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President Donald Trump listens during the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (Douliery/AP) President Donald Trump listens during the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (Douliery/AP)

President Donald Trump listens during the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (Douliery/AP)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy September 30, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • President Donald Trump hesitated to condemn white supremacists during repeated questioning from moderator Chris Wallace at the first presidential debate.

  • Trump told a far-right group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” and tried to redirect the conversation to antifa and groups on the left.

On the debate stage for the first time with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, President Donald Trump stopped short of condemning white supremacists, telling the far-right Proud Boys group to "stand back and stand by." 

Trump’s response to the line of questioning from moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News generated lots of post-debate chatter on TV and social media. The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League called Trump’s reply "astonishing." 

Social media accounts associated with the Proud Boys, an extremist group, echoed the president’s language, according to NBC News. "Trump basically said to go f--- them up! This makes me so happy," Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs wrote on Parler, a social media platform.

"This is Donald Trump’s America," Biden said in a retweet of a New York Times reporter’s post pointing to the celebratory comments from Biggs and others on Parler.

Here’s how the exchange, which saw Wallace and Trump talk over each other and Biden interject a few times, went down on stage:

Wallace: "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?" 

Trump: "Sure. I'm willing to do that."

Biden: "Do it."

Wallace: "Go ahead, sir."

Trump: "But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing."

Wallace: "What are you saying?"

Trump: "I'm willing to do anything. I want to see peace."

Wallace: "Then do it, sir."

Biden: "Say it. 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 do you want me to condemn? Who?"

Wallace: "White supremacists and right-wing militias."

Biden: "White supremacists. Proud Boys. Proud Boys."

Trump: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody has got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left wing. This is a left-wing problem."

It’s not accurate that violence is exclusively or predominantly a left-wing problem. A June report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said "far-right terrorism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators."

 

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified recently that "racially motivated violent extremism," mostly from white supremacists, makes up the "biggest chunk" of domestic terrorism. That aligns with what experts who track domestic terrorism previously told PolitiFact.

Trump’s comments harkened back to his remarks following the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which Biden has said contributed to his decision to run for president. 

Trump eventually condemned neo-Nazis after the event, but only after facing days of criticism for not doing so unequivocally at first.

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Our Sources

Axios on Twitter, Sept. 29, 2020

Jonathan Greenblatt on Twitter, Sept. 29, 2020

Joe Biden on Twitter, Sept. 29, 2020

Joe Biggs on Parler, Sept. 29, 2020

NBC News, "Proud Boys celebrate after Trump's debate call-out," Sept. 19, 2020

C-Span, "House Homeland Security Hearing on National Security Threats," Sept. 17, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Trump health aide’s unproven ‘hit squads’ claim from controversial Facebook video," Sept. 17, 2020

PolitiFact, "Ad Watch: What Donald Trump said about Charlottesville," Sept. 10, 2020

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In context: Donald Trump’s ‘stand back and stand by’ debate comments on white supremacists