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“Complete Hypocrisy”: Activist Bree Newsome Bass on Biden Fighting Racism While Funding Gaza Genocide

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President Biden delivered his second campaign speech of the year Monday at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist gunman killed nine people in 2015. Biden remembered the victims, spoke of the “poison of white supremacy” and assailed his Republican rivals for not taking racism seriously, but Biden’s speech was interrupted at one point by protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, where Israel’s U.S.-backed war has killed over 23,000 people. “There’s no way we’re fighting white supremacy … in the midst of genocide,” says artist and activist Bree Newsome Bass, who criticizes Biden for using the Black church as a political prop. “The last thing that we need is to carry on business as usual.” In 2015, Newsome Bass climbed a 30-foot flagpole outside the South Carolina Capitol to remove the Confederate flag following the church massacre.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to South Carolina, where President Biden delivered his second campaign speech of the year at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where in 2015 eight Black parishioners and their pastor were shot dead by a white supremacist. Biden remembered the victims.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: On June 17th, 2015, the beautiful souls, five survivors — and five survivors invited a stranger into this church to pray with them. The word of God was pierced by bullets in hate, of rage, propelled by not just gunpowder but by a poison, a poison that’s for too long haunted this nation. What is that poison? White supremacy. Oh, it is. It’s a poison. Throughout our history, it’s ripped this nation apart. This has no place in America, not today, tomorrow or ever.

PROTESTERS: Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That’s all right. That’s all right.

PROTESTERS: Ceasefire now!

AMY GOODMAN: As he spoke, Biden was disrupted by activists demanding a Gaza ceasefire.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Without light, there’s no path from this darkness.

PROTESTER: If you really care about the lives lost here, then you should honor the lives lost and call for a ceasefire in Palestine!

PROTESTERS: Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

AMY GOODMAN: As the protesters were removed from the church, supporters of President Biden began chanting “four more years.” He addressed the protesters.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I understand their passion. 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. I’ve been using all that I can to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Without naming Donald Trump, Biden blasted the former president and leading 2024 Republican candidate as a loser who tried to overthrow the 2020 election results by urging his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A number carried Confederate flags and wore white supremacist and far-right symbols.

Following the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in 2015, following the mass funeral at the University of Charleston arena that thousands came out for, our next guest, Bree Newsome Bass, scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina state Capitol and removed the Confederate flag. As police officers shouted at her to come down, she shimmied to the top of the flagpole, took the flag in her hand and said, “You come against me with hatred. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”

BREE NEWSOME BASS: You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!

AMY GOODMAN: While Bree Newsome was arrested, along with an ally, it was only after this action that the Confederate flag was formally removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was governor of South Carolina at the time. She has faced fresh backlash after she didn’t mention slavery when asked about the cause of the U.S. Civil War during a recent town hall in New Hampshire.

Well, for more, we’re joined in Raleigh, North Carolina, by Bree Newsome Bass, artist, antiracist activist.

Bree, welcome back to Democracy Now! This certainly does take us back. As people debate whether it was Nikki Haley who ultimately forced the flag to come down, we’re going to the woman who actually took it down and risked your freedom to do it. Talk about why you did that then — ultimately, the Legislature would vote to take it down — and how you feel about what’s happening today.

BREE NEWSOME BASS: Yes. And thank you again so much for having me on.

You know, and I want to make it clear: Yes, I did scale the pole and take the Confederate flag down; this was an issue that people had been protesting for years and years and years. And that’s part of what made it so egregious in 2015, when we had the massacre at Emanuel AME and South Carolina refused to lower the flag, because part of the reason why they were refusing to lower the flag is that they had passed a law in the year 2000 saying that it couldn’t be lowered for any reason, after they moved it from the Capitol dome to the flagpole on the lawn, where it was at the time that I took it down. So this had been going on for years and years and years.

And Nikki Haley actually opposed taking the flag down, right up until those massacres occurred and the mounting political protest and, you know, the pressure made it where she basically had to, at that point, support the flag coming down. So, ideologically, she has never really had the stance of being opposed to either the Confederacy or — excuse me — symbols of the Confederacy, and certainly not opposed to racist policies. She went right from the governorship to serving in the Trump administration. And she’s had a number of incidents over the years, where the things that she says or the things that she does directly contradict with her claim of having led the way on taking the Confederate flag down. At one of her recent rallies, she played that song “Find Out in a Small Town,” you know, the song that people really raised a lot of concern about because it was obviously alluding to sundown towns and the racial violence that Black people have experienced here for decades and decades and decades. So this is not new for Nikki Haley. It just shows that she does not really represent antiracism in any real way.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bree, I’d like to ask you — in response to President Biden’s speech, you posted on social media, quote, “How the Black church is used as a prop for white politicians actually proves the point that racism is alive & well & strong.” Could you expand on that?

