Fact Check: Is Biden First President to Denounce White Supremacy in His Inaugural Address?

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday. Though Kamala Harris became the 49th vice president, she is the first woman, first Black and first Asian American in that role.

As Biden called for unity during his inaugural address at the Capitol, viewers were reminded of the insurrection that took place at the historic building on January 6, when Trump-supporting rioters breached the Capitol, resulting in five deaths.

NPR reported that "people allegedly affiliated with organizations such as The Three Percenters, The Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Texas Freedom Force, and other self-described Nazis and white supremacists were among the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building, according to federal investigators."

A man also was seen wearing an anti-Semitic Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt while breaching the Capitol building.

A rioter who was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt while inside the Capitol last week was arrested in Newport News, Virginia, on Wednesday morning, according to law enforcement officials. https://t.co/xJs2dvNu6f

— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 13, 2021

Now-former President Donald Trump, who did not attend Biden's inauguration, repeatedly has been criticized for failing to denounce white supremacy, including after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

During the first presidential debate in September, Trump was asked whether he condemned white supremacists and military groups, according to the New York Times. In response, he told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by."

On January 13, Trump was impeached for the second time as the House charged him with "incitement of insurrection" following the violence at the Capitol.

In his inaugural address, Biden did not shy away from talking about the political and ideological divisions that have surged throughout the country for the past four years.

"The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can't be any more desperate or any more clear," Biden said. "And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

"To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity, unity."

First mention of white supremacy by name in a presidential inaugural address.

— Nathan Kalmoe (@NathanKalmoe) January 20, 2021

The Claim

Following the inauguration, numerous posters on Twitter claimed that Biden was the first president to use the term "white supremacy" in an inaugural address.

Nathan Kalmoe, an associate professor of political communication at Louisiana State University, echoed the claim.

President Joseph Biden is the first president in HISTORY that denounced white supremacy in his inaugural speech.

That is significant. #InaugurationDay #Inauguration2021 #BidenHarrisInauguration https://t.co/Ju64l5L7iI

— Anna Gifty's VP is a BLACK WOMAN. (@itsafronomics) January 20, 2021

The Facts

Prejudice and racism have shaped America since the country's inception. However, these issues rarely have played key roles in previous inaugural addresses. Some speeches briefly mentioned the subject of racial injustice, while others promoted an overarching theme of equality for people of all backgrounds. Only a few have addressed the harsh realities faced by people of color in America.

In his 2017 inaugural address, Trump attempted to unite people not by individual identity but by a shared patriotism for America.

"A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget—that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots," Trump said.

"We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same Almighty Creator."

In 2013, President Barack Obama said, "Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

"What makes us exceptional—what makes us American—is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"

In 2001, President George W. Bush said, "America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American."

In 1997, President Bill Clinton specifically condemned prejudice in his inaugural speech.

"The divide of race has been America's constant curse. And each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices. Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction are no different. These forces have nearly destroyed our nation in the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of terror. And they torment the lives of millions in fractured nations all around the world....

"Our rich texture of racial, religious and political diversity will be a Godsend in the 21st century. Great rewards will come to those who can live together, learn together, work together, forge new ties that bind together."

In 1969, President Richard Nixon said, "We have given freedom new reach, and we have begun to make its promise real for black as well as for white.

"This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man."

Lyndon B. Johnson spoke before Congress following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. In his speech, he denounced bigotry and called for the passage of a civil rights bill.

"First, no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law," Johnson said.

"I urge you again, as I did in 1957 and again in 1960, to enact a civil rights law so that we can move forward to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color. There could be no greater source of strength to this Nation both at home and abroad."

The Ruling


While other presidents have spoken about the relationship between race and equality in their inaugural addresses, only Biden has specifically used the words "white supremacy" in his speech.

Joe Biden Inauguration President
President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address as the 46th president of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images
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