When given the opportunity during the first presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle to denounce white supremacist violence, President Donald Trump refused, instead providing one hate group with a rallying cry, CNN reports.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the debate moderator, who had difficulty keeping the president in check throughout his red-faced performance during the Sept. 29 skirmish with former Vice President Joe Biden, asked Trump directly, “Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups to say they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
Trump previously praised law enforcement in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the wake of the August 2020 police shooting of Jacob Blake—and the protests that followed—while not disavowing the actions of alleged murderer Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, who gunned down two protesters and seriously injured a third.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump responded Tuesday night, with an exaggerated cowboy drawl that appeared to be a nod to the self-described “western chauvinists” he claims to know nothing about. “But I’ll tell you what…somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”
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Since his violent comments, the Proud Boys, who gained national attention during the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, have used “Stand Back and Stand By” on memes and merchandise, with some online retailers blocking the sell of the organization’s shirts—after critics began to take notice, CBS News reports.
Trump has attempted to walk back his statements, saying Wednesday, “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are…whoever they are, they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”
Of course, that’s not saying much at all; in fact, it aligns with his violent rhetoric. Trump has repeatedly suggested that violent supporters and police officers “toughen up” and harm protesters.
“See, in the good old days this doesn’t happen,” Trump told the crowd at a 2016 rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, after one of his supporters assaulted a Black protester being led out police officers. “Because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily. But today they walk in and they put their hand up and they put the wrong finger in the air at everybody and they get away with murder because we’ve become weak, we’ve become weak.”
As a protester was removed from a 2016 rally in Las Vegas, Trump said, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
His supporters cheered.
CBS News reports that police officers in the United States have killed 184 Black people in the first 8 months of 2020 alone.
According to ABC 10, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel last week that white supremacists and anti-government extremists have been responsible for most of the recent deadly attacks by extremist groups within the U.S.