CLEVELAND, Ohio — Members of the Proud Boys right-wing militia group celebrated online Tuesday evening after what they perceived as a shout out from President Trump during the chaotic first presidential debate.
The president told the group to “stand back and stand by” after Fox News moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to condemn white supremacists and militia groups following deadly clashes and rioting in US cities Kenosha, Wis. and Portland, Ore.
“What do you want me to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” the commander in chief said to Wallace and opponent Joe Biden after they asked him to publicly disavow social extremists — something he himself has repeatedly asked of Biden.
“White supremacists and right-wing militia,” Wallace responded.
“Who would you like me to condemn? Who?” the president asked.
“Proud Boys need to stand back and stand by, but 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 problem,” Trump said.
Members of the group immediately began pledging allegiance to Trump on the encrypted messaging app, Telegram, according to multiple reports.
“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA … well sir! We’re ready!!” wrote one Proud Boy in a screenshot circulating online.
“Trump basically said to go f— them up! this makes me so happy,” he continued.
“Standing by, sir,” another man wrote in the chat.
It appeared that the group’s Seattle chapter has already adopted the president’s comment as their motto according to one screenshot with the words “Stand Back” and “Stand By” surrounding a crest.
It’s unclear how Trump intended his remarks to come across, but Biden seized on the comments in a tweet after the debate.
“This. This is Donald Trump’s America,” the former veep, 77, wrote, sharing a screenshot of the chat.
On their website, the Anti-Defamation League defines the Proud Boys as a misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration group whose members — estimated to be several-hundred strong — also espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies.
The group, which was founded in 2016, was also involved in the infamous Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally where one woman was killed when she was mowed down by a Nazi sympathizer.
Trump, 74, famously responded to the alt-right rally by claiming there were “very fine people on both sides” and has since been dogged by claims from critics that he courts support from white supremacists.
He has denied that and subsequently affirmed his condemnation of such extremists.