At the end of the press conference, Bezos said: “I have a little surprise for you. I am announcing today, a new philanthropic initiative… The Courage and Civility Award. It recognizes leaders who aim high, and who pursue solutions with courage, and who always do so with civility.”
Bezos said that “we should question ideas, not the person… we need unifiers and not vilifiers. We want people who argue hard and act hard for what they truly believe.”
“We do have role models,” Bezos said before the slideshow introduced Jones as the first recipient of the $100 million award. The award is designed for the recipients to give to charities of their choice.
Bezos has a net worth of more than $204 billion, a fortune he built through online retail giant Amazon. Bezos also owns the Washington Post.
After being announced as the winner, Jones came on stage and said, “I appreciate you [Jeff Bezos] for lifting the ceiling off of people's dreams.”
The self-avowed communist did not specify how he intends to use the money.
The press conference then aired a video praising Van Jones for bringing together “climate justice and racial justice.”
Bezos said, “I bet Van Jones is going to do something amazing with that $100 million. I don't know what yet. I bet he doesn't know what yet, but it's in your hands Van Jones.”
The second $100 million award was then given to Andres, a Spanish chef who founded World Central Kitchen to provide meals during natural disasters. The video about Andres featured Hillary Clinton praising him: “He is bigger than life, a force of nature, and a real gift.” Andres is also a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump.
The former Green Jobs Advisor to Barack Obama, Van Jones signed a “9/11 truth statement” in 2004, asking for an investigation to if the Bush Administration knew about the World Trade Center Attacks before they occurred. Van Jones defended his signature in 2009, explaining that the petition did not reflect his personal views and that he did not read the petition closely.
He then stepped down from his position in the Obama Administration.
In 2016, Jones called Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election a “whitelash against a black president.”
Later, Van Jones admitted that Trump “has done good stuff for the black community,” and even worked with the Trump administration on criminal justice reform.
On Election Night 2020, however, in support of now-President Joe Biden, he said, “The fact that it's this close, I think is — it hurts. It just hurts.”
He later tearfully celebrated Biden's win on CNN:
Today is a good day.
It’s easier to be a parent this morning.
Being a good person MATTERS.
This is a big deal.
It’s easy to do it the cheap way and get away with stuff — but it comes back around.
— Van Jones (@VanJones68) November 7, 2020
In 2020, Van Jones also called former Vice President Mike Pence the “mansplainer-in-chief” during his with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Andrew Breitbart memorably criticized Van Jones in 2009:
What do we know about Van Jones? We know that he was a community organizer who left an elite college, Yale Law School, to become a community organizer.
What I know about Van Jones's community organizing is that he went to Oakland, one of the most impoverished cities in the entire country, and this educated man took advantage of the underclass, just like we saw in ACORN. And what did this man do but organize people? People who needed help around the conspiracy theory that Abu-Jamal, Mumia Abu-Jamal, is somehow innocent. Preying on the inner city's believe that every single police officer is white and racist and that somehow this guy somehow got setup.
He [Jones] preys upon the fear that resides on the far fringes of the left that believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that George Bush and Dick Cheney were behind 9/11. This person was not vetted for his position, yet we're the bad guys for bringing this up.
Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Philadelphia. Van Jones was a member of Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), which advocated on behalf of Abu-Jamal.
Jones has also said policing is “dumb and dangerous and discriminatory.”