Democrats faced a thorny dilemma this week after a leaked memo showed that a party strategist had described Black Lives Matter as a “radical movement” and urged candidates not to endorse its policy positions.
The party could have stood its ground. Instead, Democrats rushed to show support for Black Lives Matter, denouncing the memo in spite of recent alarm over the movement’s anti-Israel stance and exorbitant race-based demands, including free college and a guaranteed minimum income for black people.
The episode, sparked by the Wednesday leak from the hack by Guccifer 2.0, offers a rare glimpse into the struggle by Democrats to stay on good terms with Black Lives Matter without alienating centrist voters.
As the memo reveals, that balancing act hasn’t been easy.
“The problem is that Black Lives Matter is a very radical movement, and the Democrats can’t fully control it,” said David Horowitz, a conservative author who has written extensively about left-wing activism. “It’s a violent movement, but it’s really been embraced by the Democratic Party, and it’s very important to the Democratic Party.”
The Nov. 9 memo by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer Troy Perry advised candidates and campaign staff to walk a fine line by refusing to endorse “concrete policy positions” while agreeing to meet with small numbers of activists.
Mr. Perry, who now works for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, also urged candidates to avoid phrases like “all lives matter” and “black-on-black crime.”
“This response will garner additional media scrutiny and only anger BLM activists,” Mr. Perry said.
Black Lives Matter responded Wednesday with a statement decrying the memo and accusing Democrats of trying to mollify activists without taking them seriously.
“We are disappointed at the DCCC’s placating response to our demand to value all Black life,” said the statement. “Black communities deserve to be heard, not handled.”
DeRay Mckesson, a BLM leader and Baltimore City Public Schools official, said on Twitter that the memo “highlights a serious lack of attention to issues related to black people. Has their view changed since 2015?”
Activist Shaun King said the DCCC document “instructs politicians how to be polite with #BlackLivesMatter activists without actually helping.”
Democrats were mortified. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed the hack on Russia, saying the “attempt by Russia to influence our election has no place in our democracy,” but also disavowed the contents of the two-page internal document.
“In regard to the memo about Black Lives Matter, Leader Pelosi does not support the content or attitude of this memo,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “On many occasions, Leader Pelosi has publicly supported the ideals embraced by the Black Lives Matter movement and continues to do so.”
DCCC national press secretary Meredith Kelly issued a statement Wednesday in support of Black Lives Manner, insisting that, “We will not allow this hacking to distract from our common goals nor disparage the BLM movement.”
“The DCCC highly respects and values the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Ms. Kelly. “In less than two years, BLM has evolved from three words into a political force that is changing and waking our nation. At the DCCC, we highly encourage our candidates to not only embrace the importance of this movement, but to meet with and listen to community activists to partner [in] social change.”
Conservatives, meanwhile, were quick to point out the discrepancy between the Democrats’ public statements and the private email.
“Leaked Memo Shows What Democrats Really Think of Black Lives Matter,” said the Independent Review Journal.
The hacker Guccifer 2.0 said the memo, which was posted online along with several other documents, was taken from Ms. Pelosi’s personal computer, which her office denied.
“Leader Pelosi does not have a personal computer at the DCCC, so no hacked, dumped or doctored documents can be attributed to her computer,” said Mr. Hammill.
The memo argued that Democrats should be a “partner” and “lead from behind,” but warned that “activists don’t want their movement co-opted by the Democratic Party. They are leery of politicians who hijack their message to win campaigns.”
At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement has benefited from the largesse of top Democratic donors, including billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and the Center for American Progress. Mr. Soros gave in one year an estimated $33 million to the cause.
Even so, activists targeted Democratic presidential candidates over Republicans during this year’s primary, embarrassing Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on separate occasions by taking over the podium and drowning them out.
Activists also did Democrats no favors with the release last month of the Movement for Black Lives platform, which drew criticism for describing Israel as an “apartheid state” and accusing the Jewish nation of “genocide.”
The platform took positions on issues more typically identified with BLM, such as defunding police departments and giving citizens more oversight over law enforcement, while also calling for raced-based reparations and an end to private education, with the exception of historically black colleges.
Democrats, who had included support for Black Lives Matter in their national platform in July, were mum after the release of the document — which wasn’t surprising, Mr. Horowitz said.
Black Lives Matter activists are “indispensable,” he said. “They’re also uncontrollable. That’s the Democrats’ problem.”