On Wednesday, CNN commentator Van Jones made a stunning admission. Unlike Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Jones admitted that there are “edges of violence in our own movement.” He urged Biden to own the antifa rioters and to “lead a national moratorium on these nighttime marches” that culminate in violent riots.
Van Jones’ remarks mark a turning point in the debate about the riots. For months, left-leaning journalists and politicians have covered for the violent antifa attacks on federal and police property and nightly harassment of the citizens of Portland, referring to the riots with the positive terms “peaceful protests” or “mostly peaceful protests.”
To his credit, Joe Biden has twice vocally condemned looting and arson, in June and again this past week. Yet Biden has reserved his harshest criticism for President Donald Trump and for the “right-wing militias” that support the president. He has not condemned antifa or Black Lives Matter by name and he has not owned the fact that the violent agitators behind the riots are indeed motivated by the same kind of leftist radicalism trumpeted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — radicalism he has rushed to endorse after the Democratic primary.
Van Jones suggested that Biden’s current strategy is untenable. He suggested that Democrats need the riots to go away so that they can attack Trump for the coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic struggles.
“The longer we talk about violence and unrest and how he’s handling it or not handling, it’s all advantage Trump. In other words, this campaign is going well for Donald Trump because we’re not talking about the economic devastation that people are experiencing, or the virus, really,” Jones suggested.
“I think it’s time for us to recognize we are in a very perilous situation if you want to see a change in November. We have two social movements. Both have edges of violence to them, one on the left, one on the right. I think it’s baked in that Donald Trump is not going to challenge very strongly the police violence and the vigilante violence, and a lot of people, frankly, are comfortable with that,” the commentator said.
“The question is, how are Democrats and progressives going to deal with the edges of violence in our own movement? I think that Joe Biden can actually begin to move his own movement in a better direction, lead a national moratorium on these nighttime marches,” Jones insisted.
“That would separate the responsible, productive demonstrations that have united the whole world from some of these other demonstrations that are just not as useful,” he added. “There are things that Joe Biden and other progressives can do. They can begin to push down on the violence in our movement, and then turn it back toward the people who are actually suffering [like] the businesses: There have been a couple of hundred businesses that have been hurt by arsonists. There have been thousands that have been destroyed by mishandling this virus.”
“We’ve got to get off of this conversation around unrest and back to the conversation around the literally millions of people who are suffering from the Trump economy and the mishandling of the virus,” Jones insisted.
The CNN commentator likely did not intend to criticize Biden’s messaging on the riots and he did not even acknowledge that the riots are riots — referring to them, instead, with the innocuous word “demonstrations.” He also suggested that the “police violence” and “vigilante violence” are equivalent to the far-left riots.
Although the police killing of Breonna Taylor and the police kneeling on the neck of George Floyd were grotesque moments that rightly united Americans (on both the Right and the Left) to call for police reform, the nightly violent riots in Portland that have gone on for almost 100 nights and the looting, vandalism, and arson in cities across America have perpetrated far more widespread damage, mostly at the hands of antifa and Black Lives Matter agitators.
While some armed citizens have taken up a quasi-vigilante role, trying to defend property amid the violent riots, their actions represent a small response to this broader destructive wave of riots.
Yet Van Jones’ remarks, deceptive as they were, still marked a move in the direction of acknowledging that leftist agitators have perpetrated the violence. While Biden has rightly insisted that looting, vandalism, and arson are not acts of “peaceful protest,” he has yet to acknowledge the political leanings of the rioters.
In order for Biden to call for a “moratorium” on the nightly riots, he would have to acknowledge the plain fact that leftist agitators have terrorized American cities. He would have to own the fact that his allies — not Trump’s — are perpetrating these riots.
Van Jones was giving Biden free campaign advice, but in doing so, he urged Biden to finally own something the Democrat has thus far refused to admit. Unfortunately, Biden is unlikely to admit that the rioters are his political allies, and he is unlikely to ask them for a moratorium on the violence. Instead, he will likely just repeat his blanket condemnation of violence, singling out Trump supporters while failing to mention antifa.
CNN’s Van Jones concedes President Trump could win because Dems are “not talking about the economic devastation” of riots: “This campaign is going well for Donald Trump.” pic.twitter.com/3FDJYPCQzj
— TV News HQ (@TVNewsHQ) September 3, 2020
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.