Biden, in Milwaukee on Tuesday at his first town hall as president, fielded a question from Joel Berkowitz, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, about what Berkowitz termed the “ongoing threat” from white supremacists in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 raid on the US Capitol. A number of far-right groups and figures were involved in the insurrection.
“I got involved in politics to begin with because of civil rights and opposition to white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and the most dangerous people in America continue to exist,” Biden said on the CNN-sponsored event, which was hosted by Anderson Cooper. “That is the greatest threat to terror in America, domestic terror. And so I would make sure that my Justice Department and the civil rights division is focused heavily on those very folks, and I would make sure that we, in fact, focus on how to deal with the rise of white supremacy.”
Biden has tapped Merrick Garland, a Jewish judge, to be his attorney general.
The president noted reports of more police and military personnel joining white supremacist groups. The Trump administration downplayed the threat of right-wing terrorism, and Biden attacked Donald Trump for what he depicted as his predecessor’s encouragement of far-right groups.
“You may remember, in one of my debates with the former president, I asked him to condemn the Proud Boys and he wouldn’t do it,” Biden said. “He said ‘Stand by,’ stand ready, or whatever the phrase exactly was.” Trump had told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
Bantering with Berkowitz, who teaches foreign languages and literature, prior to the question, Biden said he studied French for five years and could not speak it.
“I’ll teach you some Yiddish some time. How’s that?” Berkowitz said.
“I understand a little bit of Yiddish,” Biden said.
“I’m sure you do,” Berkowitz said.
“It would be a shanda if he didn’t,” said Cooper, who like Biden was raised as a Roman Catholic.
Biden’s three children who survived into adulthood married Jews, making him a grandfather to several Jewish grandchildren. (Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972.)