Former US vice-president says he wasn’t where we ‘ought to be’ during deliberations but that doesn’t mean the jurors were right to sentence him to a short prison term
In a long but rambling address on Thursday night, former US vice-president Joe Biden pleaded with white supremacists and anti-Semites to stop their “really ugly” violence.
“We have to abide by the verdict but we cannot let it dictate the rest of our lives,” Biden said.
He was reacting to the convictions of former members of his Democratic party for riot charges stemming from the attack on a synagogue in Philadelphia two years ago. And he railed against white supremacists that he said are responsible for “crazed, violent jihad”.
White supremacists were outraged by the sentencing of Thomas Francis Meo and Leonard Piwowar to two years in prison, with six months of that sentence served in prison. Piwowar was also barred from the US for ten years, effective immediately. Meo will be allowed to leave prison on 10 July after serving a year.
The Democratic former vice-president said the jury was right to uphold the convictions but he also acknowledged that both men have to work to atone for their actions.
Joe Biden exits court after getting sentenced in synagogue attack trial Read more
“You are not alone. You are not alone,” Biden said. “You will all find the light. You will all find some way to unite. You will all find a way to be a good American, a loving American, a moral American.”
“We have to do what we are capable of doing to get past this ugly phase of our society. We have to shed it, we have to learn from it and as we learn from it, we are going to turn it around,” he said.
Biden delivered the address at an event sponsored by American University that commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In April 2017, Piwowar and Meo took part in a protest against the appearance of Robert Bowers, a white supremacist who had posted a manifesto online claiming he had a “Jewish problem”. Bowers killed 11 people at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in November of that year before a suspected cop killer shot him dead.
Meo and Piwowar repeatedly were joined by supporters wearing swastika armbands as they came out of a Philadelphia federal courthouse. But Biden, who also is part of his own family’s Jewish heritage, made sure to avoid any further name-calling.
During the 2016 election, Biden was vocal in his support for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, slamming Donald Trump after he retweeted a meme of a six-pointed star – a crude reference to Jewish domination of Hollywood and far-right news and conspiracy sites.
A police officer moves to block people from going in the building where Biden spoke on Thursday. Photograph: Thomas Lynch/AP
Biden was well aware that he was speaking to a likely Trump supporter audience. Just a few hours before Biden’s speech, Trump had made a late-night visit to US Capitol to celebrate after the supreme court upheld his travel ban banning citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.
But Biden, long known as an erudite, orator, was not interrupted.
“Listen up. We are all responsible for our attitudes, our actions, our actions,” he said. “I need to speak with very little fear, and you have to do the same. We cannot listen to anyone who dismisses this.”
Earlier on Thursday, Biden had left the court after being sentenced to three years probation for violating the terms of a 2007 plea agreement after admitting he hugged an intimate friend and did not declare the fact he was an uncle while campaigning for his 2008 senate election.
He has expressed hope he will not serve a day in prison but Judge Carol Jackson explained that Biden’s probation had been modified to ensure he complied with the terms and that he would have to stay in Washington.
Despite having what he called a “hard-fought” campaign, Biden will not face a campaign to decide his seat in the Senate, which remains in Republican control. He does have an interest in filling a vacancy and so can only run at a special election.
“The last thing I need to do is to say to you people, how dare you, how dare you,