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Biden denounces white supremacy while in Buffalo to visit shooting victims' families

EMILY FENG, HOST:

In Buffalo, N.Y., today, a community continues to mourn. It's been three days since an 18-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist is alleged to have shot and killed 10 Black people at a grocery store and injured three other people - a racist attack that's left the nation reeling. President Biden and the first lady arrived in Buffalo today to console families of the victims.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Jill and I bring you this message from deep in our nation's soul. In America, evil will not win. I promise you. Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word.

FENG: We're joined now by NPR's Adrian Florido, who is in Buffalo. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Emily.

FENG: Tell us more about President Biden's visit.

FLORIDO: Well, his first stop was the grocery store where this massacre happened. He and first lady Jill Biden laid a bouquet of white flowers and then spent some time there in silence. Later, at a community center, the president met privately with families of the victims before delivering a public speech. He held back tears. He told the families he hoped that from their pain, the nation would find purpose.

FENG: And what else did he say?

FLORIDO: Well, he spoke at length about the ideology of white supremacy that fueled the alleged gunman and the so-called replacement theory that this gunman apparently subscribed to - a theory that elites want to replace and disempower white people by replacing them with non-whites. Biden called these views a lie, a poison festering in the U.S. and becoming more mainstream with the help of right-wing politicians and media.

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BIDEN: I and all of you reject the lie. I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit.

FLORIDO: And he said the consequences of not rejecting these views are evident here in Buffalo and in cities like Charleston, El Paso and others where white nationalists have carried out mass killings in recent years.

FENG: In the days since this shooting, there has been a lot of talk among advocates about the need for gun reform. Did the president address that?

FLORIDO: He said very little. He made a passing mention in his speech about the importance of keeping military-style assault weapons off of American streets, but he stopped short of committing to fight for that. It seemed to be a tacit recognition that despite the persistence of these kinds of mass killings, gun control proposals are basically non-starters in Congress.

FENG: And how are Buffalo residents reacting to the president's visit today?

FLORIDO: Well, reaction's been mixed. A crowd gathered outside the community center where the president spoke. And some people said they appreciated his visit. But Taniqua Simmons, a local activist, said that the president needed to say more about his plans to combat hate.

TANIQUA SIMMONS: What I need to know is what is my government going to do about these active groups? Like, how many of these hate groups have to kill people before they are knocking down their doors and throwing them in jail?

FENG: And as this community mourns, there is a case against the alleged killer that's moving forward. Where does that stand?

FLORIDO: Well, the suspect is still in custody here in Buffalo on a single count of first-degree murder, to which he's pleaded not guilty. He'll be in court again on Thursday with more charges expected. Investigators are poring over several racist screeds he apparently posted online - his online and social media posts. They're trying to piece together how he planned this attack in recent days and months. Federal prosecutors are also investigating, and they are likely to file federal hate crimes charges, too.

FENG: NPR's Adrian Florido in Buffalo, N.Y. Thank you.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Emily. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.