President Trump refused to condemn white supremacists during the first presidential debate Tuesday night, instead telling the hate group the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” when questioned on the issue.
The topic arose when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to condemn white supremacists and militia groups that have been active at rallies against police violence, often carrying firearms.
Trump at first tried to deflect the question, claiming all the violence he had seen was “from the left wing." But when pressed by both Wallace and Joe Biden, Trump would not condemn white supremacists.
“I’m willing to do anything, I want to see peace,” Trump said in response to Wallace’s questions.
“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace said.
“You want to call them, what do you want to call them? Give me a name,” Trump replied. “Who would you like me to condemn?”
“White supremacists,” Wallace said.
“Proud Boys,” Biden said, referring to a group that has intimidated protesters demonstrating against racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Proud Boys as a hate group.
“Proud Boys? Stand back, and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left,” Trump said.
Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy sparked fierce and immediate condemnation from many corners.
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
CNN commentator Van Jones said that for him, Trump’s latest refusal to denounce white supremacy was the only thing that mattered from the rancorous debate.
“Number one, Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacy. Number two: The president of the United States refused to condemn white supremacy. Number three, the command-in-chief refused to condemn white supremacy on the global stage, in front of my children, in front of everybody’s family and he was given the opportunity multiple times to condemn white supremacy, and he gave a wink and a nod to a racist, Nazi, murderous organization that is now celebrating online,” Jones said.
Indeed, in the wake of the president’s comments, NBC and other news outlets reported that members of the Proud Boys organization were celebrating the president’s remarks.
Trump’s comments Tuesday night marked another example in which the president has refused to condemn white supremacists. In one infamous incident, he claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” after a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., ended with a woman dead when James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of people protesting against racism.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Charlottesville, Va.