Story at a glance
- During the first presidential debate, President Trump was asked to disavow white supremacy — but he did not.
- Online, the Proud Boys celebrated his remarks and responded enthusiastically.
- The Proud Boys are an extremist group with a history of street violence against its left-wing opponents.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” President Trump said during the first 2020 presidential debate in response to Chris Wallace’s question about whether he would condemn white supremacists.
What did he mean? Merriam-Webster offered up a dictionary definition.
‘Stand back’: to take a few steps backwards
‘Stand by’: to be or to get ready to act #Debates2020
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) September 30, 2020
“I think he misspoke, I think he should correct it. If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black GOP senator, told ABC News.
Regardless of his intentions, several social media accounts and users who identify with the group seemed to take the commander-in-chief’s words as marching orders.
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) September 30, 2020
“Standing down and standing by sir,” wrote the Proud Boys’ account on the social media app Telegram, posting two videos of the answer, including one with the caption “God. Family. Brotherhood,” in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump’s response.
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So who are the Proud Boys? The FBI categorizes the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism, along with their affiliate group, the Proud Boy Girls.
Gavin McInnes, one of the original co-founders of Vice Media, founded the group in September 2016, first informally and later formally, playing off the song “Proud of Your Boy” from Disney’s “Aladdin.”
“The basic tenet of the group is that they are ‘Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.’ Like Archie Bunker, they long for the days when ‘girls were girls and men were men.’ This wasn’t controversial even twenty years ago, but being proud of Western culture today is like being a crippled, black, lesbian communist in 1953,” McInnes wrote in Taki’s Magazine.
There are three degrees of membership to the men’s only group. First, you have to declare yourself “a western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world,” according to a now-inactive blog McInnes started after leaving Vice. To reach the second degree, five or more “dudes” must “beat the shit out of you” until the inductee can name five breakfast cereals (and this must be filmed if McInnes or a Proud Boy representative isn’t present). The third degree is getting a tattoo — but you can’t do that until you’ve cleared the first two.
Technically, Proud Boys can have any political affiliation and be any religion, race or sexual preference, according to the blog, although the Anti-Defamation League defines their ideology as misogynistic, Islamaphobic, transphobic and anti-immigration — and sometimes anti-Semitic.
What happens once you join? Well they have a uniform, of sorts, including President Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” hats and a Fred Perry polo shirt with a laurel wreath logo that the fashion brand has since pulled. Some members live primarily online, espousing their ideology on social media and trolling “the libs,” while others have taken to the streets.
Jason Kessler, a former Proud Boy, organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017, where Heather Heyer was killed. Last year, two members of the Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison for participating in a brawl after a speech McInnes gave at a New York City Republican club. More recently, the group has organized counter protests against demonstrations against racism and police brutality following George Floyd’s killing.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem, this is a left wing,” President Trump said on Tuesday night.
Antifa is short for anti-facism, a political movement in opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. While antifa is an ideology and not an actual organization, the Proud Boys and others on the political right have used the term broadly to describe leftist movements.
According to their official website, the Proud boys are not “Alt-Right,” but position themselves in opposition to the “Left” and include conservative tenets of minimal government and closed borders in their platform. And when it comes to this presidential election, there’s little question who they support.
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