President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back” after being asked by Fox News moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists and militia groups during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday night.
“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups 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 Portland?” Fox News moderator Chris Wallace asked the president.
“Sure I’m willing to do that,” Trump responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
“Then do it, sir,” Wallace pressed. “Say it,” Democratic nominee Joe Biden added.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s gotta do something about Antifa and the left. This is not a right wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media turned prominent far-right figure, launched the the Proud Boys in 2016. Members of the group, who describe themselves as “western chauvinists,” are frequently seen in coordinated clothing consisting of black Fred Perry polo shirts with yellow stripes and red MAGA hats.
Shortly after the debate ended, the Proud Boys appeared to celebrate Trump’s remarks on their social media networks. On Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging service, the group reportedly shared an image with the phrase “stand back and stand by” surrounding its logo.
In 2018, the FBI listed the Proud Boys as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism.” The group has also been called a hate group “known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric” by The Southern Poverty Law Center.
The far-right group has hosted several rallies in Portland, Oregon in recent months to condemn Black Lives Matter protests and the ongoing unrest following the May death of George Floyd in police custody.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in Portland earlier this month ahead of an organized Proud Boys rally over fears that “white supremacist groups from out of town will “intimidate, instigate and inflame” tensions in the city.
But the Saturday rally, held at Portland’s Peninsula Park, ended without the violence that is often seen at gatherings held by the group. While organizers had estimated that as many as 10,000 supporters would attend, only a fraction of that figure turned up and a large portion of the group dispersed after only a few hours.
Newsweek reached out to Trump’s campaign for further comment.