ATLANTA — When asked by moderator Chris Wallace to denounce white supremacy and violent militias during Tuesday’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump asked for suggestions.
“Give me a name. Go ahead. Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden jumped in. “White supremacists and Proud Boys,” he said.
“Proud Boys?” the president said. “Stand back and stand by.”
Chris Wallace: "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down…"
Trump: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left." pic.twitter.com/4vrPocKzcu
— Axios (@axios) September 30, 2020
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio greeted the name drop enthusiastically.
“ProudBoys!!!!!!! I will stand down sir!!!” he posted on the conservative social network Parler.
Tarrio later posted that he did not take the comment as a “direct endorsement,” but he congratulated Trump for how he answered “a VERY pointed question.”
“The question was in reference to WHITE SUPREMACY … which we are not. Him telling the Proud Boys to stand back and standby is what we have ALWAYS done,” Tarrio wrote.
Google search traffic spiked immediately for the group that calls itself a “drinking club” of “western chauvinists.” Watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have described them as a kind of far-right fight club and hate group.
The group has chapters across the nation, but it’s more active in western states where members have openly clashed with left-wing groups in street battles in recent years.
“In case anyone has any doubts, the Proud Boys are a virulent strain of American right-wing extremism,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted. “They have a long track record of violence, including in Portland this past weekend.”
Last weekend, the Proud Boys staged a rally in Portland that fell far short of the 10,000 people organizers had predicted. But those who attended expressed their loyalty to Trump and willingness to do battle.
“We kick a lot of people to the curb,” one speaker said, according to the Washington Post. “Gotta love to drink, gotta love to fight.”
The group was created in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnis amid a spike in activity in the broader alt-right. McInnis styled the group as an uber-masculine fraternity of men “who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
As a result, the ADL has called the group “less a pro-western drinking club and more an extreme, right-wing gang” whose “members subscribe to a scattershot array of libertarian and nationalist tropes.”
Members of the group, including McInnis, have made anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements and the group is proudly anti-feminist. The ADL estimates the group’s total membership as “unknown” but relatively small. The Proud Boys gained some notoriety for its odd initiation rituals and requirements for membership.
Last year, two Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison for brawling with left-wing protesters outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City where McInnis was giving a speech in 2018.
While excited by Trump’s mention, members of the group pushed back hard against any connection with white supremacy. Yosef Ozia, an Atlanta resident who is Black and has associated with the group in the past, tweeted a series of photos of African-American Proud Boys, with the ironic caption, “Proud boys are ‘white supremacists.'”
National figures in the group took Trump’s comments as encouragement to continue to quarrel with leftist groups.
“Trump basically said to go f–k them up! This makes me so happy,” Joe Biggs, another Proud Boys personality, posted to Parler Tuesday.
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