President Donald Trump had an opportunity to forcefully condemn white supremacists at Tuesday night’s debate.
But he refused.
“Are you tonight willing to condemn white supremacist and militia groups, and to see 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?” moderator Chris Wallace asked.
“I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing,” Trump responded. “Not from the right wing… I want to see peace.”
“Then do it, sir,” Wallace replied.
“What do you want me to call it?” Trump said amid cross-talk.
“Proud Boys,” Biden said, referring to the far-right street-fighting gang that rallied in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend.
“Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” said Trump. “But I'll tell you what, somebody's gotta do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem; this is a left-wing problem.”
Trump’s remarks contradict the consensus from the intelligence community. Last week, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf testified that white supremacists have become the “most persistent and lethal” threat to national security in the U.S.
Earlier this month, FBI Director Chris Wray also said that “racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from white supremacists, was the most concerning domestic terrorism threat facing the U.S.
It’s not totally clear what Trump meant by “stand back and stand by,” but the Proud Boys have interpreted his words as a tacit endorsement.
“Trump basically said to go fuck them up!” Proud Boy Deputy Chairman Joe Biggs wrote online. “This makes me so happy!”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. was asked to clarify his father’s remarks after the debate in a CBS interview.
“He said to stand down,” Trump Jr. said. “He’s more than happy to condemn that.”