When asked if he would speak out against white supremacists at the Oct. 29 debate, President Trump responded with a taunt.
The president refused to condemn the Proud Boys, telling them instead to “stand back and stand by.” It was a clear message for the far-right, male-only group known for brawling in the streets with left-wing protesters.
Who are the Proud Boys?
Over the past four years, the group has engaged in clashes in cities like Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, Calif., as well as at the notorious neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that was organized by a Proud Boys member, reports The New York Times.
Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes started the group in 2016 and since then, members have shown up at political demonstrations around the country, often carrying batons, bear spray and firearms, ready to do battle with their perceived enemies in the far-left antifa movement.
Although leaders claim to disavow racism, the Proud Boys have ties to white supremacists and have used nationalist rhetoric that is common among hate groups.
“Now antifa is a real problem,” Trump also said at the debate. “The problem is on the left. And Biden refuses to talk about it.”
In fact, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel the week before that it was white supremacists and anti-government extremists who have been responsible for most of the recent deadly attacks by extremist groups in the U.S.
Experts in extremism agreed that Trump’s comments amounted to an unprecedented shout-out to a group that, while small, has a demonstrated history of fomenting street violence.
“You’re essentially telling a paramilitary force to ’stand by,’” said Heidi Beirich, an expert on far-right politics who co-founded the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
The next day, the president attempted to walk back his comments by saying he didn't know who the Proud Boys were and that they should "stand down" and let law enforcement do their work.
To McInnes, the president’s words were a call to action against antifa. “I think he was saying that if antifa starts burning down cities again, go in and fight them,” Mr. McInnes said. “I think he was saying I appreciate you and appreciate your support.”
What can we do in our towns to avoid violence and clashes prompted by hate groups like the Proud Boys?
Work with your local community to make a plan.
Look for an upcoming guide from Not In Our Town and Over Zero on Building Resilient Communities.
Start Planning Now for United Against Hate Week in your city! United Against Hate Week is Oct. 30 - Nov. 6, 2020.
- Visit UnitedAgainstHateWeek.org and learn more about this movement.
- Actions you can start planning now.
Learn what you can do when hate groups come to town:
- Attend our next NIOT Virtual Conversation: Responding Locally to Rising Hate and Conflict — Ideas and Action Tools for Communities — October 15, 2020 (4 PM ET, 3 PM CT, 2 PM MT, 1 PM PT)
- Stop Hate Action Kits
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