update deskU.S. News

Biden appears to refer to pro-Hamas Vermont shooter as Islamophobic

The U.S. president mentioned Gaza and anti-Muslim attacks stateside often in his Arab American Heritage Month proclamation.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with senior advisers on Sept. 6, 2023, in the Oval Office. Credit: Adam Schultz/Official White House Photo.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with senior advisers on Sept. 6, 2023, in the Oval Office. Credit: Adam Schultz/Official White House Photo.

U.S. President Joe Biden referred often in his Friday proclamation on Arab American Heritage Month to what he called rising Islamophobia in the country and to Gazan civilian casualties.

“This month, we honor the rich heritage, history and hopes of the more than 3.5 million Arab Americans across our country who have helped write the American story and move our nation ever forward embodying the truth that diversity has been and always will be our country’s greatest strength,” the president stated.

“But as we come together this month to honor these contributions, we must also pause to reflect on the pain being felt by so many in the Arab American community with the war in Gaza,” Biden added. “The trauma, death and destruction in Israel and Gaza have claimed, and continue to claim, far too many innocent lives—including family and friends of Arab Americans across our nation.”

In the United States, Arab Americans are “the target of bias and discrimination, including harassment, hate crimes, racist rhetoric and violent attacks,” Biden stated. 

“In recent months, a Palestinian child was killed in his home, a young man was stabbed near a college campus and a group of students were shot while just walking down the street—tragic reminders that hate never goes away,” he added. “It only hides. It is up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.”

The reference to the students shot while walking down the street appeared to be to about three students of Palestinian descent who were shot in Burlington, Vt., on Nov. 25 near the University of Vermont.

Two days later, Biden stated that he and the first lady, Jill Biden, were “horrified to learn that three college students of Palestinian descent, two of whom are American citizens, were shot Saturday in Burlington.”

At the time, Biden urged caution in attributing motive and appeared to emphasize gun control more than cautioning about Islamophobia.

“While we are waiting for more facts, we know this: There is absolutely no place for violence or hate in America. Period,” he stated. “No person should worry about being shot at while going about their daily lives. And far too many Americans know a family member injured or killed as a result of gun violence. We cannot and we will not accept that.”

Since Nov. 25, reports have emerged that the suspect, Jason Eaton, made statements supporting Hamas, “complicating the popular narrative that emerged in the wake of the unprovoked attack,” per National Review.

“Ten days after the Hamas invasion of southern Israel, which left over a thousand dead and hundreds taken hostage, Eaton wrote on X that ‘the notion that Hamas is “evil” for defending their state from occupation is absurd. They are owed a state. Pay up,’” National Review reported.

It added that Eaton wrote in response to a post pushing for a ceasefire: “What if someone occupied your country? Wouldn’t you fight them? … Brittan [sic] wouldn’t let ships with food sent by other countries into Ireland during the famine. My people starved.”

“Eaton’s statements and personal history cast doubt on whether his motivations for attacking the three students wearing keffiyehs, traditional Arab scarves that are a popular Palestinian symbol, was hate-based,” the magazine added.

A Feb. 28 article in The New York Times Magazine made a similar point. “Hate crimes, which are predicated on the state of mind of the aggressor, are challenging to prove in court. This case was even more tricky,” per the article. “The shooter said nothing out loud before, during or after the shooting, and the man the police had charged in the attack, Jason Eaton, was a somewhat complicated character.”

Eaton had “a series of troubled relationships and jobs that didn’t work out” and his mother said “he had had mental-health struggles but was ‘totally normal’ that day,” according to the Times.

“Eaton appeared to have engaged in political discussion online. According to a local Vermont paper, he had left comments on X about an op-ed piece about Gaza—’What if someone occupied your country? Wouldn’t you fight them?’—and described himself as a ‘radical citizen pa-trolling demockracy and crapitalism for oathcreepers.’”

On Jan. 17, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, was asked about the three students during a press briefing.

“Three college students—Palestinian college students—were shot in Vermont in November. I know you’re aware of that,” the reporter said. “Nearly two months have passed since that time. They’re speaking out publicly now for the first time. Has President Biden or this White House spoken to those individuals or their families in the period since?”

“First of all, obviously, we—we offered up our—you know, our—our sympathies and, obviously, were devastated to hear about this. And it’s—glad to hear that they have—they are recovering,” Jean-Pierre responded, per a White House transcript. “We don’t have any—any readouts to give you on any conversation that we’ve had with these three students.”

The reporter persisted, and said that the president and other members of the White House do “reach out to individuals of all sorts of communities, certainly marginalized communities, in circumstances not too dissimilar from this.  So, why wouldn’t the White House reach out to these individuals?”
 
“It’s a very good question. I just don’t have—it could have happened. I just don’t have a readout to share with you at this time,” Jean-Pierre responded.

The reporters asked that she conform for the press corps—whether with a readout—”if it did happen so we can be accurate?”

“Absolutely,” she said.

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