Skip to main content

President Obama: ‘Freedom Is More Powerful Than Fear’

Photo caption: President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office at the White...

Photo by Saul Loeb AP

President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office at the White House on Sunday night.

President Obama used a rare Oval Office address Sunday evening to speak to a worried nation about the evolving threat of terrorism and the growing influence of the Islamic State.

Speaking from a podium in front of his desk, the president called Wednesday's shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 people at a holiday workplace party "an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people."

But, he cautioned that even as a Muslim employee and his wife carried out the deadly attacks, there was "no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home. But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West."

The shootings this week follow last month's deadly attacks in Paris that killed 17 people, which ISIS took credit for. And Obama said that these attacks have evolved since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"As we've become better at preventing complex multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009, in Chattanooga earlier this year, and now in San Bernardino."

The growing influence of ISIS in particular, which has used social media and technology to expand its reach, has increased skepticism of Muslims and the religion of Islam. That's been fueled in part by suggestions from some GOP presidential candidates such as Donald Trump, who has called for a database to register Muslims in the U.S.

But Obama emphasized that such backlash and division is exactly what the terrorist group wants.

"Let's not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear," the president said. "That we have always met challenges, whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, by coming together around our common ideals as one nation and one people."

Obama also detailed the steps in which the U.S. has already stepped up its efforts against ISIS, including training Iraqi and Syrian forces to combat ISIS, deploying special ground forces to the area and increased intelligence sharing with allies and training. He also renewed a call for Congress to recognize

The president also said he would call for a review of visa screening measures after one of the San Bernardino shooters was allowed into the U.S. on a fiancé visa.

And Obama also asked for Congress to officially recognize U.S. efforts in the fight against the terrorist group.

"If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists," he said. "For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of air strikes against ISIL targets. I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united and committed to this fight."

Obama also called for stricter gun control measures, something that has been met with heavy resistance by Republicans.

"To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no- fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security," the president said.

"We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons, like the ones that were used in San Bernardino," he continued. "I know there are some who reject any gun-safety measures, but the fact is that our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, no matter how effective they are, cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual was motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.