Near the end of Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland, as candidates debated law and order, moderator Chris Wallace asked President Donald Trump whether he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups.
Wallace’s question came as Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden discussed the violence and social upheaval that has swept the streets of cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, following a summer of protests.
Wallace asked if Trump would urge groups to stand down and avoid contributing to the violence.
“I’m willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” Trump insisted.
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Trump has blamed the far left anti-fascist group known as antifa for violence at protests. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the movement is one of several ideologies driving clashes; another is white supremacists.
When pressed to condemn white supremacists, Trump asked for the name of a specific group.
Biden responded by naming the Proud Boys, a group that believes men – especially white men – are under siege. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal advocacy organization, has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group.
”Proud Boys – stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, asked the president via Twitter to clarify his comment.
“It’s astonishing that, when asked a simple question, will you condemn white supremacists, the president responded – ‘The Proud Boys should stand back and stand by.’ Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission. President Trump owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.”
Earlier this month, a former top Department of Homeland Security official who voted for Trump in 2016 and resigned in April told NPR that the White House refused to take far right extremism seriously and avoided using the term “domestic terrorism” when it came to white supremacists.