Courting Black voters he needs to win reelection, President Joe Biden on January 8 denounced the “poison” of White Supremacy in America, declaring at the site of a deadly racist church shooting in South Carolina that such ideology has no place in America, “not today, tomorrow or ever.”

President Biden spoke from the pulpit of Mother Emanuel AME Church, where in 2015 nine Black parishioners were shot to death by the White stranger they had invited to join their Bible study.

The Democratic president’s speech followed his blunt remarks on the eve of the anniversary of the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, in which he excoriated former President Donald Trump for “glorifying” rather than condemning political violence.

At Mother Emanuel, President Biden said “the Word of God was pierced by bullets of hate, propelled not just by gunpowder, but by poison.”

“White supremacy,” he said, the view by some Whites that they are superior to everyone else is a “poison that for too long has haunted this nation. This has no place in America, not today, tomorrow, or ever.”

It was a grim way to kick off a presidential campaign, particularly for someone known for his unfailing optimism and belief that American achievements are limitless. But it was a reflection of the emphasis President Biden and his campaign were placing on energizing Black voters amid deepening concerns among Democrats that the president could lose support from this critical constituency heading into the election.

President Biden’s campaign advisers and aides hope the visit successfully lays out the stakes of the race in unequivocal terms three years after the cultural saturation of Trump’s words and actions while he was president. It was a contrast they hope will be paramount to voters in 2024.

President Biden also used the speech, his second major campaign event of the year, to thank the state’s Black voters. After an endorsement by Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn, one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the U.S. House, the state made President Biden the winner of its Democratic presidential primary in 2020. That, in turn, set him on a path to become the party’s nominee and defeat Trump to win the presidency.

“I owe you,” he said.

The president also swiped at Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, and Trump, though he did not name either one. Haley spent several days on the defensive after avoiding having to admit that slavery was the root cause of the American Civil War, when the question was posed to her by a participant at a campaign event.

President Biden called it a “lie” that the war was about states’ rights. “So let me be clear, for those who don’t seem to know: Slavery was the cause of the Civil War. There’s no negotiation about that.”

He also noted the scores of failed attempts by Trump in the courts to overturn the 2020 election in an attempt to hold onto power, as well as the former president’s embrace of the deadly January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

“Let me say what others cannot: We must reject political violence in America. Always, not sometimes. Always. It’s never appropriate,” President Biden said. He said “losers are taught to concede when they lose. And he’s a loser,” referring to Trump.

It was June 17, 2015, when a 21-year-old White man walked into the church and, intending to ignite a race war, shot and killed nine Black parishioners and wounded one more. President Biden was vice president when he attended the memorial service in Charleston.

President Biden’s aides and allies say the shootings are among the critical moments when the nation’s political divide started to sharpen and crack. Though Trump, the current Republican presidential front-runner, was not in office at the time and has called the shooting “horrible,” President Biden is seeking to tie Trump’s current rhetoric to such violence.

Two years after the attack, as the “Unite The Right” gathering of White Nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted in violent clashes with counterprotesters. Trump said merely that “there is blame on both sides.”

President Biden and his aides argue it was all part of the same problem: Trump refused to condemn the actions of the White Nationalists at that gathering. He has repeatedly used rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are “poisoning the blood of our country,” yet insisted he had no idea that one of the world’s most reviled and infamous figures once used similar words.

And Trump has continually repeated his false claims that he won the 2020 election, as well as his assertion that the Capitol rioters were patriotic. He has called the long prison sentences handed down for some offenders — whom he calls “hostages” and were convicted of crimes like assaulting police officers or seditious conspiracy — “one of the saddest things.”

At Mother Emanuel, President Biden revisited themes from the January 6 speech he delivered a day before the tragedy’s third anniversary.

President Biden has repeatedly suggested that democracy itself is on the ballot, asking whether it is still “America’s sacred cause.”

Trump faces a historic 91 criminal charges stemming from his efforts to organize the January 6 insurrection as a terror tactic to remain in power, after his staggering election loss gave the Presidency to Joe Biden.

South Carolina is the first official Democratic nominating contest where Biden wants a strong showing again this year. Before President Biden’s appearance, Malcolm Graham, a brother of Charleston church victim Cynthia Graham-Hurd, said the threat of racism and hate-fueled violence was part of a needed national conversation about race and American democracy.

“Racism, hatred, and discrimination continue to be the Achilles’ heel of America, of our nation,” said Graham, a city councilman in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Certainly, what happened to the Emanual Nine years ago is a visible example of that. What happened in Buffalo, years later, where people were killed under similar circumstances, shows that racism and discrimination are still real and it’s even in our politics.”

Graham said it was shameful that some politicians still struggle to link the Civil War and slavery. He said he felt the Trump administration was a preview of what it was like to have a new generation of unrepentant White Nationalists in power.

“As a nation, we can’t eradicate racism, hatred, and discrimination, if it’s in the Oval Office,” he said. “We have to chart a different course.”

Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville, AP Staff, and MI Staff

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, South Carolina

Stephanie Scarbrough (AP) and Mic Smith (AP)