At the first 2020 presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News challenged President Donald Trump to condemn white supremacists. Instead of doing so outright, Trump called on hate groups to “stand by.”
“You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out antifa and other extremist groups. Are you willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and say they need to stand down and not to add to the violence in these cities as we saw in Kenosha and in Portland?” Wallace asked.
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump first replied, with Wallace asking him to do it, before Trump turned the discussion away from white supremacists and shifted blame. “But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
Trump then spoke directly to a noted hate organization: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody has to do something about antifa and the Left.”
Holy shit. Trump refuses to condemn white supremacist groups. pic.twitter.com/FFSrvA1tcQ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 30, 2020
As Vox’s Jane Coaston reported, the Proud Boys are a “strange amalgamation of a men’s rights organization, a fight club and what some may see as a hate group — one that loves Donald Trump, hates Muslims (and Jews and trans people), but permits nonwhite membership.”
The Proud Boys have become known for their violence and their “tactical defensive arm” where members attend protests and incite violence in order to defend the right wing. Just last weekend, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in Portland in anticipation that the Proud Boys, who had organized a rally in the city, would clash with Black Lives Matter protesters.
And the Proud Boys were watching the debate. One Proud Boys leader, Joe Biggs, wrote on the social media platform Parler, “Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy,” according to the Daily Beast. Proud Boys national chair Enrique Tarrio, who organized the recent Portland event, wrote “I will stand down sir!!! Standing by sir. So Proud of my guys right now.”
The Proud Boys are ecstatic tonight about getting mentioned in the debate tonight.— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) September 30, 2020
"Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy," writes one prominent Proud Boy. pic.twitter.com/hYA7yQVAOn
The debate wasn’t the first time Trump declined to condemn white supremacists.
In 2017, after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of Confederate statues — and after a white supremacist rammed their vehicle into a group of counterprotesters, killing one — Trump blamed people on both sides, and refused to condemn the white nationalists behind much of the violence and chaos.
When white supremacists made plans to gather for a second Unite the Right event a year later in 2018, at Lafayette Square just outside the White House, Trump did not take the opportunity to directly denounce white nationalists. Instead, he vaguely tweeted, “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
As former Vice President Biden noted during the debate, “This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred.” By explicitly calling on the Proud Boys, Trump proved tonight was no different.