Biden, at site of white supremacist murders, warns of Trump-led extremism

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(NEW YORK) — In his first visit to an early voting state this year, President Joe Biden on Monday in Charleston, South Carolina, warned MAGA Republicans led by former President Donald Trump “tried to steal an election” and “now they’re trying to steal history.”

He also called “white supremacy” a “poison” that continues to haunt the nation during a campaign speech at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church, where nine Black Americans were murdered by a white supremacist in a 2015 mass shooting.

“On June 17, 2015, the beautiful souls … five survivors invited a stranger into this church to pray with them,” Biden said. “The Word of God was pierced by bullets and hate, rage — propelled by, not just gunpowder, but by a poison. Poison as for too long haunted this nation. What is that poison? White supremacy. It’s a poison. Throughout our history, it’s ripped this nation apart. There’s no place in America. Not today. Tomorrow. Or ever.”

After Trump said Saturday in Iowa that Civil War bloodshed could have been avoided through negotiation — and after former South Carolina GOP Gov. Nikki Haley didn’t acknowledge slavery as the root cause of the Civil War — Biden talked about how defeated Confederates embraced “what’s known as the lost cause,” comparing that to Trump and his allies refusing to accept defeat in the 2020 election.

“Let me be clear for those who don’t seem to know, slavery was the cause of the Civil War. There is no negotiation about that,” he said.

“Now, we’re living in an era of a second lost cause,” Biden said. “This time the lie is about the 2020 election.”

Biden also referred to race concerning Trump’s downplaying of the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob trying to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner.

“A mob attacked and called Black officers, Black veterans defending the nation … and yet, an extreme movement in America, the MAGA Republicans, led by a defeated president is trying to steal history now – they tried to steal an election,” he said. “Now they’re trying to steal history – telling us that violent mob was like, quote, ‘a peaceful protest."”

“The truth is under assault in America,” he added. “As a consequence, so is our freedom, our democracy, our very country, because without the truth, there’s no light. Without light there’s no path from this darkness.”

He said those who deny the legitimacy of his win “don’t have respect for the 81 million people who voted the other way, who voted for my candidacy and voted to end the presidency.”

“In their world, these Americans, including you, don’t count. But that’s not the real world, that’s not democracy, that’s not America. In America, we all count. In America, we witness to serve all those who in fact participate. And losers are taught to concede when they lose and he’s a loser,” Biden said of Trump, to cheers.

Biden was meeting with survivors and families of those killed in the mass shooting by white supremacist Dylann Roof, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Clergy, interfaith leaders and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking Black lawmaker in Congress, were also in attendance.

Clyburn’s endorsement in February 2020 during a crowded Democratic primary was seen as instrumental in shoring up the Black vote in South Carolina which led Biden to clinch the primary and ultimately propelled him to the presidency.

“Like I told you four years ago, we know Joe But more importantly, Joe knows us,” he said Monday, positioned on Biden’s right-hand side for the program.

He’s said few places embody what’s at stake in 2024 as Mother Emanuel AME Church.

“This year’s election will determine the fate of American democracy, our freedoms, and whether this country will stand up against hate and vitriol embodied by Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans,” Clyburn said in a statement via the campaign. “Few places embody these stakes like Mother Emanuel AME – a church that has witnessed the horrors of hate-fueled political violence and a church that has spoken to the conscience of this nation and shown us the path forward after moments of division and despair.”

“I have always said that South Carolina picks presidents and I know President Biden and Vice President Harris agree,” he added.

Biden was briefly interrupted Monday by protesters chanting “cease-fire now!,” apparently referring to Israel’s war in Gaza. They were then drowned out by chants of “Four more years!”

“I understand their passion,” Biden said, addressing the interruption. “And I’ve been quietly working. I’ve been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza and using all that I can to do that.”

Jean Ortiz, who was present during the 2015 mass shooting inside Mother Emmanuel, said Monday’s interruption brought back similar feelings of fear.

“I thought they were terrible. Like it kind of gave me a flashback,” Ortiz told ABC News. “It was the same way with Dylann Roof.”

A niece of shooting victim Susie Jackson shared similar sentiments.

“It was frightening because it was almost like we relived it,” the niece said. “It was very much overwhelming when they first started. It wasn’t the time and place. If they did it outside, that was fine — but not right there on our holy grounds.”

Monday’s remarks comes as Biden looks to shore up support among Black voters, a constituency key to his election four years ago but whose approval of him has waned since he’s taken office.

He started his presidency with an 86% average approval rating among Black Americans, according to FiveThirtyEight, higher than any other racial group, but that number dropped to 60% by early last year, the lowest it’s been for Biden among Black Americans since he assumed office.

South Carolina was pivotal to Biden’s 2020 win, clinching the state’s Democratic primary by nearly 30 points — a turning point for his campaign following losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The trip — his first this year to an early voting state — comes as some Democrats, like Clyburn, express concerns not only with Biden’s appeal to Black voters and the party’s more progressive wing but with how he’ll break through the so-called “MAGA wall.”

“I’m not worried. I’m very concerned,” Clyburn said on CNN’ State of the Union Sunday, asked if he was worried about Black voters turning out to the polls.

“I have no problem with the Biden administration and what it has done. My problem is we have not been able to break through that MAGA wall, in order to get to people exactly what this person has done,” he said, ticking through achievements he thinks Biden should hit harder, such as how he’s lowered the cost of prescription drug and appointed more Black women to the court of appeals than any other president.

The Democratic National Committee reorganized its primary calendar this year to lead with South Carolina with the primary election just 26 days away, on Feb. 3.

“I’m here to speak to another truth – because of this congregation, and the Black community of South Carolina and not exaggeration, and Jim Clyburn, that I stand here today as your president. That’s a fact,” Biden said inside Emanuel to applause. “I’ve done my best to honor your trust means rejecting the small, narrow, cramped view of America, as well as lifting up a bigger, broader view of America.”

“You all made this possible because of your voice. Your voice was heard in shaping your destiny. That’s democracy. I’m proud to have led the effort to make sure your voice in South Carolina will always be heard. Because now you’re first in the primary,” he added later.

Biden’s appearance in Charleston comes on the heels of his first major 2024 campaign event, a speech near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, last Friday to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

There, the president cast Trump as a threat to democracy,

“The choice is clear. Donald Trump’s campaign is about him, not America, not you. Donald Trump’s campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. He’s willing to sacrifice our democracy, put himself in power,” Biden said. “Our campaign is different… Our campaign is about preserving and strengthening our American democracy.”

The Biden-Harris campaign told ABC News it raised more than $1 million online in the 24 hours following Biden’s democracy and freedom-focused message in the battleground state.

“In election after election, democracy and freedom are mobilizing issues for the American people,” digital director Rob Flaherty said in a statement on Monday. “In 2024, that will be no different, and we are encouraged by the strong grassroots enthusiasm we are seeing around the President’s core campaign message.”

Trump, meanwhile, said recently on his social media platform Truth Social, in what’s become a stump line for his outreach to Black voters, “I have done more for Black people than any other President (Lincoln?),” citing funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and opportunity zones.

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