US President Donald Trump appeared to walk back his comments on a far-right extremist group, just one day after failing to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate.
Trump told a far-right extremist group, Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” as he repeatedly blamed left-wing groups for stoking violence in the country.
The comments left some members of a far-right extremist group celebrating what they saw as approval. The male-only group of neo-fascists describes themselves as “western chauvinists,” and they have been known to incite street violence.
Trump had been responding to a question from debate moderator Chris Wallace, who asked the president if he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups that have shown up at some protests.
“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.”
Wallace specifically mentioned Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a white teenager was charged with killing two protesters during demonstrations over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Trump has repeatedly blamed “antifa,” which stands for the anti-fascist movement.
“Almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” said Trump.
But on Wednesday, as he faced widespread criticism for his failure to condemn the group, Trump said “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are.”
He added, “Whoever they are, they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”
Meanwhile, Joe Biden told white supremacist groups to “cease and desist”, calling Trump a “national embarrassment.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel last week that white supremacists and anti-government extremists have been responsible for most of the recent deadly attacks by extremist groups within the U.S.
Trump, a Republican, has tried to tie incidents of violence that have accompanied largely peaceful protests to Biden and the Democrats, running on a “law and order” message that warns people won’t be safe under a Democratic president.
It’s a message aimed squarely at white suburban voters, including women who voted for Trump in 2016 but may not do so again.
Proud Boys leaders and supporters later celebrated the president’s words on social media.
A channel on Telegram, an instant messaging service, with more than 5,000 of the group’s members posted “Stand Back” and “Stand By” above and below the group’s logo.