Bernie Sanders can’t afford to stay silent any longer

A lot of Democrats don’t want to admit it, but Donald Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate playing with fire and recklessly courting an angry mob.

For the latest round of curse-word hurling, attempted chair throwing, social-media stalking and conspiracy-theory swapping, look no further than the supporters of Bernie Sanders.

Over the weekend, dozens of Sanders devotees lost their minds after the Nevada Democratic Party, meeting for its convention in Las Vegas, awarded a majority of delegates to front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Convinced that the establishment had rigged the rules and that Sanders delegates had been excluded for unfair reasons, they booed and traded barbs with people on stage, including Clinton surrogate and keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

The convention ended abruptly, descending into chaos that was captured for the world to relive on Facebook and YouTube.

Death threats and vandalism followed, prompting Nevada Democratic Party offices to close on Monday and its chairwoman, Roberta Lange, to release some downright disgusting voicemails and text messages she had received from Sanders supporters. She also reported threats against her grandchildren.

The episode had the reek of Trump rallies, where threats, insults and sucker punches to defend the presumptive Republican nominee have been common. Yet looking back at the hundreds of Sanders supporters who descended on a Clinton rally in East Los Angeles earlier this month to intimidate her supporters, making one little girl cry, it now seems inevitable that the same kind of violent eruption would afflict those “feeling the Bern.”

That’s a scary prospect for a divided political party that is going to need to rediscover its united front in time for the November election. Like the Republicans whose unity was shredded by Trump’s rise, the Democrats now face the prospect of an internal revolt.

One would think that Sanders, the man who continues to insist he’s the only Democrat who can beat Trump, would speak up forcefully to condemn the actions of his supporters in Nevada. If nothing else, it’s the right thing to do.

Instead, much like Trump when pressed about the violent streak within his ranks, he has largely weaseled out of his responsibility to make it clear to his supporters that this is not acceptable behavior.

The Sanders campaign has been noticeably silent about the events on social media – the main way the candidate communicates with his supporters.

When asked by reporters, his campaign spokesman, Michael Briggs, insists that Sanders does not “condone violence or encourage violence or even threats of violence.” Then in the next breath, his campaign abdicates all responsibility for what happened in Nevada, offers excuses and shifts the blame.

Briggs says the campaign “had no role in encouraging the activity that the party is complaining about.” He even implied to The New York Times that Democratic Party itself is partly responsible for the tense atmosphere because it’s not doing a good enough job of being welcoming to “people who have been energized and excited by (the Sanders) campaign.”

Adding fuel to the conspiracy fire, the campaign still is considering whether to challenge the outcome of the Nevada delegate count.

Sanders can’t be expected to control the behavior of every single supporter. But when violence breaks out in his name, when his supporters start making death threats and resorting to sexist taunts over social media, Sanders can and should be expected to condemn such behavior – swiftly, visibly and unequivocally.

That is leadership, just as leadership also is standing up to the mob, not encouraging it. Doing anything else falls far short of the kind of president we need.

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