Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has been involved in violent incidents, have celebrated after Donald Trump mentioned them during the first presidential debate.
Asked if he would condemn white supremacists by the debate moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, Mr Trump instead accused the anti-fascist movement, Antifa, of being behind recent violence in US cities.
“I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace,” Mr Trump said, adding: “What do you want to call them? Give me a name.”
His Democrat challenger Joe Biden chimed in: “Proud Boys”.
Pressed by Mr Wallace to “do it, sir”, the president responded that the Proud Boys should “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,” he added.
Some of the extremist group saw the exchange as tacit approval.
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A channel on social media platform, Telegram, with more than 5,000 of the group’s members, posted “Stand Back” and “Stand By” above and below the group’s logo.
The group has been banned from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, forcing supporters on to less popular networks.
Enrique Tarrio, the group’s current chairman, reacted on another social media platform, Parler, saying: “Standing by sir…. I will stand down sir!!!”
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According to screenshots posted by a New York Times reporter on Twitter, a Proud Boy organiser, Joe Biggs, also said on Parler: “President Trump told the Proud Boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir! we’re ready!!”
Mr Biggs added that they “aren’t law enforcement”, adding: “I’m not above the law nor is anyone else in our group.”
He called it “hilarious” that “it took a men’s drinking club to come to Portland to see law and order restored”.
There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night. pic.twitter.com/Q3VZTW1vUV
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 30, 2020
In another message, a member commented that the group was already seeing a spike in “new recruits”.
Mr Biden tweeted a campaign video highlighting the moment, which provoked an outcry on social media.
The Democratic candidate’s running mate, Kamala Harris, also condemned the president’s refusal to disavow white supremacists.
“The president of the United States, in the year of our lord 2020, refuses to condemn white supremacists,” she said.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, members of the so-called “squad” of left-wing congressional Democrats, condemned Mr Trump’s comments, with Ms Ocasio-Cortez calling the president “a white supremacist”.
Mr Biden has often said he decided to run for president after white supremacists attacked counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and Mr Trump said there were “fine people on both sides”.
The Proud Boys was founded in 2016 by Canadian-British right-wing activist Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media, who left the group two years later.
The group describes itself as “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologise for creating the modern world” but has been categorised as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism” by the FBI.
The group has openly endorsed violence, according to The New York Times, and has been tied to violent incidents at recent protests.
Chaotic, rancorous – and the biggest loser was the American people
Thousands of its members have reportedly descended on Portland, where violent clashes between police and social justice protesters, have regularly taken place since the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota in May.
The Proud Boys have links to Tommy Robinson, the leader of the far-right English Defence League and it appears it has chapters around the world, including in the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan.
Its members often wear black Fred Perry polo shirts with yellow trim, prompting the clothing label to end its exports to the US, for fear of being associated with the group.
A British affiliate, Proud Boys Britannia, posted a picture to Telegram on Tuesday showing, it said, “some parcels full of the Black and Gold Fred Perry shirts to ship to our American Chapters. god speed from the UK!!!!”