The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump and allies keep accusing Biden of not condemning violence — shortly after Biden condemns violence

President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Jonathan Newton and Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

On Sunday at 4:13 p.m. Eastern time, Joe Biden issued a broad denunciation of the violence that has occurred at racial justice demonstrations across the country, saying, “I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right.”

About six hours later, at 10:36 p.m., President Trump asked, “When is Slow Joe Biden going to criticize the Anarchists, Thugs & Agitators in ANTIFA?”

We can parse these statements all day long, and the Trump argument seems to be that Biden needs to more explicitly condemn antifa — however much the amorphous group is actually responsible for the unrest. But practically speaking, he condemned violence by them, too.

And it’s not the first time Biden has condemned violence, only to be accused of not condemning violence — often shortly thereafter. Repeatedly now, Trump and his allies have cast Biden as essentially ignoring the violence, even as Biden has weighed in firmly against it on several occasions.

Here are a few examples:

Josh Hawley

Aug. 25: Biden campaign spokeswoman Symone Sanders denounces “burning down communities and needless destruction” in Kenosha, Wis.

Aug. 26 at 3:04 p.m.: Biden says in a video and tweet, “Burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence — violence that endangers lives, violence that guts businesses, and shutters businesses that serve the community. That’s wrong.” He adds: “We need to end the violence — and peacefully come together to demand justice.”

Aug. 26 at 9:10 p.m.: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweets a clip from an appearance on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show, alleging, “Joe Biden won’t call out the rioting & looting & burning around the nation b/c he’s in thrall to the Marxist Left.”

Biden had clearly called out the violence — citing “burning,” specifically — just a few hours prior.

Trump’s convention speech

Aug. 27 around 3 p.m.: Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris says: “We must always defend peaceful protests and peaceful protesters. We should not confuse them with those looting and committing acts of violence, including the shooter who was arrested for murder [Kyle Rittenhouse]. And make no mistake: We will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice.”

Aug. 27 around 11 p.m.: Trump says in his convention speech, “During their convention, Joe Biden and his supporters remained completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities.”

Trump’s comment notably came the day after Biden’s video and Sanders’s comment. Democrats indeed didn’t say much of anything about the violence at protests at their convention — but that convention came before the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., reignited the scenes of unrest.

Could they have said more about previous scenes of unrest then? Trump is arguing they should have. But to suggest they ignored the topic after three successive days of comments denouncing violence — and to focus on a Democratic convention that came before things deteriorated — is misleading.

After George Floyd’s death

May 29: Biden tells CNN that people “have a right to be, in fact, angry and frustrated. And more violence, hurting more people, isn’t going to answer the question.”

May 31: Biden says: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary; it’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not.”

June 2: Biden says that “there is no place for violence, no place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses — many of them built by people of color who for the first time were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.”

June 20: Trump cites unrest in Seattle in a speech and says that “Biden remains silent in his basement in the face of this brutal assault on our nation and the values of our nation.”

George Floyd was killed on May 25. Within the next eight days, Biden condemned the use of violence at least three times. Yet Trump still accused him of remaining “silent” on the topic.


July 28: Biden says: “I’ve said from the outset of the recent protests that there is no place for violence or the destruction of property. Peaceful protesters should be protected — but arsonists and anarchists should be prosecuted — and local law enforcement can do that.”

Aug. 27: Trump says in his convention speech, “In the face of left-wing anarchy and mayhem in Minneapolis, Chicago, and other cities, Joe Biden’s campaign did not condemn it.”

Again, Biden did condemn the violence in the days after Floyd’s killing set off demonstrations and unrest. He also explicitly said that “anarchists” should be prosecuted, contrary to Trump’s claim.

The Trump argument seems to be that Biden isn’t condemning the violence in the terms he would prefer — specifically that it should be more focused on left-wing extremists, anarchists and antifa. Democrats, though, are reluctant to zero in on those groups, because they worry that it legitimizes the often-hyperbolic claims about just how prevalent they are in the scenes across the country. Republicans have also wrongly claimed Biden called perpetrators of violence “peaceful protesters,” when in fact Biden has simply referred to peaceful protests and said that most demonstrators are, in fact, peaceful.

But Biden has repeatedly condemned violence by anyone, and Trump and his allies keep suggesting that he hasn’t at all. In fact, Biden has issued several condemnations — often shortly before Trump and his allies attacked him for not doing so.