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Trump tells far-right Proud Boys to 'stand by' in presidential debate

Classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the group is known for its violent tactics and white supremacist ideology

A man hold his hand to his heart as a Proud Boys organiser recites the Pledge of Allegiance during a rally by the far-right group in Delta Park in Portland, Oregon, on September 26, 2020. AFP
A man hold his hand to his heart as a Proud Boys organiser recites the Pledge of Allegiance during a rally by the far-right group in Delta Park in Portland, Oregon, on September 26, 2020. AFP

The Proud Boys – a far-right group known for attacking left-wing protesters in street brawls – are celebrating after Donald Trump last night told them to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate.

Asked repeatedly to condemn white supremacists by Fox News moderator Chris Wallace, the US president blustered before saying instead: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left."

Antifa is an anti-fascist, left-wing political movement.

Moments later, jubilant messages erupted across Proud Boys’ social media channels as members of the group celebrated the president’s remarks, in some cases taking it as an endorsement for their violent tactics.

Prominent Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio replied on Twitter “Standing by, Sir” while another member wrote: “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with Antifa ... well sir! We’re ready!!”

Joe Biggs, another prominent Proud Boys supporter on social media who organised recent anti-Antifa protests in Portland posted, “This makes me so happy.”

The post was viewed 12,000 times in two hours and spread across mainstream platforms. Mr Biggs soon followed-up the post with a logo adopting the president’s debate-night statement as a Proud Boys slogan. It was viewed just over 9,000 times in an hour on Parler.

Commentators criticised the president’s refusal clearly condemn white supremacists and accused him of fomenting violence even as the Trump campaign tweeted clips of him previously condemning racism and the Ku Klux Klan.

“Proud Boys in social media groups are going wild about the ‘Stand back and stand by’ comment. They are basically seeing it as acknowledgement and a call to arms,” NBC reporter Ezra Kaplan said.

The group, which describes itself as “a pro-western fraternal organisation for men,” was created by the Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes in 2016 in the run-up to Donald Trump’s election.

In contrast to the president’s assertion on Tuesday night that left-wing groups were a bigger problem than right-wing groups, Mr Trump’s nominee to lead the agency in charge of curbing domestic terrorism, Chad Wolf, told senators this month that White supremacists have become the “most persistent and lethal threat” to the US from within the country.

Asked about Mr Trump’s reference to the Proud Boys on Tuesday, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the president’s campaign, appeared to backtrack, saying it was “very clear he wants them to knock it off,” the New York Times reported. In an interview with Fox News, the Trump campaign said the president has repeatedly “denounced white supremacists” over the years.

A man makes the ‘OK’ sign, now seen by some as a symbol of white supremacy, as hundreds gathered during a Proud Boys rally at Delta Park in Portland, Oregon, on September 26, 2020. AFP
A man makes the ‘OK’ sign, now seen by some as a symbol of white supremacy, as hundreds gathered during a Proud Boys rally at Delta Park in Portland. AFP

The Proud Boys have a history of endorsing violence and is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Centre civil rights organisation as a hate group. The Anti-Defamation League said its membership includes “hard-core white supremacists” with a misogynistic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant ideology.

Two members were sentenced to prison in 2019 for assaulting left-wing protesters after an event in New York City, and in 2018, Twitter and Facebook suspended Proud Boys from their platforms, citing policies against hate speech and organisations that promote it.

Earlier this week, fashion brand Fred Perry withdrew one of its polo shirt designs after it was adopted by the group, saying it was “incredibly frustrating” to see its logo associated with the neo-fascist organisation.

At a rally in Portland, Oregon, organised by the group on Saturday, several hundred people, some carrying firearms and wearing military-style body armour, gathered to support Mr Trump and his “law and order” re-election campaign before the debate.

A speaker at the event urged supporters to run for all local offices possible and “infiltrate all agencies” while others wielded baseball bats and chased left-wing protesters away.

With another Proud Boys rally planned in Portland this week, Governor Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread violence.

“Let’s be clear: The Proud Boys are white supremacists. Racism and hate are not forms of patriotism. The power is yours. Vote,” she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.

Updated: September 30, 2020 01:13 PM

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