WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said "white supremacy is a poison" and vowed "hate will not prevail" during a trip Tuesday to Buffalo, New York, where he grieved with family members of 10 victims killed Saturday in a racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket.
"What happened here is simple, straightforward terrorism," Biden said. "Domestic terrorism inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior."
Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with families of the shooting victims, who ranged from 32 to 86 years old. Most were Black, either shopping or working at a Tops Friendly Market in one of Buffalo's highest concentrated African American neighborhoods. The slain included a civil rights advocate, a deacon and a heroic security guard.
The president condemned the gunman's "hateful, perverse ideology rooted in fear and racism" and called out those who have pushed the "Great Replacement Theory" – the belief that white Americans are being systematically "replaced" by immigrants and minorities.
Biden said that "through the media and politics," the Internet has "radicalized angry, lost and isolated individuals" into believing the theory.
"I call on all Americans to reject the lie and I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit," Biden said, though not singling out any names. "We've now seen too many times the deadly, destructive violence this ideology unleashes."
After arriving in Buffalo in the morning, the Bidens visited a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims across from the supermarket. Jill Biden placed a bouquet of white flowers near the base of a tree covered with tributes to the victims. The president crossed himself on his chest as the first couple reflected in silence.
The Bidens then moved to the Delavan Grider Community Center, where they met with families, first responders and law enforcement officials. Jill Biden thanked the families for "opening up your hearts to us and for letting us be with you today.
"God bless you," she said.
Biden again confronts racism, a defining issue of his presidency
The shooting suspect was identified by authorities as Payton Gendron, 18, of Conklin, New York, about 200 miles east of Buffalo.
Gendron is white, and law enforcement officials were working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page document published online before the attack that discusses Great Replacement Theory. The document detailed the plot and identified Gendron by name as the gunman, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
The trip to Buffalo brought Biden back to again confronting the type of racist extremism that motivated him to run for president in 2020. Biden has pointed to violent 2017 white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a defining moment that compelled him to seek the presidency.
Biden read aloud the Buffalo shooting victims' names and stories as he began his remarks, appearing to choke up as he recounted how one of the victims, Andre Mackneil, 53, was at the grocery story to buy his 3-year-old son a birthday cake.
“His son celebrating a birthday, asking, ‘Where’s daddy?’” Biden said.
Biden said "white supremacy will not have the last word," pointing to other recent racially or ethnically motivated shootings in Charleston, South Carolina; El Paso, Texas; and Pittsburgh.
"White supremacy is a poison," Biden said. "It's a poison running through our body politic, and it's been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes. No more. I mean no more. We need to say as clearly and forcefully as we can that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America."
Biden said those who fail to call out white supremacy are complicit as well: "Silence is complicity. We cannot remain silent."
Biden renews calls for assault weapons ban
Biden only briefly mentioned gun control in his remarks, renewing his call for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Biden has also pushed Congress to require gun background checks but has failed to muster enough support in the evenly divided Senate.
"Look, I'm not naïve," Biden said. "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."
The Buffalo massacre resembles other recent mass shootings in which white gunmen traveled long distances to target groups of people based on their race or ethnicity. That includes a 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart that killed 23 and a 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people.
Many Democrats have called out conservatives including Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson for reciting "replacement" rhetoric in the past. But the White House has opted not to single out names of those espousing it.
"It doesn't matter who that is," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "We're not going to get into politics here about this. We want to make sure we're calling out what we're seeing. These are people's lives."
After returning to the White House, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris denounced racism targeting Asian Americans at an event celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
"Racism is real in America. It has always been. Xenophobia is real in America. It has always been. Sexism, too," Harris said. "We must do everything in our power to end this epidemic of hate."
The Justice Department is investigating the Buffalo shooting as a hate crime.
Jean-Pierre did not say when asked whether Gendron – who was referred for a mental health evaluation last year after threatening an attack at his high school – should have been allowed to own a gun. She pointed to the Justice Department's ongoing investigation when asked whether the administration believes he should receive the death penalty if convicted.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as well as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul joined Biden for the trip.
Over his first 16 months in office, Biden has traveled several times to meet with victims of natural disasters, but had only left Washington once before in response to a mass shooting. That came in March 2021, when Biden visited Atlanta following shootings at three spas that killed eight people including six Asian American women.
"We have to refuse to live in a country where Black people going about weekly grocery-shopping can be shot down by weapons of war deployed in a racist cause," Biden said. "We have to refuse to live in a country where fear and lies are packaged for power and for profit.
"We must all enlist in this great cause of America."
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden condemns replacement theory, grieves with families in Buffalo