Even for Donald Trump, it was a surreal moment last night when he refused to condemn violent white supremacist and militia groups. “Give me a name,” he demanded. “The Proud Boys,” Joe Biden answered. But instead of condemning them, Trump gave them a big boost: “Proud Boys—stand back and stand by.” It was an obvious call to rally these agitators, who have assaulted people in the streets from New York City to Portland, for possible post-election violence, and they couldn’t have been happier about it:
Within minutes, members of the group were posting in private social media channels, calling the president’s comments “historic.” In one channel dedicated to the Proud Boys on Telegram, a private messaging app, group members called the president’s comment a tacit endorsement of their violent tactics. In another message, a member commented that the group was already seeing a spike in “new recruits.”
It’s now been 12 hours since the debate, and so far Republicans seem to be either staying quiet about this or trying to twist Trump’s words to make them sound harmless. “I heard it differently,” said Chris Christie. And with that, a party that has shamed itself for the past four years falls even further into the abyss.