In an exchange with reporters upon leaving the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Trump claimed he did not know anything about the Proud Boys, a male-only extremist group known for its penchant for street violence.
Trump’s remarks came one day after he said at a debate that the group should “stand back and stand by.”
“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” Trump told reporters Wednesday when asked about the group, whose members have at times sparked fights with the far left that devolve into mayhem. “I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition, because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”
He added: “Law enforcement will do the work more and more — as people see how bad this radical liberal Democrat movement is and how weak. So, law enforcement’s going to come back stronger and stronger.”
Trump’s remarks about the group also echoed his statement in 2016 that he doesn’t “know anything” about self-declared white supremacist David Duke. They also were reminiscent of the president’s claim last month that he knows little about QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorist threat.
“I don’t know much about the movement; I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said of QAnon during a White House news briefing in August. “I heard these are people that love our country.”
On Wednesday, Trump was also pressed by reporters about self-proclaimed white supremacist groups that support him. In response to one question, the president gave an answer that had nothing to do with white supremacy.
“White supremacists — they clearly love you and support you,” a reporter asked. “Do you welcome that?”
“I want law and order to be a very important part — it’s a very important part of my campaign,” Trump responded. “And when I say that, what I’m talking about is law enforcement has to — police has to take care of it. And they should stop defunding the police like they’ve done in New York.”
After a reporter reminded him that the question was about white supremacist groups and asked whether he would denounce them, Trump replied without mentioning the words “white supremacy.”
“I’ve always denounced any form, any form — any form of any of that, you have to denounce,” Trump said. “But I also — Joe Biden has to say something about antifa. It’s not a philosophy. These are people that hit people over the head with baseball bats.”
Another reporter asked Trump whether it concerns him that some members of right-wing unofficial militias are taking to the streets wielding weapons. “It does concern me,” Trump said. “And crime generally concerns me. Any form of crime. Let law enforcement take care of it.”
Asked about the remaining two presidential debates, Trump claimed, falsely, that Biden “wants to get out of the debates” but said that he personally wants to go ahead.
“I would like to,” Trump said. “By every measure, we won the debate easily last night. … I don’t mind debating him. I hear he wants to get out of the debates. I don’t know. That’s up to him.”