/Donald Trump sidesteps call to condemn white supremacists — and the Proud Boys were extremely excited about it

Donald Trump sidesteps call to condemn white supremacists — and the Proud Boys were extremely excited about it

President Donald Trump was given an opportunity to condemn white supremacists during Tuesday’s debate. He didn’t take it, and his response has energized the Proud Boys, a known extremist group, one expert said.

During the debate, Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden discussed the violence and social upheaval that has swept the streets of cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, following a summer of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

When pressed to condemn white supremacists, Trump asked for the name of a specific group.

Biden said “Proud Boys,” a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal advocacy organization, has designated as a hate group. 

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Trump responded, ​”Proud Boys – stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University in North Carolina who studies online extremism, told USA TODAY that she immediately went to the group’s social media channels.

“They reacted exactly as I thought they would,” Squire said. “They were extremely excited by what he said. They felt validated. They took it the same way everybody listening took it — that he was giving them a shout-out, basically.” 

Squire said she’s been studying the Proud Boys for about four years and said the group has been historically violent. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “Members have been known to engage in violent tactics; several members have been convicted of violent crimes.”

“They are kind of notorious for finding antifa and what they perceive as their left-wing enemies,” Squire said. “A call-out like this, it validates what they already fantasized was their purpose.” 

Biden took to Twitter after the debate and quoted a tweet that showed a screenshot of the Proud Boys’ enthusiastic response to Trump. Biden tweeted, “This. This is Donald Trump’s America.”

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Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., said his father was “more than happy” to condemn the group in an interview with Gayle King of CBS News

“I don’t know if that was a misspeak, but he was talking about having them stand down,” Trump Jr. said. 

At the start of the exchange, debate moderator Chris Wallace asked if Trump would condemn white supremacists and militia groups and urge them to stand down and avoid contributing to the violence.

“I’m willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” Trump insisted. 

Trump has blamed the far left anti-fascist group known as antifa for violence at protests. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the movement is one of several ideologies driving clashes; another is white supremacists.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, asked the president via Twitter to clarify his comment.

“It’s astonishing that, when asked a simple question, will you condemn white supremacists, the president responded – ‘The Proud Boys should stand back and stand by.’ Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission. President Trump owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.”

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Earlier this month, a former top Department of Homeland Security official who voted for Trump in 2016 and resigned in April told NPR that the White House refused to take far right extremism seriously and avoided using the term “domestic terrorism” when it came to white supremacists.

The SPLC tweeted, “Proud Boys are a hate group that espouses white supremacy, antisemitism and misogyny. They’ve appeared alongside other hate groups at rallies across the country, often attempting to incite violence.” 

A tweet pinned to the top of the SPLC’s Twitter page as of late Tuesday reads: “SPLC will not ‘stand down’ to hate groups. The threat is too serious to ‘stand by.’”

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