US President Donald Trump refused to categorically denounce white supremacists during Tuesday night’s presidential debate. Dodging a question about right-wing extremist violence in Charlottesville and Portland, President Trump instead launched an attack on “left-wing” protestors.
“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and groups to say they need to stand down and not add to the violence and number of the cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Chris Wallace, the moderator, asked the president.
“Sure. I’m willing to do that,” said Mr Trump, adding, “Almost everything I see is from the left wing. Not from the right wing.”
When the moderator pushed the president, Mr Trump asked, “What do you want to call them?”
“White supremacists,” Mr Wallace replied.
Mr Trump, appearing to address the far-right group that has openly endorsed violence, then said “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by.”
“But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem. This is left wing”, the president said.
Chris Wallace: "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down…"
Trump: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left." pic.twitter.com/4vrPocKzcu
— Axios (@axios) September 30, 2020
White supremacist terrorism has been designated as one of the most serious threats facing the US, according to a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security. FBI Director Christopher Wray, when giving evidence to the US House Homeland Security Committee, said the majority of domestic terrorism threats and violence come from “racially motivated violent extremism”, especially from those with white supremacist ideologies. The FBI Director, contradicting Trump’s statement, also described Antifa as an ideology or movement, rather than an organized group.
When this was raised to Mr Tump, the president replied, “You have to be kidding”.
Members of the Proud Boys group began celebrating after President Trump’s comments, posting messages on their private social channels claiming that they were ready “to deal with Antifa”. They have even started to sell “Standing By” t-shirts, with the presidents’ words adorned like a slogan
A number of civil rights groups have condemned the Proud Boys, including the Anti-Defamation League, who labels them as “hard-core white supremacists.” The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt, has already called for Trump to apologise for his statement or explain what he meant.
Mr Trump’s apparent unwillingness to condemn white supremacy has brought immediate criticism online, including from celebrities.
In a stinging response, Frozen star Josh Gad, who is of Jewish descent, said: “The Nazis killed my family members. Tonight Trump told them to ‘stand by.’ I have never imagined saying these words in my life. ‘Mr. President, F*** YOU.’”
Zach Braff, best known for his work on TV comedy Scrubs, tweeted: “Only honest thing I digested: Nazis standby!”
While actress Kerry Washington, best known for her work on political drama Scandal, tweeted: “Once again. He refuses to condemn White supremacy. PAY ATTENTION FOLKS. Please vote.”
The Nazis killed my family members. Tonight Trump told them to “stand by.” I have never imagined saying these words in my life. “Mr. President, FUCK YOU.”
— Josh Gad (@joshgad) September 30, 2020