White House holds summit on ending hate-fueled violence

A grocery store in Buffalo. A nightclub in Orlando. A Walmart in El Paso: All sites of hate-fueled violence against Black, Hispanic or LGBTQ Americans over the past five years. And all somber symbols of a problem that haunts the nation and must be rooted out, Biden administration officials said Thursday.

The administration gathered educators, faith leaders and others who have experienced violence firsthand for a discussion Thursday on how stop the violence. Among the attendees were Sarah Collins Rudolph, who lost an eye and still has pieces of glass inside her body from a Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed her sister and three other Black girls at a Birmingham, Alabama, church 59 years ago. She was also expected to meet with President Joe Biden.

In 2020, hate crimes in the U.S. were the highest in more than a decade and the Justice Department has said it would step up efforts to counter it. And political violence fueled by lies about the 2020 election is overlapping with hate crimes — a growing number of ardent Donald Trump supporters seem ready to strike back against the FBI or others who they believe go too far in investigating the former president.

Law enforcement officials across the country are warning and being warned about an increase in threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings in the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

"We must stand together and we must clearly say that a harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us," Vice President Kamala Harris said in her opening remarks Thursday. "We are at an inflection point in our history, and indeed, our democracy. Years from now, our children and our grandchildren, they’re going to ask us what did you do in that moment?"

The president was expected to announce new steps to help schools, local law enforcement agencies and cultural institutions prevent and respond to such violence.

Brandon Wolf, an LGBTQ activist, recounted from the lectern at the "United We Stand Summit" about being inside Pulse nightclub in 2016 in Florida when a shooter opened fire. He was in the bathroom at the time the shooting started, and he said he remembers how cold the water was from the faucet in the split seconds before gunfire erupted.

"I remember panic, a sprint for the emergency exit," he said. "I remember willing myself to put one foot in front of other, eyes locked on a sliver of light from a door left ajar."

Wolf survived, but the shooter killed 49 people who were mostly LGBTQ and people of color. He told the crowd he knows firsthand how important it is to counter hate.