SPONSORED:

Trump says Proud Boys should 'stand down' after backlash to debate comments

President TrumpDonald TrumpMaria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back Republicans eye Nashville crack-up to gain House seat MORE on Wednesday said he didn't know about the Proud Boys but that the group should "stand down" amid intense criticism of his remarks at the previous night's presidential debate that the far-right group should "stand back and stand by."

Trump on Wednesday faced blowback from a number of Republicans who said he should have forcefully denounced white supremacy when he was given the chance.

"I don't know who the Proud Boys are," Trump told reporters when departing for a campaign trip to Minnesota. "I can only say they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work."

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump, however, again tried to equivocate on the matter, saying "the problem is on the left" while railing against antifa, a loosely affiliated collection of left-wing protesters.

Pressed on whether he would denounce white supremacists, including those who support him, Trump tried to shift the conversation to his support for law enforcement before claiming he has "always denounced any form of that."

"But... Joe BidenJoe BidenExpanding child tax credit could lift 4 million children out of poverty: analysis Maria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back MORE has to say something about antifa," he added.

FBI Director Christopher Wray in a hearing earlier this month pointed out that antifa refers to an ideology, not an organization.

Trump's comments about how the Proud Boys should "stand back and stand by" came after debate moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceSunday shows - Biden foreign policy in focus Pompeo defends Trump on Russia in Chris Wallace interview Lewandowski says Trump has not spoken to him about being reinstated MORE asked if Trump would be willing to condemn white supremacists. The president said "sure," but when pressed to actually do so, he did not.

It immediately became one of the most talked-about moments of the debate and a headache for those tasked with defending his remarks.

ADVERTISEMENT

The group immediately celebrated Trump's comments. One social media account affiliated with the self-described "white chauvinist" organization added "stand back and stand by" to the Proud Boys logo.

The Proud Boys are known for their white nationalist pandering, blatant anti-Muslim rhetoric and close ties with more publicly violent extremists.

The group gained national prominence for its involvement in the 2016 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., and it has staged multiple counter-rallies aimed at disrupting the anti-police brutality protests that have swept the country since the police killing of George Floyd in May.

Republican lawmakers and conservative allies widely panned Trump's debate comments, saying the president should have clearly denounced white supremacists.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Graham calls voting rights bill 'biggest power grab' in history The wild card that might save Democrats in the midterms MORE (R-Ky.) called it "unacceptable" not to condemn white supremacy.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Kerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain MORE (R-S.C.), the lone Black Republican senator, said he believed Trump "misspoke."

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (R-S.D.) added that Trump should have "made it very clear that there's no room for people on the far left or the far more far right."

The president's surrogates at the White House and on his campaign spent the morning struggling to defend his comments about the far-right group. They argued that Trump has in the past denounced white supremacist groups, and pointed to his initial response of "sure" as a sign that he did so again on Tuesday.

Trump has previously condemned white supremacists, but typically only after facing pressure to do so. He spoke out after a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, last year, and last week pledged to have the Ku Klux Klan prosecuted as a hate group.

But he has also equivocated between different groups, including after the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, when he said "you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides." 

Updated at 3:19 p.m.