Remarks at the White House "United We Stand" Summit
Thank you, Susan. Thank you. Please, please be seated. Thank you for that introduction.
And you know, many of you have lost parts of your heart and soul yourselves. And you know that although moments like this, where we are working like the devil to see to it other people don't go through the same thing, as Susan knows, it just brings back everything. It's hard to stand up here when—and recall exactly what happened without it all flooding back as if it was happening again.
So, Susan, thank you not only for your words, but for your courage. I really mean it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Through your pain, you've found purpose worthy of the life that Heather lived and purpose to help us stand united as she did.
And that's what so many of you have done for so long in your own way as survivors of hate-filled violence, family, victims, you know, allies and advocates, mayors and community leaders, Members of Congress. Your presence is a testament to the truth that we must and we can come together regardless of our backgrounds, our beliefs. We have to stand united against hate-fueled violence—because it's real; you know it better than anyone—to affirm that an attack on one group of us is literally an attack on all of us.
I sincerely appreciate all of you joining this first-of-its-kind summit held here in the White House. And I want to thank Ana Navarro and Lisa Ling for participating.
And I want to thank the civil rights organizations that called for such a summit after the evil came to Buffalo 4 months ago: the National Urban League, the Anti-Defamation League, the Asian American Advancing Justice, the League of United Latin Citizens—Latin American Citizens, and the National Action Network.
Jill and I—my wife Jill and I—and she's teaching; that's why she's not here—traveled to Buffalo to grieve with families and deliver a message from deep in our Nation's soul: In America, evil will not win. It will not prevail. And White supremacists will not have the last word. And this venom and violence cannot be the story of our time.
So we convened this summit to make clear what the story of our time must be. It has to be a story in which each and every one of us has a vital role to play, a story—a story—with this message from the White House: United—united—united we stand.
Look, I decided to run for President, as Susan knows, after Charlottesville, literally, not figuratively. I had no intention of running, I give you my word. I was teaching, and I thought that was the best thing for me to do, as Chris knows, my colleague from Delaware.
But Charlottesville changed everything, because I believed our story is to unite as people of one Nation and one America. When those folks came out of those—that field carrying torches—the United States of America—carrying torches, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile that was chanted in Germany in the early thirties, accompanied by White supremacists holding Nazi flags. And I thought to myself, "My God, this is the United States of America"—Senator—"How could it happen?"
No, I really mean it. As my friends in the movement—civil rights movement know, I got involved in politics because of civil rights as a kid.
But the idea—the idea—that in the first quarter of the 20th century we'd have people come out of fields carrying torches, Nazi flags and banners, chanting the bile, accompanied by White supremacists, David Duke's—and his crowd. And an innocent young woman is killed. When the last guy was asked what did he think, he said he thought there were some "fine people on both sides."
Look, folks, there are core values that should bring us together as Americans. And one of them is standing together against hate, racism, bigotry, violence that have long haunted and plagued our Nation.
Another core value is standing united, for the enduring source of our strength is the idea of America. We're the most unique nation in the world. Every other nation is based on ethnicity, geography. In America, we're based on an idea—literally, not figuratively—an idea. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," that all women and men are created equal, endowed by the Creator, et cetera. We've never lived up to that, but we never before walked away from it. We never walked away from it. That's why it's so important what you're doing. It's so important that we keep hollering, so important for people to know that's not who we are.
You know, I do a lot of foreign travel in my business. [Laughter] I spend an awful lot of time and I know virtually every head of state. When I went to the first G-7 meeting in England of the largest democracies in the world, I sat down and I said—you know and have heard me say this before, Rev—I said, "America is back." You know what these leaders said around a small table with no press there? "For how long?" [Laughter] For how long?
The combination of January the 6th, what they saw in Charlottesville: That's not America, not who we are.
The idea of America is, it guarantees that everyone—everyone—is treated with dignity and equality; an idea that ensures an inclusive, multiracial democracy; an idea that we give no safe harbor—none—to hate. While we've never, as I said, fully lived up to the idea, we've never walked away from it before.
Look, I'm not naive. Kamala and I traveled to Atlanta to grieve with Asian American residents. And violence against the community rose during this pandemic. Too many people fearful just walking the streets in America.
Jewish High Holidays approach. Families will gather for reflection under the shadow of the rise of anti-Semitism just 4 years after the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in our Nation's history.
This summer, 31 White supremacists in Idaho were stopped from unleashing hateful violence just before they reached a Pride celebration, a threat following the record year of violence against transgender Americans.
