Donald Trump came under fire for not directly condemning white supremacy during Tuesday’s first presidential debate, instead speaking to the far-right group known as the Proud Boys with advice to “stand back and stand by.”
The organization, which describe themselves as “Western Chauvinists” and have been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, immediately seized on what many critics saw as a direct order from the president. Taylor Hatmaker, a reporter for Tech Crunch, noted that less than an hour after the debate ended, the Proud Boys had already turned the words into a new graphic using their existing logo.
the Proud Boys just made Trump's encouraging words for them — uttered during a national televised debate — into a graphic with their logo pic.twitter.com/Y5M6CkN2AH
— Taylor Hatmaker (@tayhatmaker) September 30, 2020
While Trump’s answer that did not directly condemn white supremacy drew much criticism, others pointed to his words regarding the antifascist ideology more commonly known as Antifa, launching what many critics took to be a call for them to be addressed with violence.
“Somebody has got to do something about antifa and the left because this isn’t a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem,” Trump said (via The Hill).
When Biden pointed out that FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that antifascists are not a specific group but rather an ideology, the Republican responded by saying that Wray was “wrong.”
The Lincoln Project, a coalition of Republican and conservative figures who are vocally opposed to Trump, took to Twitter to share what they said to be a discussion between members of the Proud Boys online reacting with excitement to Trump’s words and calling for violence against Antifa.
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) September 30, 2020
Others took note of the apparently celebratory reaction among members of the Proud Boys to Trump’s statement during the debate.
“The commander-in-chief refused to condemn white supremacy on the global stage,” said CNN analyst Van Jones in a clip shared on Twitter, adding that he “gave a wink and a nod to a racist, Nazi, murderous organization that is now celebrating online.”
Biden was aggressive in pushing Trump on the issue and has consistently pressed the president for his refusal to condemn violent acts of racism. The former vice president said he felt compelled to enter the 2020 race after Trump’s remarks following the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, in which he suggested that those marching in support of Confederate statues were “very fine people” despite clashes that erupted that weekend, leaving one person dead.
The Proud Boys have pushed back against the label of a hate group and said they do not espouse racism, noting that they are instead a “multi-racial organization which eschews the beliefs of the alt-right by our public statements, bylaws, and actions.”