Feature writing


Heather Heyer’s mom breaks silence on Joe Biden invoking Charlottesville for 2020

The Daily Beast

April 25, 2019

‘I wasn’t surprised,’ Susan Bro told The Daily Beast. ‘Most people do that sort of thing. They capitalize on whatever situation is handy.’

Joe Biden did not tell Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother, that he would be invoking her daughter’s murder in Charlottesville in August 2017 in his presidential campaign launch video focusing on “the battle for the soul” of America.

“But I wasn’t surprised,” Bro, co-founder of the Heather Heyer Foundation set up in her daughter’s memory, told The Daily Beast. “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.”

In the launch video for his presidential campaign, Biden said, “We are in the battle for the soul of this nation.” American democracy was “at stake” under Trump, he added.

As The Daily Beast reported, the video included footage of men with tiki torches shouting “Jews will not replace us,”and images of swastikas and Confederate flags at the right-wing marches that took place in Charlottesville in 2017.

“We saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open,” Biden said. “Their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging and baring the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s.

“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?” Biden condemned Trump for assigning the same “moral equivalence” to “those spreading hate” as well as “those with the courage to stand against it.”

James Alex Fields Jr. was convicted last year of the first-degree murder of Heyer and multiple further counts of malicious wounding. A jury recommended he serve life in prison. Last month he also pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 federal hate-crime charges in exchange for the prosecutors not seeking the death penalty. He will be formally sentenced in July.

Asked if she had found Biden’s video exploitative, Bro said, “Since we had not spoken, I’m glad he (Biden) didn’t specifically mention Heather. It’s not all about her.”

Bro added, “It’s been almost two years since Heather died. I’m moving forward. I still grieve for my daughter. 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.”

Of Biden, she said, “For me, what he did this morning was that he told me where he stands on one issue. Now tell us the rest of your platform. That’s what I’m waiting to hear.”

“I’ve seen that footage a lot lately for other reasons,” said Bro. “It was like, ‘Here we go again.’ I am told by other reporters those who were there at the time have been traumatized by seeing it again. I’ve not spoken to them personally.”

Of President Trump, Bro told The Daily Beast, “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. I still hold those things out for everyone pretty much. I used to teach my fourth graders that.”

Bro would not be drawn on whether she wanted Trump to remain or be ejected from office.

“Everybody needs to be informed and make their own decision about who to vote for,” Bro said, adding, “I’m the public face of a 501(c)(3)[non profit]. I can’t do that. I have to make it very clear to the public that the Heather Heyer Foundation does not endorse or support any candidates.

“What we as a Foundation and I personally say, is ‘Pay very close attention to what the candidates are saying and also doing. Do the two match up? Find a candidate who believes in what you believe in. Make an informed decision. Don’t just vote on party lines. Make sure you truly support that candidate. And vote.’ Too many people still don’t vote.”

Biden’s video didn’t surprise or trigger Bro. “It was more like, ‘Oh yeah, OK, here we go.’ At least twice a week, there’s a news story, documentary, or magazine article mentioning Charlottesville and Heather. It’s not an uncommon thing. It was a defining moment in white history in many ways—a moment when white people finally paid attention. White people say Charlottesville was such a major thing. But murders of people of color in the name of civil rights have gone on for decades, centuries.”

Biden’s video had, Bro said, “shifted my day into high gear very suddenly. It was a little annoying to be woken at 7.20 a.m. to start dealing with it. It reminded me of the press turning up at my home at 9am after Heather died. This was not as intense as that.”