Opinion: Joe Biden denounced violence. He doesn’t have to say the magic word ‘antifa’

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks in Pittsburgh on Monday
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

On Monday in Pittsburgh, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden denounced violence that has attended some recent protests, even as he accused President Trump of fanning the flames.

“I want to make it absolutely clear, so I’m going to be very clear about all of this, “Biden said. “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

But the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal wasn’t satisfied. “Surely Biden knows that the protests and riots since Memorial Day are overwhelmingly led by Black Lives Matter and antifa,” the Journal’s editorial board said. “Mr. Biden didn’t mention those groups in his prepared remarks, and he never used the words ‘left-wing’ to describe those who are burning businesses and attacking police precincts.”

So what? It’s clear from Biden’s remarks that he was denouncing violence by people aligning themselves with what the Journal apparently would call a “left-wing” agenda — protesting police brutality and asserting that Black lives matter.

Besides, on Sunday — the day before the Pittsburgh speech — Biden said in reference to violence in Portland that “I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right.”


The Journal is in bad company in fixating on Biden’s failure to say the magic word “antifa.”

On Sunday night, six hoursafter Biden denounced violence “whether on the left or on the right,” Trump tweeted: “When is Slow Joe Biden going to criticize the Anarchists, Thugs & Agitators in ANTIFA?” On Monday, after Biden’s speech, Trump complained at the White House that “I don’t believe he mentioned the word ‘antifa.’ Antifa is a criminal organization, and he didn’t mention antifa thugs, but mostly seemed to blame the police and law enforcement.”

It’s bizarre to suggest that Biden must specifically condemn antifa and that his failure to do so reflects favoritism or cowardice.

As the Los Angeles Times’ Melissa Etehad explained last week, the antifa label was embraced in the early 2000s by left-wing activists who said they were inspired by an organization called Antifaschistische Aktion founded during the 1930s in Germany to oppose Nazism.

But antifa isn’t the sort of behemoth Trump seems to imagine, and still less one that Biden has any reason to placate. As Zack Beauchamp wrote in Vox earlier this year, antifa “is not a unified organization, but rather a loose ideological label for a subset of left-wing radicals who believe in using street-level force to prevent the rise of what they see as fascist movements.”

Demanding that Biden condemn antifa by name is nitpicking, and it invites him to embrace Trump’s exaggerated characterization of its importance in the protests against racism and police brutality. Biden has credibly denounced violence “whether on the left or the right.” Can the same be said of Trump?