In tonight's debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the protests and violence in several American cities over the summer dominated the second half of the discussion.
Biden was pressed (as he has been this summer) to disavow violence and rioting by antifa protesters. Biden did so, saying "Violence is never appropriate."
Host and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace then noted that Trump has been criticized repeatedly for refusing to denounce the violence that comes from white nationalists at some of these protests. Wallace asked Trump, "Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups to say they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of the cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we've seen in Portland?"
Trump said, "Sure, I'm willing to do that, but I would say, almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing." After demanding from Wallace specific names of groups he should condemn, Biden and Wallace settled on the Proud Boys. Trump responded not with condemnation but by saying "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by." Then he veered the discussion immediately toward antifa violence, saying "I'll tell you what. Somebody's gotta do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem."
That's not a condemnation. Trump still, unlike Biden, seems unable to repudiate violence from people who support him. The clip from C-SPAN is below:
Chris Wallace: "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups…?"
President Trump: "Sure, I'm willing to do that…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/9gJ8qyO4hL
— CSPAN (@cspan) September 30, 2020
Trump can sometimes speak unclearly, so some will point to his vague verbal style to excuse tonight's comments. Regardless of the president's intent, the Telegram account for the Proud Boys reportedly immediately made a mockup a logo with "Stand Back" and "Stand By" as text, suggesting that the message they received is to wait for potential action. The Daily Beast reports that Proud Boys leader Joe Briggs wrote on Parler that in reality, "Trump basically said to go fuck them up. This makes me so happy."
Update: On Wednesday afternoon, given a chance to more carefully frame a statement, Trump was much more clear at telling the Proud Boys to "stand down and let law enforcement do their work," according to Bloomberg's White House reporter:
BREAKING: "They have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work," Trump says of Proud Boys, adding "I don't know who the Proud Boys are." pic.twitter.com/1Odm4zGrOJ
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 30, 2020