Sen. Tom Cotton criticizes BLM protesters, discusses claims that virus originated from Wuhan labs

Aug. 5, 2020, 5:05 p.m.

The Hoover Institution invited Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for a virtual policy webinar last Wednesday to discuss current American challenges in a time of pandemic and protest. Cotton, who is vocal about his opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, called some Black Lives Matter protestors “rioters” and “looters,” and argued that by allowing these protests during COVID-19 restrictions, state and local governments are “turning their backs on the lives and property of their citizens.”

Recently, Cotton faced backlash for his comments referencing slavery as a “necessary evil.” He made the claim while defending his proposed legislation to limit federal funds to schools teaching The New York Times’s “1619 Project” as part of their curriculum. The Pulitzer Prize-winning project aims to “reframe the country’s history” by marking its founding as 1619, when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the Virginia colony.

An op-ed he wrote also stirred widespread outrage over both its factual inaccuracies and what some said was its endangerment of Black staff members at The Times and was followed by the resignation of the Opinion editor. The piece, headlined “Send In the Troops,” called for “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers” to “restore order to our streets.”

Cotton also attributed “some of the surge in the [coronavirus] we have seen in the last two months” to the Black Lives Matter movement, which Cotton described as “favored protests.” However, some public health experts contend that there is little evidence that these protests have caused surges in cases, and that racial injustice itself is a public health crisis.

Cotton also believes that there is the possibility of a pushback against the Black Lives Matter movement later into the year. 

“The majority that may be silent right now are going to speak out in November if some of these mayors and governors don’t restore order to their streets,” he said during the webinar. 

Cotton also speculated on the origins of the coronavirus. 

“We now know that … all of the evidence points to these labs in Wuhan,” he said, echoing unsubstantiated speculation by some U.S. officials that the outbreak occurred due to an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“Look at the labs, though, we know that they studied coronaviruses,” Cotton said. “We know that they have a sloppy record of laboratory safety … We know that China spun the truth into lies at great rates in January to try to deflect attention away from these labs … Every bit of evidence we have points to the labs.”

Cotton acknowledged that the assertion that COVID-19 originated from labs in Wuhan is “circumstantial.”

Cotton then went on to discuss how China is “taking advantage of this pandemic” by cracking down on Hong Kong, “essentially invad[ing] India and kill[ing] 20 Indian soldiers,” and “continuing their campaign of ethnic cleansing and forced reeducation in gulags against religious minorities in Western China.” 

The next topic of conversation was the presidential election. Cotton discussed Biden’s choice of running mate, saying that they are likely to be a “member of the far-left wing of the Democratic Party, lurch[ing] this country far to the left if Joe Biden and his eventual nominee win this election in November.” 

Toward the end of the webinar, Cotton touched on speech and big technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google after being prompted by a question from a viewer. He said these companies pose a threat to “the free exchange of ideas in the United States.” Cotton criticized Twitter’s tagging of tweets by President Trump containing misinformation and allegedly threatening to lock Cotton’s own account after he refused to delete a tweet.

The talk, moderated by Hoover Institution senior fellow Victor Hanson, is part of the Hoover Institution’s Capital Conversations, a series which features policymakers for discussions about American policy amidst a pandemic. The series continues on Aug. 12. 

This article has been updated to clarify that Cotton criticized Twitter at the webinar, and that Twitter allegedly threatened to lock Cotton’s own account.

Contact Shoaib Jamil at sjamil ‘at’

Shoaib Jamil is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.

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