Members of the violent hate group known as the Proud Boys celebrated after a callout from President Donald Trump in Tuesday’s presidential debate.
Trump told the far-right gang to “stand by” during an exchange in which moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Trump if he was willing to condemn “white supremacists and militia groups.” Trump was not.
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump said, “but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
After a back-and-forth in which both Wallace and Democratic nominee Joe Biden pressed Trump to condemn white supremacy, the president instead emboldened an extremist group that often engages in acts of violence.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said before abandoning Wallace’s question entirely to instead blame anti-fascists for violence.
On the Proud Boys’ account on the messaging app Telegram, members of the group celebrated the apparent endorsement.
“Standing down and standing by sir,” the account wrote.
One of the Proud Boys’ leaders, Joe Biggs, took the president’s endorsement as a call to violence.
“Trump basically said to go fuck them up,” Biggs said in a chat on the right-wing social media app Parler. “This makes me so happy.”
The group, which bills itself as a fraternity of like-minded “Western chauvinists,” is more accurately described by the Anti-Defamation League as an Islamophobic, misogynistic group bent on causing violence. In 2018, 10 Proud Boys were charged in the attack of protesters outside a GOP event in New York City after video taken by journalist Sandi Bachom showed members of the group making targeted attacks.
Leaked chat longs obtained by HuffPost in 2019 revealed the group’s intentions to commit violence against anti-racists at rallies. And last weekend, hundreds of members met up in Portland to drink beer and menace journalists with baseball bats, Vice News reported.
Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who tracks online extremism, told NBC News that Trump’s endorsement emboldens the hate group.
“To say Proud Boys are energized by this is an understatement,” Squire told NBC News. “They were pro-Trump before this shoutout, and they are absolutely over the moon now. Their fantasy is to fight antifa in his defense, and he apparently just asked them to do just that.”
This is the second time in recent weeks that Trump has given a pat on the back to violent extremist groups. Last month, a reporter asked Trump about QAnon, an extremist conspiracy movement that has been identified by the FBI as a potential domestic terrorism threat. Trump was more than willing to embrace the group.
“I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said. “I have heard that it is gaining in popularity. … I’ve heard these are people that love our country.”