Today, with the fall semester starting, we are joined by presidents of Historic Black Colleges and Universities who should be able to focus on providing the best experience possible for their students, but instead are having to worry about more bomb threats against their institutions.
Too often, Native Americans, disabled Americans face harassment, discrimination, and violence and victimization.
Unfortunately, such hate-fueled violence and threats are not new to America. There is a through-line of hate from massacres of Indigenous people to the original sin of slavery, the terror of the Klan, to anti-immigration violence against the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Mexicans, and so many others laced throughout our history. There is a through-line of violence against religious groups: anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh.
Look, folks, and that through-line of hate never fully goes away. It only hides.
If—I said before, when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I felt really good that I got the extension of the Voting Rights Act for 25 years—even got Strom Thurmond to vote for it. [Laughter] No, not a joke. And I thought—I thought—"Well, you know, hate can be defeated." But it only hides. And when given any oxygen, it comes out from under the rocks.
In the last few years, it's been given much too much oxygen in our politics, in our media, and on the internet; too much hate, all for power and profit. That's the part we don't—that's changed a little bit. It's about power and profit.
Too much hate that's fueled extremist violence that's been allowed to fester and grow. You know, as a result, our very own intelligence agencies—our own intelligence agencies—in the United States of America have determined that domestic terrorism rooted in White supremacy is the greatest terrorist threat to our homeland today. I've been around a while. I never thought I'd hear that or say that.
Enough. We need to say it clearly and forcefully: White supremacy, all forms of hate fueled by violence have no place in America. Failure to call it out is complicity. My dad would say, "If you're—silence is complicity." We can't remain silent.
There are those who say, if we bring this up, we just divide the country. Bring it up. We silence it, instead of remaining in silence. For in silence, wounds deepen. We have to face the good, the bad, and the truth. That's what great nations do, and we're a great nation.
So we face at this moment, in my view, an inflection point, one of those moments that determine the shape of everything that's going to come after. Our great-grandchildren are going to look back and decide whether or not in this 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-year period we stepped up. Because the world is changing. As the Irish poet said, "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty [has been] born."
We must choose to be a nation of hope, unity, and optimism, or a nation of fear and division and hate. And we choose—as we do, we know this: Hate-fueled violence is born into the fertile soil of a toxic division. And we won't solve the problem by going after the extreme fringes alone. We have to confront the ways in which our toxic divisions fuel this crisis for all of us—our differences.
Certainly, don't turn a fellow American into a sworn enemy. Building bridges across divides doesn't mean we're sacrificing our own beliefs and our core values. To be a nation of hope and unity and optimism, we have to recognize that there are not—we're not helpless in the face of hate and fuel violence.
We're far more united than we're divided, but we have to focus on it. In fact, the vast majority of Americans are overwhelmingly united against such violence. The vast majority of us believe in honesty, decency, and respect for others, patriotism, liberty, justice for all, hope, and possibilities.
And I know we can do this together. I really mean it. We can do this together. Last year, with Susan here at the White House, I signed a bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that included provisions named after Heather that are going to help State and local law enforcement better identify and respond to hate crimes.
Earlier this summer, I signed into law a Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety legislation in 30 years. It will help keep weapons out of the hands of people who engage in hate and rage and make them dangerous to themselves and to others.
And I'm going to say it again: I am not going to stop till we ban assault weapons. We have to ban assault weapons. I mean it. We did it once before. And when we did, mass crimes plummeted.
My first day in office, I directed my national security and homeland security team to develop a first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. The goal was to improve and enhance our understanding of this growing threat within our country, prevent people from being mobilized to violence, to counter the relentless exploitation of the internet to recruit and mobilize domestic terrorism.
And there's more we have to do together for the whole-of-Government approach and the whole-of-Nation approach. That's why today we're launching a new White House initiative on hate-motivated violence. We're going to use every Federal resource available to help communities counter hate-fueled violence, build resilience, and foster greater national unity.
For example, trainings on identifying, reporting, and combating hate-fueled violence for local law enforcement agencies, workplaces, and houses of worship; partnerships with schools that help them address bullying and harassment.
And I'm calling for a new era of national service through organizations like AmeriCorps to foster stronger communities and bridge divides in our society. And I'm calling on Congress to do its part: raise the living allowance for national service positions to the equivalent of $15 an hour. This would make national service an accessible pathway to success for more Americans of all backgrounds.
Pass my budget to increase funding to protect nonprofits and houses of worship from hate-fueled violence. And hold social media platforms accountable for spreading hate and fuel violence. And I'm calling on Congress to get rid of special immunity for social media companies and impose much stronger transparency requirements on all of them.
