US president Joe Biden denounced white supremacy as a “poison” running through American politics after blaming a “hateful and perverse ideology” for the deadly racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Biden arrived in the city on Tuesday morning for a hastily arranged visit to meet a predominantly black community in mourning following a rampage that left 10 dead and three injured. Eleven of the victims were black and two were white.
Payton Gendron, 18, who lives 200 miles away and had embraced white supremacist conspiracy theories, has been charged with the murders.
Biden spoke at a local community centre after visiting the site of the shooting and meeting families of the victims, calling the attack “domestic terrorism” and “violence inflicted in the service of hate and the vicious thirst for power”.
He also singled out the “great replacement” theory as one of the root causes of the rampage and other incidents of racist violence in the US.
The fringe theory, which espouses false claims that non-whites are plotting to seize political power, has been gaining ground on the American far right. Biden said “angry, alienated, lost, and isolated individuals” had been “radicalised” into “falsely believing that they will be replaced”.
“I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit . . . We’ve now seen too many times the deadly and destructive violence this ideology unleashes,” Biden said, citing recent attacks in Charleston, South Carolina, El Paso, Texas and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in recent years.
He added: “White supremacy is a poison . . . running through our body politic. And it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes.”
While Biden unequivocally blamed racist hatred for the Buffalo murders, he stopped short of shaming particular individuals, including Republican lawmakers, for fomenting violence against minorities.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said before the speech: “The people who spread this filth, they know who they are and they should be ashamed of themselves, but I’m not going to give them or the noxious ideas they are pushing the attention that they desperately want.”
Biden also renewed his calls for tougher gun control legislation, but acknowledged that the chances of a compromise on Capitol Hill were low on even the most modest restrictions on access to weapons because of staunch opposition from Republicans.
“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 said.
The president added that it was also important to “address the relentless exploitation of the internet to recruit and mobilise terrorism”.
“The American experiment, and democracy, is in a 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, but don’t understand America,” he said.
Biden travelled to Buffalo ahead of his departure on Thursday for a trip to Asia. The president, who is suffering from low approval ratings heading into the November midterm elections, is increasingly trying to depict Republicans as captured by extremist ideologies and positions associated with former president Donald Trump.