President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s organization with a history of instigating violence, to “stand back and stand by,” after being asked to condemn white supremacists and militia groups during the first presidential debate Tuesday night.
Minutes later, he said he was “urging my people” who are “poll watchers” to go to voting locations across the country — to do what, he wouldn’t exactly say — as he baselessly claimed the election is rife with “fraud.”
Trump’s comments are part of his campaign’s pattern of dog whistles and overt appeals to violent groups, white supremacists, and his most fervent supporters to take matters into their own hands and defend him and his divisive ideologies at all costs. The Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says has “affiliations with known extremists,” celebrated Trump’s shout to them before the debate had even ended.
Trump’s appeals come as protests calling for racial justice continue around the nation and as people prepare to vote during a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 in the US alone.
In a recent campaign ad, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. called for an “army” of “able-bodied” men and women to watch the polls on Election Day: “We need every able-bodied man and woman to join [the] Army for Trump’s election security operation,” he said. “We need you to help us watch them.”
And several weeks ago, a 17-year-old law-enforcement obsessed Trump supporter showed up at protests in Kenosha — after police shot and severely injured a Black man — and opened fire, killing two people and injuring a third.
Trump’s statement about the Proud Boys came at the end of a long line of questioning over racism amid civil unrest over the police killings of Black people.
“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups … and to say that 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,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, the moderator, asked.
Trump responded, “sure, I’m willing to do that,” but added the caveat that “everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.” He then asked who exactly he was supposed to condemn, asking Wallace to “give me a name.”
Wallace again asked Trump to condemn white supremacists and “right-wing militia,” as former Vice President Joe Biden chimed in, saying “Proud Boys.”
Trump then said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”