BREE NEWSOME BASS: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, I think that the whole way that the incidents in 2015, both the massacre at Emanuel AME, the refocus on the Confederate flag there in South Carolina, the formal ceremony around taking the flag down, and the way that American politics returns to those moments again and again and again speaks to how relevant it still is, the fact that Black churches are frequently used as, you know, political campaign stops for politicians.

In this case with Joe Biden, you know, he is clearly trying to make an appeal not just to Black voters, but really trying to fend off criticism that he is racist, that he is sponsoring a genocide. And that criticism is completely well founded, because he is sponsoring a genocide, and genocide is the most extreme form of racial violence that there is. And so, to use the pulpit at Emanuel AME in this manner, to make it a prop, essentially, for Joe Biden’s reelection bid, to me, is the greatest assault on truth. I know Joe Biden stood there in the pulpit and said that there is an assault on truth that’s happening right now. Joe Biden is, in many ways, leading that assault. And I know that he’s running against Donald Trump, who we know is also a serial liar, but Donald Trump is not the one who is currently in office right now. It is Joe Biden.

And this effort to use the church, not just the Black church, but the site of racial violence, of a mass murder, to deflect from the fact that Joe Biden himself is bombing churches, bombing mosques, bombing places of worship and murdering many civilians, people who have sought shelter in those places, it just exposes the complete hypocrisy of this entire situation and the vacuum of moral leadership at the top. And that’s why I took offense to it. I think that’s why many people who watched it took offense to it. I’m very glad that the young people stood up and protested, because even though they were few in that audience, they represented the majority of people worldwide.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting, Bree. The polls that have just come out today indicate that Nikki Haley is surging in the polls in New Hampshire. You referenced where she stood on the Confederate flag. I wanted to go back to 2014, when then-South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley suggested South Carolina had resolved its image problem and that having the Confederate flag at the Statehouse was fine because not a single CEO had complained. She was speaking at a gubernatorial debate.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY: You know, the Confederate flag is a very sensitive issue. And what I can tell you is, over the last three-and-a-half years I spend a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag. What is important here is that we look at the fact that, yes, perception of South Carolina matters. That’s why we have everybody answering the phones, “It’s a great day in South Carolina.” That’s why we’re being named the friendliest state, the most patriotic state, and getting all these great accolades. But we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian American female governor, when we appointed the first African American U.S. senator.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Nikki Haley back in 2014. Bree Newsome Bass, your final comment?

BREE NEWSOME BASS: I mean, I think that says it all, right? So, first of all, she’s saying that it’s OK, the optics are OK. Right? We’re not talking about the substance. We’re not talking about the experience. We’re not talking about whether people are actually experiencing equal treatment under the law. Just the optics. So the optics are fine, because it’s not disrupting business, right? And then the other thing that she offers as evidence that everything is OK is the fact that she’s nonwhite, she is an Indian American woman, and then she points to other people in the administration — excuse me — who are nonwhite.

Well, that’s the entire problem right there. The idea is that so long as we can keep business going as usual, it doesn’t matter that there’s violence, it doesn’t matter that there’s racism. All that matters is the optics. And that is what Nikki Haley’s campaign represents in her falsely claiming that she led the way on taking the Confederate flag down. That’s what Joe Biden’s campaign represents in terms of thinking that all that matters is giving a speech at a church, and ignoring all of the churches that are being blown up and all of the Palestinians that are being killed, ignored the fact that young people are demanding a future, and we have people who are older who don’t seem to care at all that this assault in Palestine is disproportionately affecting children or killing children.

And then, in the case of Nikki Haley, again, she does not truly represent any of the things that she is claiming when it comes to being antiracist. You can say whatever words you want to say, you can put together whatever kind of events you want to put together, but the fact is that the truth is going to be the truth. We see what is actually happening.

And I support all of the disruptions, because the last thing that we need is to carry on business as usual when our democracy is absolutely under attack. Democracy is under attack worldwide. And genocide is the most extreme — the most extreme form of racial violence that there is. So there’s no way that we are fighting white supremacy simply by taking down a flag or having an event at Emanuel AME in the midst of genocide, in the midst of doing away with affirmative action, voting rights, the attack on abortion rights. This is where we are at. It’s a very dangerous place. And I hope that people look beyond the optics and support those people who are disrupting, because the last thing that we need is to carry on with business as usual.

AMY GOODMAN: Bree Newsome Bass, artist, antiracist activist. In 2015, following the massacre of the eight African American parishioners and their pastor by a white supremacist at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Bree scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina state Capitol and removed the Confederate flag.

Next up, we go to the growing support for reparations in America. Stay with us.

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