But, folks, it's not just the Federal Government that can act. Everyone has a role to play in this story. Whether you're a researcher seeking to understand the causes of hate-fueled violence, a philanthropist seeking to fund that research, or a concerned neighbor bearing witness to it—and most collectively condemn those seeking mainstream violence or the threat of violence.
Look, as part of this summit, nonprofit organizations like the Interfaith America, Habitat for Humanity, and the YMCA are launching new nationwide training to teach 10,000 Americans how to become bridge builders in their communities. And the U.S. Conference of Mayors is spearheading a compact with over 150 mayors—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—to address hate-fueled violence in their communities. And today a group of philanthropic leaders are announcing they'll mobilize $1 billion investment toward building a culture of respect, peace, and cooperation in our civic life.
But, folks, this is just the beginning. A new bipartisan initiative, dignity.us, will take this Nation and the national conversation we launched today on the road across all 50 States and the District of Columbia—Territories, Tribal lands—to listen and learn from the people doing this work and find ways to scale up the best ideas. A bipartisan Presidential center and senior officials from prior Democrat and Republican administrations will all support this effort.
We're also about to meet some local heroes as we're honoring the "Uniters," 21 fellow Americans: pastors, rabbis, imams building relationships across faiths; a police officer educating fellow law enforcement officers; a middle school student mobilizing her community; a filmmaker documenting the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people; and so many more who are taking a stand.
That's what this summit is all about. We, the people, we have to stand united. We have to do more.
Let me close where I started: by thanking all of you and two people in particular, Rana and—Sodhi is a brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, one of the first American victims of post-9/11 hate crimes. On this day in 2001, with Ground Zero smoldering, he was targeted, shot, and killed at work in Arizona by a White supremacist. To honor his memory, last year during the Asian American History Month here at the White House, we displayed the turban he used to wear with pride.
Ms. Sarah Collins Randolph [Rudolph]* is also here today. On this day in 1963, her sister Addie Mae was one of four little girls preparing for Sunday school who were murdered by White supremacists in the 16th [Street]* Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, which I visited. Ms. Collins Rudolph survived the bombing, but still carries the scars of that blast.
Ms. Collins Rudolph, I'm honored to see you here again. Thank you for being here. I visited the church on this day in 2019. And I'll visit with you and always remember what happened. All these years later, Ms. Randolph [Rudolph],* Mr. Sodhi providing the evidence that we need, proving that grief is universal, but so is hope, and so is love.
My fellow Americans, we remain in the battle for the soul of our Nation. When I look around at all of you here today, I know we'll win that battle. I know we'll win it. The power is within each of us to transform the story of our time, to rise together against hate, to show who we are. We are the United States of America. And there's nothing—nothing—beyond our capacity.
And one of my reasons for optimism is the young people in this country. They're the least prejudiced, most volunteering, least—how can I say it?—least likely to find blame, and most likely to get engaged. We have to organize them, just like, Rev, our generation was organized in the civil rights days. And we can do this, because the violence and the haters are in a minority. But unless we speak out—unless we speak out—it's going to continue. It'll continue.
And, folks, we cannot be intimidated by those who are talking about this as somehow we're some—a bunch of wacko liberals who are engaged in this new—[laughter]—I mean, think about how it's characterized.
We have to stand up, and I'm confident we will. Thank you all for being here. And, Susan, thank you for organizing this.
And I've said many times: Every time I'd walk out of my Grandpa Finnegan's house, he'd yell, "Joey, keep the faith." My grandmother: "No, Joey. Spread it."
Let's go spread the faith. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 3:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Susan Bro, mother of Heather D. Heyer, who was killed during the vehicular attack in Charlottesville, VA, on August 12, 2017; Ana Navarro, cohost, ABC's "The View" program; Lisa Ling, host, CNN's "This Is Life With Lisa Ling" program; Sen. Christopher A. Coons; former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; former President Donald J. Trump; Rev. Alfred C. Sharpton, Jr., founder and president, National Action Network; Vice President Kamala D. Harris; Rana Singh Sodhi, brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi; and Domestic Policy Council Director Susan E. Rice, who organized the summit. He also referred to the following United We Stand honorees: Tom Breeden, pastoral adviser, and Rachel Schmelkin, director of Jewish programs, One America Movement; Bob Roberts, Jr., Mohamed Magid, and David Saperstein, cofounders, Multi-Faith Neighbors Network; former Lt. Brian Murphy of the Oak Creek Police Department in Oak Creek, WI; Mina Fedor, founder and executive director, AAPI Youth Rising; and Jordan Dresser, Chairman, Northern Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation, Wyoming.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the White House "United We Stand" Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/357886