President Donald Trump on Tuesday refused to condemn White supremacists for inciting violence at anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country, claiming instead during the presidential debate that violence was coming from “the left wing.”
The stunning moment came when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was ready to condemn White supremacists and say they need to stand down during ongoing demonstrations across the country.
“Sure, I’m willing to (tell them to stand down), but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace,” Trump said.
“Say it. Do it. Say it,” Democratic nominee Joe Biden responded, encouraging Trump to condemn White supremacists.
“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked Wallace. Biden could be heard twice saying, “Proud Boys.”
Trump continued: “Proud Boys – stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem.”
Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right collective that the Southern Poverty Law Center says is a hate group, have been seen in their black and yellow polo shirt uniform at multiple 2020 Trump campaign rallies. Founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, the group is known for its anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric and describes members as “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
The group’s site argues its allure stems from the fact that young American men and women are “finished” with “apology culture” but disavows links to the alt-right or to White supremacists. McInnes is suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for designating the organization a hate group.
The President’s pointed refusal to denounce White supremacists and his mention of the group, specifically, drew immediate celebration from members of the Proud Boys. Images of an updated Proud Boys logo featuring the President’s “stand by” remark in the group’s signature yellow and black swiftly circulated online.
Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley attempted to clarify Trump’s remarks Wednesday morning, falsely suggesting that Trump strongly rejected the group at the debate.
“He wants them to not do the things they say they want to do. This is a reprehensible group,” Gidley told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “The President, in the clip you just played, when asked by Chris Wallace if he would condemn these groups, he said ‘sure.’ He said it many times just not last night, in the past as well.”
Although Trump has reluctantly condemned the KKK and White supremacists in the past, he memorably said “both sides” were to blame for racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has frequently downplayed the threat from White supremacists during his term in office and has made stoking racial tensions a key part of his reelection strategy. In contrast, the Trump administration has portrayed Antifa and anarchists as a top threat to the US equivalent to that of the KKK, recently making a campaign promise to prosecute both the KKK and Antifa as terrorist organizations.
In reality, White supremacists will remain the most “persistent and lethal threat” in the United States through 2021, according to Department of Homeland Security draft documents.
The most recent draft report predicts an “elevated threat environment at least through” early next year, concluding that some US-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020.
Asked about Trump’s remarks after the debate Tuesday, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I heard what we all heard.”
“The President of the United States, in the year of our lord 2020, refuses to condemn White supremacists,” she said.
“People talk about, ‘Is he dog-whistling?’ Dog-whistling through a bull horn is what he’s doing,” she added.
CNN’s Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.