In the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, one moment stood out among all of the insults and interruptions.
In a serious conversation on race relations in America, Fox News' debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to condemn white supremacy and right-wing militias. The president did not.
Trump first responded: "Sure, I'm willing to do that." Moderator Chris Wallace responded: "Then do it, sir." When pressed to offer a formal condemnation of white supremacists and militia groups by Wallace and asked to specifically denounce the Proud Boys by Biden, Trump instead told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by."
Asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, Pres. Trump replies, "Sur… https://t.co/KccPD63a99— ABC News (@ABC News)1601433175.0
The Proud Boys are designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League also designates the Proud Boys as an "alt-lite" extremist organization whose ideology encompasses "misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigration" views. In some ways, the Proud Boys resemble a gang, with initiation rituals and ranks of membership. The group often counter-protests at Black Lives Matter rallies, sometimes carrying assault rifles, where members have also attacked protesters and journalists. The Proud Boys appeared at the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA alongside Klansmen, militias, and other white supremacist groups. The rally turned violent and a young woman, Heather Heyer, was murdered when a white supremacist drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters.
President Trump offered tacit condemnation of white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys in Charlottesville, saying "they didn't put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides."
It is clear that nothing has changed since then, Even though a draft from the annual report of Trump's own Department of Homeland Security stated that "ideologically motivated lone offenders and small groups will pose the greatest terrorist threat to the Homeland through 2021, with white supremacist extremists presenting the most lethal threat."
In electing not to unconditionally disavow white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys, the president is declining to address one of the greatest domestic terrorist threats to America.
In fact, his comments did not just circumvent a denouncement, they acted as a call to arms for the Proud Boys. Following the president's debate comments, a Proud Boys channel on Telegram wrote: "Standing down and standing by sir." Another post included a recording of a man watching the president's "stand by" comment on TV and howling in response, the post captioned "God. Family. Brotherhood." A Proud Boys organizer wrote: "President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA... well sir! we're ready!!"
White supremacists are celebrating the President's rhetoric.
I'm afraid Trump's comments will incite further white supremacist violence, exacerbating the greatest terrorist threat to America. His comments on the debate stage stoked the fire of racial hatred that he has all too frequently given oxygen to. It is evident to me in his behavior that he feels that white supremacist ideals are present in his electoral coalition in a manner that is important to his reelection bid. He is willing to encourage these extremist organizations to terrorize Americans in exchange for some chance of political viability. It is the action of a desperate man clinging to his last few moments in power and it is a disgrace to the principles of liberty, equality, and justice that form the basis of America's democratic society.