President Joe Biden confronted the problem of domestic terrorism during a White House summit on Thursday, earning some positive reviews from New York policy analysts and others in attendance.
Biden told the audience that “white supremacists will not have the last word, and this venom and violence cannot be the story of our time.”
The president spoke at the United We Stand Summit, where he repudiated past remarks by former President Donald Trump and put forward a number of federal initiatives meant to tackle racial hatred, including enhanced interagency coordination as well as a push to have YouTube, Microsoft, and other large tech companies regulate hate.
“Evil will not win,” said Biden. “It will not prevail.”
The feeling in the room was that this was not a one-off event, but the beginning of a critical conversation and effort.
He received generally favorable reviews by many following the remarks, though many stated that follow-through was critical. The summit comes as the federal government and civic leaders have been sounding new alarms about both political violence and hate-tinged attacks.
Threats against the FBI and federal law officers recently spiked after the Justice Department executed search warrants of Trump properties in Florida in search of government documents. Trump himself warned Thursday the nation would see "problems ... the likes of which perhaps we've never seen" if he is indicted over his handling of classified documents since leaving office.
'Great first step'
Simran Jeet Singh, an attendee and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, told Gothamist in a statement it was “heartening to see the Biden-Harris administration truly investing in the fight against hate.”
He also applauded the White House for including survivors of violence, such as Pardeep Kaleka, who narrowly escaped a massacre at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, where a white supremacist killed six Sikh worshipers in 2012.
“The feeling in the room was that this was not a one-off event, but the beginning of a critical conversation and effort,” said Singh, executive director for the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program and author of “The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life.”
Fellow attendee Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in San Bernardino, California, praised the White House for bringing together “victims, local officials, academics, community advocates, and high federal officials to understand both the trauma and solutions to the scourge of hate violence.”
“I think it is a great first step and the president’s appearance is a powerful use of the bully pulpit,” Levin said in an email to Gothamist.
Levin said follow through was critical.
“One thing I’d like to see is mandatory policies and training for police,” Levin said.
This was echoed by Faiza Patel, senior director of the Liberty and National Security Program at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, who has expressed online criticism of the Biden administration’s attempts to address white supremacist violence by adopting “an ineffective, harmful counterterrorism framework that has been used to target minority communities [often Muslims] and social movements.”
Patel was broadly supportive of the White House summit, saying, “I think anything that brings attention to the issue of white supremacist violence and hate is a good thing.”
Going forward, she said, the Biden administration “should make sure that law enforcement is forced to address the issue of white supremacy within its ranks.”
She also pushed for the Biden administration to ensure “really strict rules on racial and religious and ethnic profiling” as a means of forming stronger ties between law enforcement and communities.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, a London-based scholars’ group, said in an email he was heartened to see the president directly address the problem of white supremacy, including his recent characterization of “extreme MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascism,” a statement that outraged conservative critics.
“I applaud President Biden for describing the ideology of much of the present-day GOP as ‘semi-fascist,’ because it is, and people need to understand that,” said Potok, who led anti-hate efforts at the Southern Poverty Law Center for 20 years. “The time for using soft language and minimizing the threat is very much past.”
Without referring to Trump by name, Biden used the summit to denounce his predecessor’s equivocation in the wake of the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
"He thought there were fine people on both sides," said Biden, who was introduced by Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who died after being hit by a car that plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters at the rally.
Still, Potok felt reducing right-wing violence necessitated significant gun control measures, something he labeled “a political impossibility” due to opposition from Republicans and the National Rifle Association.
“The bottom line, which is not really addressed by the United We Stand Summit, is that the remarkable rise in right-wing extremism that we are living through is driven by a huge backlash against major socioeconomic and demographic changes in our society — not mainly by essentially trivial factors like Facebook algorithms, or the need for more mental health treatment, and so on,” Potok wrote.