Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign with a video condemning President Donald Trump for his remarks after the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. A recently unearthed video reveals what may be Biden’s own Charlottesville moment, however. In the video — from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s confirmation hearings in 1993 — Biden defends “an organization made up of many fine people who continue to display the Confederate flag as a symbol.”
This comment arguably echoes Trump’s infamous comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville.
“I, too, heard that speech and, for the public listening to this, the senator made a very moving and eloquent speech, as a son of the Confederacy, acknowledging that it was time to change and yield to a position that Senator Carol Moseley-Braun raised on the Senate floor, not granting a Federal charter to an organization made up of many fine people who continue to display the Confederate flag as a symbol,” Biden says in the video.
He was defending the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), which dedicates itself to “honoring the memory of its lost confederate ancestors.” The group issued a press release defending Confederate monuments, arguing that “they simply represent a memorial to our forefathers who fought bravely during” the Civil War. UDC has sponsored 450 monuments.
The group has insisted that it “denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy,” but it has a troubling history with the Ku Klux Klan.
UDC erected a monument to the KKK outside of Charlotte, N.C. in the 1920s. “The UDC always had ties to the Klan,” Heidi Christensen, a former president of the organization’s Seattle chapter, told the Daily Beast last year. “But the connection became more overt in the 1910s. You’ve got ‘Birth of a Nation,’ and then the second rising of the Klan, and you see [the UDC] openly revering the KKK and defending them as saviors of the white southern race during Reconstruction.”
“Those things made it clear they were loyal to the Klan and saw them as heroes. And in some ways [the UDC was] sort of like the KKK’s more feminine, genteel sister organization,” Chirstensen added.
Even if UDC has condemned white supremacy and distanced itself from the KKK, it supports Confederate monuments, a cause that liberal organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have condemned. Indeed, the Charlottesville riots came as the debate over Confederate monuments reached a fever pitch, with Trump on the side of keeping the monuments as liberals demanded their removal. Indeed, protesters violently and unlawfully removed some of the monuments, and the SPLC released a map of monuments — including elementary and middle schools! — warning of “turmoil and bloodshed” if these monuments were not removed.
Biden’s support for UDC may undermine his candidacy because he launched his campaign condemning Trump’s Charlottesville remarks. The launch video zeroed in on Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Biden cast Charlottesville as a battle between good and evil — between those who echoed Nazi-style anti-Semitism (“Jews will not replace us”) and a “courageous group of Americans” who opposed them.
Using this prism, the former vice president accused Trump of having “assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”
Yet in the very press conference where Trump said that, he defended those who would keep Confederate monuments. “You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people – and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally – but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly,” he said.
Trump’s remarks were lamentable, but his intentions were clear: he aimed to defend supporters of the monuments while condemning the white supremacists. He wanted to defend the people protesting against white supremacists while condemning the more violent antifa radicals.
Liberals have seized on Trump’s remarks as evidence of racism, and Biden shamefully did so in launching his campaign. Yet if Trump’s remarks were seen as evidence of racism, what of Biden’s remarks supporting a Confederate group that once had KKK ties?
While groups like the SPLC are shamefully partisan and therefore unlikely to attack Biden over this, the video undermines the former VP’s claim to be the candidate to restore the “soul of America.”
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.