President Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacy and white nationalist groups during the first presidential debate on Tuesday night.
When asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace if he was willing to denounce white supremacists and right-wing militia groups, like the Proud Boys, Trump deflected and dodged the question.
Instead, he blamed left-wing groups for instances of violence in cities like Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Wallace prompted the President to condemn white supremacy several times before he actually ventured to answer the question directly, and the response he gave was chilling.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what: Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right wing problem. This is a left wing problem,” Trump said.
Members of the Proud Boys celebrated this response, taking the President’s words as a sign of affirmation and encouragement.
The Proud Boys are a far-right, western chauvinist organization that engages in violence and racist, nationalistic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, and transphobic rhetoric. They have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Proud Boys were among the white nationalist organizations who marched at the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
More recently, the group held a rally in Portland on Saturday in opposition to ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Due to Trump’s downright refusal to denounce white supremacy and his seeming endorsement of the Proud Boys, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt called on the President to apologize.
“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,” Greenblatt tweeted on Tuesday.
“And, in case anyone has any doubts, the Proud Boys are a virulent strain of American right-wing extremism. They have a long track record of violence, including in Portland this past weekend.”
Of course this is not the first time Trump has failed to disavow white nationalism and right-wing extremism.
After the deadly clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville more than three years ago, the President falsely claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides,” despite the fact that it was a white supremacist who ran over people with his car and killed Heather Heyer.
Also, neo-Nazis and white supremacists are not and will never be “very fine people.”
So while it is very much unsurprising that Trump has once again found himself unable to condemn white supremacy and racism, it is still chilling and disheartening to witness such a blatant lack of morals and decency from the President of the United States.
Engaging in bothsidesism when white nationalists are on one side is not condemning white supremacy. Telling the Proud Boys to “stand by” is not condemning white supremacy. Far from it.
From the very beginning, Trump has done nothing but fan the flames and use hatred and ongoing civil unrest to his own advantage, and Tuesday night he gave the Proud Boys and other groups the greenlight they’ve been waiting for.