President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden condemned the riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 26 but offered different solutions for quelling the unrest.
Trump denounced the violence and asked the governor of Wisconsin to deploy the National Guard and accept federal assistance to catch and deter the rioters. Biden suggested that Americans should “unite and heal, do justice, end the violence, and end systemic racism in this country now,” but omitted any mention of a law enforcement response.
The president and his election opponent were both responding to the raging nighttime riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which broke out on Aug. 23 in response to the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake.
Biden said in a recorded statement on Twitter on Aug. 26: “As I said after George Floyd’s murder, protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary, but 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.
“In the midst of this pain, the wisest words that I’ve heard spoken so far have come from Julia Jackson, Jacob’s mother. She looked at the damage done in her community and she said this: ‘This doesn’t reflect my son or my family.’ So let’s unite and heal, do justice, end the violence, and end systemic racism in this country now.”
On the night prior to Biden’s statement, Trump had called on Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to call in the National Guard. After briefly declining the assistance, Evers deployed 1,000 National Guard service members and accepted the White House’s offer of more than 200 federal law enforcement personnel.
The White House issued a statement condemning the violence.
“President Trump condemns violence in all forms and believes we must protect all Americans from chaos and lawlessness,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. “This is why he is encouraging Democrat Governors to request the National Guard and federal law enforcement to augment their local law enforcement efforts.”
The breakout of the violence in Kenosha coincided with the first night of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, serving as an active example of the riots condemned by Republican speakers who blamed Democrats for turning a blind eye to the violence.
“In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist,” former Ambassador Nikki Haley said on the first night of the GOP convention. “That is a lie. America is not a racist country.”
“America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress, and make America even freer, fairer, and better for everyone. That’s why it’s tragic to see so much of the Democratic Party turn a blind eye toward riots and rage.”
The Biden campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Biden and Trump had previously united in condemning the violence that broke out in response to the police custody death of Floyd on May 25. In that case, the two 2020 candidates diverged on the use of law enforcement to address the riots.
After the first night of violence, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 27, Trump threatened to send in the National Guard to suppress the riots, called the violent agitators “thugs,” criticized the city’s Democratic mayor, Jacob Frey, and asked him to “get his act together and bring the city under control.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, activated the National Guard on the same day and said “the situation in Minneapolis is no longer, in any way, about the murder of George Floyd. It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear, and disrupting our great cities.”
Two days later, Biden issued a lengthy statement on Floyd’s death. The Democratic presidential nominee encouraged the protests, but didn’t condemn or mention the riots, vandalism, looting, and arson gripping Minneapolis.
“It is the duty of every American to grapple with it—and grapple with it now. With our complacency, our silence—we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence,” Biden said.
“We must commit, as a nation, to pursue justice with every ounce of our being. We have to pursue it with real urgency. We have to make real the American promise, which we have never fully grasped: That all men and women are not only equal at creation, but throughout their lives.”
On May 31, after the riots had raged in cities across the nation for five nights, Biden condemned the violence. He called for an end to violence, but unlike Trump, didn’t encourage a law enforcement response. He instead suggested that he would work toward racial equality as president.
“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,” Biden said.
“We must and will get to a place where everyone, regardless of race, believes that ‘to protect and serve’ means to protect and serve them. Only by standing together will we rise stronger than before. More equal, more just, more hopeful—and that much closer to our more perfect union.”
Democrat politicians have generally avoided condemning the riots, vandalism, looting, and arson associated with the protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement. The issue is thorny because violent agitators, many under the general umbrella of the Antifa anarcho-communist group, have systematically hijacked peaceful protests.
Trump has said his administration intends to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization, but the promise hasn’t materialized. Antifa’s cells are horizontally organized and employ sophisticated operational security, complicating both prosecution and formal designation. Biden appears to have never publicly mentioned Antifa by name.