Picking out a low point in Donald Trump’s entirely subterranean performance on Tuesday night is difficult, but he definitely dropped down a bolgia or two when he handed out his instructions for the white supremacist group Proud Boys to stay on call to hurt people on demand.
Trump: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, 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.”
Trump not only said he was happy to call out the militia group, he … didn’t. Rather than telling them to stay out of cities and stop making trouble, Trump delivered the message that they should “stand by” because “somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left.”
Only, as it’s become increasingly clear that not everyone on Capitol Hill shares Trump’s love of white supremacy groups that really do ride into cities in busses with the intention of causing harm, Trump has decided that there’s a slight problem. Which is—you need to forget your lying eyes. And ears.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Trump declared that he doesn’t know who the Proud Boys are. And he also denied that he ever told them to stand by to attack. Because, sure, you’ll believe that.
From the Wednesday press pool ...
TRUMP: "I don't know who the Proud Boys are. You'll have to give me a definition because I really don't know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work. ... As people see how bad this radical liberal Democrat movement is and how weak, the law enforcement is going to come back stronger and stronger. But again, I don't know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work.”
Somehow, “stand down and let law enforcement do their work” sounds like what everyone wished Trump had said. But again, what Trump actually said was “stand by,” rather than stand down. And rather than mentioning law enforcement, Trump made it clear that he expected the Proud Boys to “do something about antifa and the left.”
It’s interesting that someone so focused on “law and order” would claim to be unfamiliar with the group he was ordering around the night before. After all, the Anti-Defamation League considers them a violent gang, and the Southern Poverty Law Center declared them a hate group. It’s possible to believe that Trump might have overlooked those statements, but it would certainly seem that he should have noted that the FBI classified the Proud Boys as a far-right extremist group with ties to white nationalism in 2018.
Proud Boys were among the “very fine people” carrying torches through Charlottesville. They’ve purposely staged riots and organized assaults in New York City. In 2019 they organized a protest in Portland in which they deliberately tried to generate a violent face off. That “Better Dead than Red” rally is notable for being the subject of numerous FBI and police warnings and garnering widespread media attention.
This kind of coast to coast violence by a group that goes from city to city spreading violence seems like it should be the kind of thing that concerns Trump.
REPORTER: "Mr. President, during the speech when you said 'stand by,' that might … “
TRUMP: "Just stand by. Look, law enforcement will do their work. They're going to stand down, they have to stand down. Everybody. Whatever group you are talking about, let law enforcement do the work. Now, antifa is a real problem. Because the problem is on the left. And Biden refuses to talk about it."
Trump delivered instruction to a violent white supremacist militia that has them celebrating and making T-shirts capturing their leader’s words. He didn’t say “stand down,” he said “stand by.” And everything he’s said trying to backpedal is … just as believable as everything else he’s said.