Trump tells far proper to ‘stand down’ amid white supremacy row

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Media signatureTrump says “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are” one day after he told them to “step back and stand by”.

President Donald Trump said a far-right group should “step down” and let law enforcement do their job after his failure to convict the group in a televised debate sparked a backlash.

Mr Trump said, “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” despite telling them in the election debate with Joe Biden to “step down and stand by”.

Proud Boys members called his comments on the debate “historic” and a confirmation.

Mr Biden said Mr Trump “refused to turn down white supremacists”.

The exchange took place during the first of three televised debates between the two men ahead of the November 3 election. The debate turned into arguments, arguments, and insults, and the US media described it as chaotic, ugly, and terrible.

The commission that runs the debates said it would introduce new measures for the next two to “keep order”. Mr Trump said they should get a new anchor and a smarter Democratic candidate.

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Media signatureHow US news networks responded to the first presidential debate

Not much was learned about politics, and while a quick poll on the debate gave Mr Biden a small advantage, other opinion polls suggest that 90% of Americans have already decided who to vote and the debate may have little difference made.

Mr Biden has consistently led Mr Trump in national polls, but polls in so-called battlefield states suggest that the vote may still be close competition.

What did Mr Trump say in the debate about Proud Boys?

Moderator Chris Wallace asked if the president would condemn white supremacists and tell them to resign during the protests. These have flared up this year on the topics of police murders and racism.

“Sure, I’m ready … but I would say that almost everything I see comes from the left wing, not the right wing,” Trump said.

Mr Biden said “Proud Boys” twice when the President asked who to convict.

The President said: “Proud guys – stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what … Somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not really a problem.”

  • Who are Proud Boys and Antifa?

Founded in 2016, Proud Boys is a far-right, all-immigrant, all-male group with a history of street violence against left-wing opponents. A Proud Boys social media account posted the “Stand Back, Stand By” logo.

Antifa, short for “anti-fascist”, is a loose association of far-left activists who often clash with the far-right during protests.

How did Mr. Trump clarify his debate comments?

He spoke on the White House lawn on Wednesday ahead of a campaign trip to Minnesota. A reporter asked him about Proud Boys and he said, “I don’t know who you are. All I can say is that you have to step down and let law enforcement do their job.”

He repeated his request that Mr. Biden condemn Antifa’s activities.

He did not clarify his use of “standby” in the debate, simply saying that “law and order should be a very important part of our campaign” when asked if he welcomed the support of the white supremacists.

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Media signature“Shut up, man” and other insults and interruptions

He pressed the subject again and said, “I have always denounced every form, every form of it.”

A White House statement after a neo-Nazi killed a protester against white supremacy in his car in Charlottesville in 2017 condemned “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white rulers and other hate groups”. Mr Trump also said that there were “very good people on both sides” during these protests.

Mr Trump has downplayed the threat posed by white supremacy groups, despite the Department of Homeland Security saying they will remain the “most persistent and deadly threat” in the United States until next year.

When faced with difficult or tricky issues, Donald Trump tends to offer a variety of often conflicting answers that allow his supporters – and critics – to choose what to believe.

Nowhere was this behavior more pronounced than among white supremacists and right-wing extremist groups. Sometimes he did without them. With others, he confuses the subject or changes it if direct condemnation would suffice.

Instead, the president is offering hate groups a rally, as he did after the violence in Charlottesville in 2017 or with his “stand back and stand by” message on Tuesday.

The president can say the right things politically, then turn around and say the wrong things so that his aides can clean up the mess.

Is it because the president is negligent in his words, misunderstood by critics and a controversial press, or because he is sensitive to concerns about even the more repulsive elements of his support base?

Despite all of the conversations and tweets he makes, the president remains – intentional or not – a cipher.

What was the President accused of?

Joe Biden returned on the subject in a tweet Wednesday, saying, “There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to turn down white supremacists on the debate stage last night.”

In his tweet, he quoted a comment addressed to the President from an online Proud Boys forum that read, “This makes me so happy. We are ready! We are ready, sir.”

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The members of the Proud Boys gather in Portland, Oregon this past weekend

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said Trump’s words were “amazing” and Rita Katz of the SITE extremist watchdog said Trump “gave the white supremacists another nod”.

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The members of Proud Boys undoubtedly believed they had support from Mr Trump.

Organizer Joe Biggs wrote: “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone has to deal with Antifa … well, sir! We are ready !!”

One member said the group is already seeing an increase in new recruits.

What were the other important moments of debate?

The 90-minute debate in Cleveland, Ohio was chaotic, with frequent interruptions and insults from the men.

The main problems included:

  • Among the insults, Mr Biden calls the President a “clown”. He said to the President, “Are you going to shut up, man?” and later snapped “Yep on, man”
  • Mr Trump said Mr Biden “got either the lowest or almost the lowest degree in your class” and had done nothing in 47 years of politics
  • Mr Biden said Mr Trump “panicked” and “many people died” over the coronavirus epidemic. Mr Trump later tweeted that many more would have died had Mr Biden been president
  • Mr Trump defended his efforts to quickly occupy a seat on the US Supreme Court, while Joe Biden refused to respond when asked if he would try to increase the number of judges
  • When asked if he would encourage his supporters to be peaceful if the election results were unclear, Mr. Trump said, “I encourage my supporters to go to the polls and watch very closely.”
  • When Mr Trump said that Mr Biden would, at the behest of the left, be the Democratic Party on health and environmental issues, Mr Biden replied, “I am now the Democratic Party.”

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Media signatureBiden: Do you believe what he’s telling you for a moment?

What’s happening now?

The war of words after the debate continued on Wednesday.

On Twitter, Trump said Mr Biden was destroying the country, claiming the challenger wanted to fill the Supreme Court with judges, end fracking and kill the second constitutional amendment that includes the right to bear arms.

Joe Biden is on a full-day train tour of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania while his campaign also launched a digital ad attack against the president.

On his first tour stop, he said Mr. Trump “forgot the forgotten Americans he would fight for. I will never forget”.

Mr Biden added, “I will not be a Democratic President. I will be an American President.”

The other televised debates between the two candidates will take place in Florida on October 15 and in Tennessee on October 22.

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