “the story of our time”.
Mr Biden also called on Congress to address the easy availability of military-style rifles such as the one used by the alleged gunman, and to address what he described as “the relentless exploitation of the internet to recruit and mobilize terrorism”.
“We just need to have the courage to do that, to stand up,” he said, adding that the “American experiment in democracy” was in more danger than it has ever been in his lifetime because “hate and fear have been given too much oxygen by those who pretend to love America but don’t understand America”.
The president’s remarks came just a few hours after he paid his respects at a makeshift memorial to the shooting’s victims.
Mr Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrived at the Tops market where the shooting took place just after 10am ET on Tuesday following a short flight aboard Air Force One, and after emerging from their vehicle walked hand-in-hand to a tree that has been covered in flowers and other tributes to the victims in the four days since the attack.
After Ms Biden laid a bouquet of white flowers at the base of the tree, both the president and first lady appeared to pray for a moment, with Mr Biden crossing himself before standing with his hand over his heart.
Mr Biden and Ms Biden then met with the families of those who lost their lives in the shooting, which the alleged gunman reportedly carried out with the aim of killing as many Black Americans as possible.