Proud Boys, the far-right group that US President Donald Trump name-checked at the first presidential debate on Tuesday, reacted ecstatically to the president’s order to white supremacists to “stand back and stand by.”
Trump refused to condemn the group and other white supremacists at the campaign debate with Democrat Joe Biden, instead insisting that the more serious problem of extremism in the US is coming from the antifa anti-fascist movement and the left-wing.
Noting that Trump has attacked Biden for not “calling out” the antifa protest movement, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump at the debate whether he would be willing to offer the same condemnation of white supremacists and urge them to “stand down and not add to the violence that we’ve seen in a number of cities.”
At first, Trump responded by saying, “Sure, I’m willing to do that.”
But asked to make the condemnation explicit, after several more exchanges, Trump said: “Well, Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. 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.”
Proud Boys leaders and supporters celebrated the president’s words on social media. A channel on Telegram, an instant messaging service, with more than 5,000 of the group’s members posted “Stand Back” and “Stand By” above and below the group’s logo.
The Proud Boys updated their logo to include Trump’s remarks. Trump empowers the radical right and encourages violence in our streets. pic.twitter.com/PlL5xWsqQp
— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) September 30, 2020
Social media messages on Parler showed organization leaders Joe Biggs and Enrique Tarrio cheering the comment.
“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir! we’re ready!!” wrote Biggs.
“Trump basically said to go f*** them up! this makes me so happy,” he added.
The Proud Boys are ecstatic tonight about getting mentioned in the debate tonight.
"Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy," writes one prominent Proud Boy. pic.twitter.com/hYA7yQVAOn
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) September 30, 2020
Tarrio simply wrote: “Standing by sir,” and “That’s my president.”
Reacting to Trump’s remarks in real time on Twitter, Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called them “astonishing” and said that the president “owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.”
It's astonishing that, when asked a simple question, will you condemn white supremacists, @POTUS responded – "The Proud Boys should stand back and stand by." Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission. @POTUS owes America an apology or an explanation. Now. https://t.co/9tgufXom9K
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) September 30, 2020
Trump has blamed antifa for violence that has erupted during anti-racism protests that have broken out across the country in recent months. The name, short for anti-fascist, refers to a loosely aligned umbrella group of far-left and anarchist protesters.
Federal law enforcement officials have offered little evidence that antifa-aligned protesters are behind the protests seen in hundreds of cities and towns in all 50 states since the police killing of George Floyd in June.
Democrat lawmakers were quick to slam Trump over his comments.
“Donald Trump could not even condemn white supremacists,” tweeted Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida. “That’s all you need to know.”
“The president’s refusal tonight to speak out against violence is one of the lowest points in the history of the presidency,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.
“When the president tells them, ‘Stand back and stand by,’ it reads like an invitation to post-election violence, and it will add precipitously to the tension that is already so high on the ground, especially in swing districts,” she added.
The president's refusal tonight to speak out against violence is one of the lowest points in the history of the presidency. pic.twitter.com/ABQfzG1HRQ
— Elissa Slotkin (@ElissaSlotkin) September 30, 2020
The group Trump referred to, the Proud Boys, is a far-right, “western chauvinist” fraternal organization founded by Gavin McInnes that supports Trump and has engaged in street violence. Anti-Semitism is not core to the group’s ideology, but according to the Anti-Defamation League, the group has allied with white supremacists, and McInnes has made a series of anti-Semitic statements. The ADL estimates that it has several hundred members.
A former member of the Proud Boys, Jason Kessler, was the primary organizer of the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, which Joe Biden again criticized for its anti-Semitism during the debate Tuesday. Chapters of the Proud Boys have marched with neo-Nazis on other occasions as well.
McInnes went on an anti-Semitic rant in 2017, in which he defended Holocaust denial and repeated anti-Semitic stereotypes. The rant came in a video he originally titled “10 things I hate about the Jews.”
“I felt myself defending the super far-right Nazis just because I was sick of so much brainwashing and I felt like going, ‘Well, they never said it didn’t happen. What they’re saying is it was much less than 6 million and that they starved to death and weren’t gassed, that they didn’t have supplies,’” he said, before adding, “I’m not saying it wasn’t gassing.”
He also blamed Jews for Josef Stalin’s starvation of millions of Ukrainians. “I think it was 10 million Ukrainians who were killed,” he said. “That was by Jews. That was by Marxist, Stalinist, left-wing, commie, socialist Jews.”
He then said Jews have a “whiny paranoid fear of Nazis.”
Jacob Magid and JTA contributed to this report.