On June 1 2021, United States President Joe Biden gave a speech acknowledging the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, offering comments that seem to have pushed disinformation purveyors into previously undreamt-of heights of fantasy.
For example, on June 2 2021, Dinesh D’Souza claimed that Biden said, “white supremacy is a bigger threat to America than ISIS or terrorism”:
D’Souza linked to a June 1 2021 Rumble.com post credited to him with the headline, “Biden Mindlessly Claims White Supremacy is a Bigger Threat to America than ISIS or Terrorism.” It consisted of a 23-second-long video clip and the following caption (presumably written by D’Souza):
Biden continues to mindlessly and robotically repeat left wing talking points that no sane person believes.
D’Souza — a would-be pundit whose quest for fame remains undeterred by the fact that his cockeyed claims are perpetually debunked by actual experts — remains a prolific pusher of disinformation. He previously maintained that Facebook “demoted” former United States President Donald Trump during his lame-duck tenure (not true), that Democrats excised “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance at the 2020 DNC (out of context), and that Rep. Ilhan Omar “married her brother” (not true).
The snippet in the video was not altered, just closely clipped from its broader context. We have underlined the portion in the video promoted by D’Souza, and emphasized the totality of the statement around it:
Look around at the various hate crimes against Asian Americans and Jewish Americans. Hate that never goes away. Hate only hides.
Jesse, I think I mentioned this to you. I thought, after you guys pushed through, with Dr. King, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act — I thought we moved. But what I didn’t realize — I thought we had made enormous progress, and I was so proud to be a little part of it.
But you know what, Rev? I didn’t realize hate is never defeated; it only hides. It hides. And given a little bit of oxygen — just a little bit oxygen — by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away.
And so, folks, we can’t — we must not give hate a safe harbor.
As I said in my address to the joint session of Congress: According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al Qaeda — white supremacists. (Applause.) That’s not me; that’s the intelligence community under both Trump and under my administration.
Two weeks ago, I signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which the House had passed and the Senate. My administration will soon lay out our broader strategy to counter domestic terrorism and the violence driven by the most heinous hate crimes and other forms of vigorty [sic] — of bigotry.
D’Souza’s characterization of Biden’s commentary was inaccurate on at least two counts — he misleadingly paraphrased what he said, and he inserted a separation between white supremacist terrorism and “terrorism.”
As the transcript demonstrates, Biden did not “mindlessly” claim that white supremacists represented a “bigger threat to America than ISIS or terrorism,” he said that according to the intelligence community,” “terrorism from white supremacy was the most lethal threat” to the United States as of 2021. (Biden also referenced “terrorism from white supremacy” specifically, indicating that white supremacists commit terrorist acts.)
For additional context, on March 17 2021, multiple outlets covered a contemporaneous assessment of the threat posed by white supremacists as it related to domestic terrorism. For example, Reuters published an article titled “U.S. report warns of threats from white supremacists, militias,” and defined the source of the information:
U.S. [intelligence] agencies warned on [March 17 2021] of an ongoing threat that racially motivated violent extremists, such as white supremacists, will carry out mass-casualty attacks on civilians while militia groups target police and government personnel and buildings.
Agencies contributing to the assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence included the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center.
The agencies said that recent political and social developments – such as claims by Republican former President Donald Trump and his supporters about fraud in November’s U.S. presidential election, restrictions related to COVID-19, fallout from the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, and conspiracy theories – “will almost certainly spur” some domestic extremists “to try to engage in violence this year.”
Coverage of the cross-agency report released in March 2021 expressly described white supremacists as engaging in terrorism (not a threat discrete and separate from terrorism, a distinction that D’Souza appears to be anxious to make.) That report followed a March 8 2021 internal FBI memo advising that white supremacists sought to infiltrate law enforcement agencies, based on intelligence gathering over the course of several years:
Based on investigations between 2016 and 2020, agents and analysts with the FBI’s division in San Antonio concluded that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists would “very likely seek affiliation with military and law enforcement entities in furtherance of” their ideologies, according to a confidential intelligence assessment issued late [in February 2021].
The document, obtained by ABC News, was distributed to law enforcement agencies both in Texas and elsewhere in the country. It focuses on extremists inspired by the white-supremacist publication “Siege,” which served as motivation for the neo-Nazi group known as “Atomwaffen Division,” among others. The report is titled “Siege-Inspired Actors Very Likely Seek Military and Law Enforcement Affiliation, Increasing Risk of Tradecraft Proliferation and Color of Law Offenses in the FBI San Antonio Area of Responsibility.”
Intelligence agencies warning of white supremacist violence was not a new phenomenon as of 2021, either. A September 2020 report in Politico (“DHS draft document: White supremacists are greatest terror threat”) began with a brief summary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence drafted that month:
White supremacists present the gravest terror threat to the United States, according to a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security.
Two later draft versions of the same document — all of which were reviewed by POLITICO — describe the threat from white supremacists in slightly different language. But all three drafts describe the threat from white supremacists as the deadliest domestic terror threat facing the U.S., listed above the immediate danger from foreign terrorist groups.
Politico.com’s story quoted a national security expert who observed that “the change in language on white supremacist terrorism is significant.” Notably, “white supremacist” and “terrorism” were not separated, and together the terms constituted an entire label. In August 2019, The Guardian reported that similar warnings from inside the intelligence community began as early as 2009.
In short, D’Souza’s assertion that United States President Joe Biden had “mindlessly [claimed] white supremacy [posed] a bigger threat to America than ISIS or terrorism” was inaccurate on two counts. Biden did not say he himself believed the claim to be true, he said that the intelligence community stated as such — which is true. Moreover, the same intelligence agencies quoted by President Biden made no either/or distinction between “white supremacy … or terrorism”; instead, they tended to examine “white supremacist terrorism” as a domestic threat.