If there is one takeaway from the first presidential debate in the 2020 US Elections, it's this: Donald Trump is a white supremacist. During the debate (if you can call it that), not only did the president refuse to condemn white supremacy, he issued a call-to-arms to the far right, neo-Nazi, pro-violence, hard-core hate group, Proud Boys. He did this on a global stage, and that group is now celebrating.
Moderator Chris Wallace gave Trump multiple opportunities to denounce white supremacy. He spelled it out for him; handed him the tools to instruct fascist militia to not incite violence, to condemn racism. "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we've seen in Portland?" Wallace asked. "Are you prepared to specifically do that?"
Instead of answering, Trump said: "Proud Boys — Stand Back and Stand By."
Following that, the New York Times reports that within minutes, members of that group were posting in private social media channels. The president's comments were crowned as "historic," seen as an endorsement of their violent tactics, and reported seeing a spike in "new recruits." On Instagram, screenshots were shared of conversations happening in these channels and forums. "Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy," read one. "Standing by sir," read another. The group's Telegram account has also posted an image of its logo, and Trump's words.
Trump continued to say that violent radical parties are a "left-wing problem," citing Antifa, yet mentioned nothing about the conflict-fueled rallies Proud Boys have organized, which see people wearing tactical gear and carrying weapons.
The exchange followed Joe Biden's recollection of the deadly white supremacist violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, which the former Vice President said was a pivotal moment in his decision to run for president. "Close your eyes. Remember what those people looked like coming out of the fields, carrying torches, their veins bulging, just spewing anti-Semitic bile."
Biden also recalled Trump's response, in reference to the clash between white supremacists and those protesting. "And the president said there were 'very fine people on both sides.' No president has ever said anything like that."
Trump has a long history of refusing to condemn white nationalism, though he has been known on occasion to U-turn under pressure (like the time he came under fire for refusing to condemn endorsements from former KKK leader David Duke). However, his initial responses (or lack thereof) speak volumes about the kind of person the "leader" of America is.
He is a person who is repeatedly telling his supporters to watch the ballots, implanting the idea from the start that the election results will be rigged; that has publically refused to commit to a peaceful handover of power should he lose the election; is vicious and vehement in condemning those that oppose him, but fails to do the same in the face of fascism.
With weeks left to go until the election, it is not a surprise that this is his course of action, as to slam supremacy would be to slam many of his followers — but it is deeply worrying to think that this call to action, should things not go his way, might not be the last.
Below you will find a transcript of the debate interaction, but before you do that please do one thing: REGISTER TO VOTE.
Wallace: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out antifa and other left-wing extremist groups. But are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we've seen in Portland? Are you prepared to specifically do that?
Trump: Sure, I'm prepared to do that. But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. If you look, I'm willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
Wallace: Then do it, sir.
Biden: Do it. Say it.
Trump: You want to call them? What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead — who would you like me to condemn?
Wallace: White supremacists, white supremacists, and right-wing militia.
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. Because this is not a right-wing problem — this is a left-wing problem.
Biden: His own FBI director said ... Antifa is an idea, not an organization. Not militias.
Trump: Oh, you gotta be kidding.
Biden: His FBI director said that.
Wallace: We're done, sir.
Biden: Everybody in your administration.
Trump: When a bat hits you over the head, that's not an idea. Antifa is bad.
Biden: Everybody who tells you the truth in your administration has a bad idea.
Trump: Antifa is a dangerous, radical group, and you ought to be careful with them. They'll overthrow you.