One Phrase From Trump Is Picked Apart

He told Proud Boys to 'stand by'—a dangerous move, some argue
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2020 10:40 AM CDT
Trump Blew 'Biggest Layup in the History of Debates'
Members of the Proud Boys cheer as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally on Saturday in Portland, Ore.   (AP Photo/John Locher)

Members of the far-right group Proud Boys celebrated its mention by President Trump during the first presidential debate on Tuesday, seeing it as an implicit endorsement and boasting of a jump in recruits, per the New York Times, which perused private social-media channels. Members of the "western chauvinist" group involved in violent clashes with left-wing protesters in cities including Portland didn't take the same view of the mention as Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, who said it was "very clear [the president] wants them to knock it off." One communication from the group read, "F--- it, let's go bak [sic] to Portland," per Fox News. Reactions:

  • Tim Murtaugh, communications director of Trump's campaign, told Fox that the president had "continuously denounced" white supremacists, including "twice" during the debate. Explicitly asked to do so, Trump said, "Sure, I'm willing to do that. But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing."
  • When Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, Trump said, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left," per the Guardian. The Southern Poverty Law Center views the Proud Boys as a hate group. The Anti-Defamation League notes some members "espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies."

  • "They've now been blessed by the president on the world stage, and the data shows they are extremely excited by this," Megan Squire, an Elon University professor who tracks online extremism, tells Time. Politico reports Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs saw the comment as a directive to "f--- them up," as expressed on social media site Parler.
  • Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says the president "owes America an apology or an explanation" for his confusing answer. At the Atlantic, Emma Green notes Trump has previously called on the country to "condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy." But "more often, in unscripted moments, Trump equivocates," she writes.
  • Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, a frequent Trump ally, is at a loss, too. Trump blew "the biggest layup in the history of debates by not condemning white supremacists," he says, per the Week. "I don't know if he didn't hear it, but he's got to clarify that right away. That's like, 'Are you against evil?'"
  • Even Donald Trump Jr. and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped the president with debate prep, are questioning his "stand by" directive. "I don't know if that was a misspeak, but he was talking about having them stand down. He's more than happy to condemn that," Trump Jr. tells CBS News. Christie tells ABC News that Trump condemned white supremacists in saying "sure." But "if there's any doubt about that we'll be able to clear it up," he says, per Media Matters.
  • It may be too late for that. "A green light like 'stand back and stand by' is catastrophic," says Kathleen Belew, an expert on the white power movement, per Time. She notes those "studying white power groups are sounding red alerts and sending emergency signals about increasing violence from now through the election."
  • Per Politico, draft documents from the Department of Homeland Security describe white supremacist groups as the deadliest domestic terror threat facing the US.
  • In one corner, however, Trump's comment is getting praise. "The idea that the Proud Boys are a dangerous 'white supremacist' organization is a myth created by the left-wing media, and it took courage for the president of the United States to stand tough in that moment," Robert Stacy McCain writes at the conservative American Spectator.
(More Proud Boys stories.)

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