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During a fractious first presidential debate, President Donald Trump failed to unequivocally denounce white supremacists and armed militia groups who have clashed violently with Black Lives Matters and police reform protestors this summer.
Trump, as part of the section of the debate that dealt with law and order, was assailed by Vice President Joe Biden over his infamous “fine people on both sides” comment over a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. The president was asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he was now willing to forthrightly condemn white supremacists and militia groups who committed acts of violence across America this summer. “I would say, almost everything I see is from the left-wing,” Trump demurred. Repeatedly pressed on the point Trump replied, “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” Wallace continued to ask for specificity to which Trump replied, “What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name? Proud Boys, stand back, stand by.”
The Proud Boys has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a men-only far-right, neo-fascist organization that glorifies and actively seeks violent confrontation. The group has been involved in a number of violent incidents this year, particularly in Portland.
Clearly rattled by the questioning the president countered by bringing up anarchists protestors, who he dubbed Antifa, who have been involved in sporadic cases of looting and property damage. “I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem….. This is a left-wing problem.”
Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray described Antifa as an ideology, not an organization and reiterated that white supremacists have been responsible for the most lethal violence in the U.S. in recent years.
Trump’s inability to clearly condemn white supremacists caused a huge instant backlash on social media with “white supremacists” and “Proud Boys” trending on Twitter. Many zeroed on Trump’s call for the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
For those who hadn’t been listening for the past 4 years, Trump just told you that he ain't leaving and that he is a white supremacist. If that doesn't get every American who is not white into overdrive to toss his ass – we may actually deserve what happens next.
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) September 30, 2020
So I’m gonna vote for the guy who didn’t tell white supremacists to stand by, who didn’t attack a man’s son for dealing w addiction and who believes in climate science. #BidenHarris2020
— Elizabeth Banks (@ElizabethBanks) September 30, 2020
Tonight the president continually questioned democracy and told white supremacists to “stand by”.
— Adam Scott (@mradamscott) September 30, 2020
His message to white supremacists was “STAND BY”. This is terrifying.
— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) September 30, 2020
Trump just said to all white supremacists to “stand back and stand by”
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) September 30, 2020
Here’s the big takeaway from the debate:
Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists, and not only did he refuse to do so, he told them to “stand back and stand by.”
You know, as if he is their leader.
That’s the takeaway.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) September 30, 2020
“proud boys, stand back and stand by” is definitely what you say when you want to condemn white supremacists https://t.co/5kzNu2wDPP
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) September 30, 2020
He told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Stand by for what? And holy shit those sure sounded like the words of a commander to his troops.
— Andy Richter (@AndyRichter) September 30, 2020
I'm old enough to remember when the President of the United States was asked to condemn white supremacists and didn't.
it was like 20 minutes ago.
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) September 30, 2020
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