US President Donald Trump has condemned all white supremacist groups, including the far-right “Proud Boys,” an organisation identified as a hate group, following comments he made at the presidential debate earlier this week.
“I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys but I condemn that,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.
“If I say it a hundred times it won’t be enough because it’s fake news,” he added.
During Tuesday’s presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump was asked if he was willing to denounce “white supremacists and militia groups” and tell them to stand down amid violence that has marred anti-racism protests in some US cities.
Trump requested a specific name, and Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, an organisation that describes itself as a club of “Western chauvinists” but has been categorised as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. The comment drew wide criticism and was viewed by many to be a sign of encouragement for the group.
The White House on Thursday insisted that President Donald Trump denounced the far-right Proud Boys at the debate, saying that his comment that the group’s members should “stand back and stand by” had been misinterpreted.
During a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president had been trying to tell Proud Boys members to “stand down,” adding that he had explicitly condemned white supremacy in the wake of the debate.
“The president specifically, verbatim was asked yesterday ‘white supremacy, do you denounce them?’ To which he responded, ‘I have always denounced any form of that’,” McEnany said, quoting Trump.
Republican US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, said Trump misspoke and called on him to correct his words.
On Wednesday, Trump told reporters at the White House: “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” adding, “They have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”
The president has a long history of making comments that his critics view as racist or as supportive of racist groups.
In 2017, he said “both sides” were to blame for violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. He later sought to walk back the comments.
Trump called on Biden to condemn antifa, a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.