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Biden can stop White supremacist violence. Or he can support the police unconditionally.

He can’t do both.

People participate in a vigil to honor the 10 people killed in Saturday's shooting at Tops market on May 17, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. A gunman opened fire at the store killing ten people and wounding another three. The attack was believed to be motivated by racial hatred.Scott Olson/Getty

Now that 10 families must memorialize and bury loved ones gunned down Saturday by a White supremacist 18-year-old who drove hours to open fire on unsuspecting grocery shoppers, it is easy to read this as a moment of shared humanity transcending boundaries of race and identity.

It is not.

But you wouldn’t know it from listening to President Joe Biden’s comments, designed to elicit feelings of unity. Biden, like Barack Obama before him, is good at reminding us of what we have in common, of experiences we all share, which is usually a good thing. But in his rush to tell universal stories, the president risks obscuring the truth.

The truth is 13 people were shot, and 11 of those people were Black. Ten people died. The attack was allegedly carried out by Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, New York, and was premeditated and motivated by White supremacist ideology. Gendron has been charged with first-degree murder.

The next day, Biden addressed the massacre at the 41st annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, an event honoring fallen law enforcement officers. He cited the U.S. Justice Department’s commitment to investigating the matter as “a hate crime and racially motivated act of White supremacy and violent extremism,” then pivoted, as he usually does, to decrying “hate” in the abstract.

Funding police to eradicate White nationalism is like pouring gasoline on a raging fire while sniffing the air wondering why it’s so smoky.

It’s on us to “address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” he said. “No one understands this more than the people sitting in front of me.”

No one, he insisted, but law enforcement and their families could relate to how the family members of the Buffalo victims felt when they received that call, the one announcing the death of their loved ones. That fact is police officers do not usually face or prevent White nationalist violence. One of the strongest vectors of White supremacist violence is the people tasked with addressing the crisis: law enforcement.

Police often facilitate such violence. Even the FBI, with its history of violence, racism, and brutality, was forced to admit as much. In 2006, an internal FBI memo expressed concerns about “White supremacist infiltration of law enforcement” and “self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to White supremacist causes.” By 2015, FBI domestic terrorism investigations turned up several “active links” between “militia extremists, White supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists” and law enforcement. Police officials were connected to the very individuals or alleged domestic terrorists they were charged with investigating.

Yet, despite the obvious severity of this trend, no national strategy has emerged to identify White supremacist police officers. As a result, these connections grow in the shadows, free from any rigorous national oversight effort or investigative body. The election of Donald J. Trump strengthened those bonds. When the Republican Party adopted a platform focused almost exclusively on violently defending White political, economic, and electoral power, police unions cheered them on. And as White supremacist violence expanded throughout the Trump administration, so did police powers and budgets.

The sheer scale of ties between law enforcement and White nationalist groups became even more apparent during the summer of 2020. As protests rippled across the country and police responded with spectacular displays of violence, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law released an explosive report detailing more than two decades of connections between U.S. law enforcement and racist militant groups. The report found police links to White supremacist groups in more than a dozen states, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington.

The report confirmed what many of us already knew and witnessed throughout the 2020 uprisings: Many police officers identified and sympathized with White nationalists. From Kenosha to Philadelphia, police posed with White nationalist leaders, let armed vigilantes terrorize Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and stood by as far-right militias attacked protesters. White nationalist ideology and violence continued to grow, unfettered and unchallenged, often with the tacit support of the very people charged with restraining them.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit the memorial across the street from the scene of Saturday's deadly shooting at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.Heather Ainsworth/For The Washington Post

Stopping this type of violence is supposed to be the reason Biden ran for president. He spent much of his campaign condemning Donald Trump’s reaction to the Unite the Right rally in 2017, expressing disgust at “Klansmen and White supremacists and neo-Nazis out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and baring the fangs of racism.” The first two words of his campaign launch video are “Charlottesville, Virginia.” Biden marketed his moral leadership through the lens of racial violence. And the realities of that violence have remained a through line of his presidency.

Biden’s horror at growing White supremacist power tipped him into the race, a race he won because of the strength of Black social movements organizing against a form of racial violence he has ignored: police terror. Months later, on Jan. 6, 2021, a violent mob of White supremacists descended upon the Capitol — convinced of the inherent illegitimacy of Black voters — and sought to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.

The Jan. 6 mob, which included active and retired police officers, received so much help from Capitol police that rioters are evading federal charges by pointing to explicit support from on-duty officers. This is the reality of White nationalism in America; it may have a clear political home in the Republican party, but it also enjoys support from large swaths of law enforcement.

Throughout this crisis, Biden insists our “resolve must never, ever waver” but offers no legislative solutions and promotes hollow notions of unity. Much like his political opponents on the right who seek to legislate away an honest account of American history, Biden clings to ahistorical, nationalistic myths about police, ideas that fail to consider the real and growing dangers we face and that ultimately sustain the very racial violence he claims to despise.

What he, and Democratic Party leaders, refuse to accept is White nationalist ideology is not sustained by “lone gunmen” with “hate-filled souls”; it is nurtured by American institutions. It’s cultivated in our political systems and within police ranks. And it cannot be eradicated by the same people who are captivated by it.

House Democrats are now considering a new domestic terror law that would empower local law enforcement to identify and monitor “homegrown terrorism.” But funding police to eradicate White nationalism is like pouring gasoline on a raging fire while sniffing the air wondering why it’s so smoky.

Black political thinkers, most especially Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mariame Kaba, and Derecka Purnell, have long said police manage inequality. Police exist to respond to the unequal distribution of resources, a setup that overwhelmingly benefits White Americans, they say. It follows that policing is, in and of itself, a defense of Whiteness. Law enforcement protects the benefits, resources, and investments, such as psychic safety and property, that millions of White Americans hold dear. These benefits come at the direct expense of Black and Brown communities.

The Buffalo gunman claims to have acted in defense of such Whiteness. His manifesto indicated he believes in the “great replacement” theory, the false idea that White Americans are being “replaced” by other races. Sadly, defending Whiteness is not as radical or fringe as we’d like to believe. It is time we take stock of our institutions and the political leaders who are committed to doing the same.

Nia T. Evans is a writer, researcher, and storyteller based in New York City. She is an inaugural Black Voices in the Public Sphere fellow at Boston Review, where she writes about racial inequality, social movements, and policing.