Asked directly during Tuesday night’s debate to condemn the Proud Boys hate group, President Donald Trump told them to “stand back and stand by.”
His family (Donald Trump Jr.) and top campaign aides (Jason Miller) quickly moved to argue Trump had simply made a verbal error in not condemning the Proud Boys, who the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, told CNN on Wednesday “unequivocally are a hate group” — and that his intent to condemn the group was clear.
“They style themselves as a quote pro-Western fraternity, but their rhetoric frequently invokes antisemitism, misogyny, xenophobia, particularly targeting immigrants, anti-Muslim bias and both homophobia and transphobia,” Greenblatt added.
But this episode feels eerily similar to a number of moments as both a candidate and as President in which Trump seemed to condone (or, at the very least, failed to slap down) racists and hate groups who count themselves as his backers. There’s more. Much more. But the point here is clear: Donald Trump has a very long history of avoiding direct condemnation of white supremacist and other hate groups while simultaneously saying and doing things that any neutral observer would be forced to conclude are racist.
In short: Trump’s baffling comment about the Proud Boys, which the group immediately embraced as a not-so-subtle call to action, don’t land in a vacuum. If they did, maybe White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley could get away with saying — credibly — that what the President meant is that “he wants (Proud Boys) to get out of the way,” as he did on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning.
The context — the sheer reams of comments made by Trump about race and white supremacist groups — is an avalanche, however. And it all points very clearly to this reality: Donald Trump has repeatedly not only refused to condemn hate groups but also, in the words he has chosen to describe them and their actions, provided cover and succor to them.