During the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump was directly asked to condemn white supremacy. He not only refused to do so, but instead invoked a call to arms.
During the debate’s segment focusing on race and nationwide protests, moderator Chris Wallace gave Trump the opportunity to disavow white supremacy, asking if the president would call on white supremacist groups that have been inciting violence at Black Lives Matter protests to “stand down.” When Trump asked for “a name” of specific groups, former Vice President Joe Biden cited the Proud Boys, a violent, far-right extremist, nationalistic, misogynistic group that is getting far too much attention tonight thanks to this debate moment.
Rather than condemn this group, Trump sounded a rallying cry, saying, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” He then used his time to condemn those who fight against fascism, saying, “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."
This goes beyond the time when Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides” when referring to marching Nazis in Charlottesville. Now, the president is making clear that he only thinks there are fine people on one side: his. His words caused the Proud Boys to celebrate, posting “Stand back, Stand by” on their Telegram account as part of their logo. “Standing down and standing by sir,” the account boasted.
Throughout his four years as president, Trump has repeatedly sent messages — some coded, some less so — of support to white supremacist hate groups. Beyond the “very fine people” comment, he also defended a man who killed two anti-racism protestors in Wisconsin, and he has repeatedly vilified racial justice protestors as “thugs” and “anarchists.” He has sent federal troops to places like Portland under the guise of “law and order,” while looking the other way as police brutalize Black people and douse protestors in tear gas.
In Tuesday’s debate, his message was more blatant than ever. Coupled with his refusal to leave office peacefully and attempts to paint the election as fraudulent, it is a chilling message of autocracy and violence. It makes what we’ve known for a long time clearer than ever: The President of the United States is a white supremacist, and we need to do everything in our power to get him out of office.