Former Vice President Joe Biden launched his third presidential campaign Thursday by replaying footage of the Charlottesville tragedy which he used to portray President Trump as a defender of white supremacists. Speaking to The Daily Beast, the mother of Heather Heyer, the peaceful liberal protester murdered by one of the racist far-right demonstrators, revealed that Biden didn't let her know in advance that he was going to "capitalize" on the events that led to her daughter's murder.
"But I wasn’t surprised," said Susan Bro, Heyer's mother. "Most people do that sort of thing. They capitalize on whatever situation is handy. He didn’t reach out to me, and didn’t mention her by name specifically, and he probably knew we don’t endorse candidates."
Asked specifically if she found Biden's use of the tragedy as exploitative, she said, "Since we had not spoken, I’m glad he didn’t specifically mention Heather. It’s not all about her."
"For me, what he did this morning was that he told me where he stands on one issue," she said. "Now tell us the rest of your platform. That’s what I’m waiting to hear."
Noting that it's been two years since she lost her daughter after the protests over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville turned violent, Bro said she's "moving forward."
"I still grieve for my daughter," said Bro, who co-founded the Heather Heyer Foundation in her honor. "But I have a realistic understanding that this was a public event, and people will use it however it suits them. It’s just a fact of life."
Bro also offered some advice to President Trump, who received criticism for his initial response to the tragedy: "He should apply the same thought process as I try to apply for myself: think before you speak, always tell the truth, and be accountable for your actions."
Biden's announcement video begins with infamous footage from the Charlottesville rallies, including video of right-wing demonstrators carrying tiki torches the night before the ultimately deadly rally and others wearing combat gear and flying Nazi and Confederate flags on the day of the tragic incident. Biden describes the scene in lurid detail, citing their "crazed faces" and "veins bulging" as they bore "the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the '30s."
He then turns the focus to Trump's response by citing a quote Trump's critics have used repeatedly to portray the president as a defender of white supremacy: "That’s when we heard the words of the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were quote some 'very fine people on both sides.' 'Very fine people on both sides'? With those words, the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime," said Biden.
The Washington Examiner noted in response to the announcement video, that Biden has launched his campaign using a quote from Trump that has been stripped of its context (formatting adjusted):
After the violent clash in Charlottesville, where protests against the taking down of an historical statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee morphed into an alt-right rally, Trump held a press conference wherein he was repeatedly asked about the incident. Out of more than 15 minutes of questions and answers, the press glommed onto the three seconds where Trump said “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” It was made to look as though Trump had equated white supremacists who hijacked the event and liberals who were there to counterprotest. This is precisely the opposite of what Trump said. Trump made clear several times during the conference that he was referring specifically to those who had showed up to demonstrate against the statue’s removal and that he otherwise condemned the white supremacists.
"I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of [the people at the rally] were neo-Nazis, believe me," Trump said. "Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee."
Asked by a reporter if he believed "both sides" bore part of the blame for the violence, Trump said, "Well, I do think there's blame — yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."
He followed that up by stressing that he was "not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists": "You had people, and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally," he said. "But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists."
Heyer's murderer, James Alex Fields Jr., was convicted in 2018 of first-degree murder as well as malicious wounding and pleaded guilty to over two-dozen hate-crime charges in March as part of a plea to avoid the death penalty.