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Trump says ‘Proud Boys’ group should let law enforcement do its work

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the “Proud Boys,” an organization identified as a hate group, should “stand down” and let law enforcement take the lead, following comments he made in the first presidential debate that were viewed as emboldening the group.

“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” the Republican president told reporters at the White House before leaving for a campaign event. “They have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”

During his debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday, Trump was asked if he was willing to denounce “white supremacists and militia groups” and tell them to stand down amid violence that has marred anti-racism protests in some U.S. cities.

Trump requested a specific name, and Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, an organization that describes itself as a club of “Western chauvinists” but has been categorized as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. The comment drew wide criticism and was viewed by many to be a sign of encouragement to the group.

Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, said Trump misspoke and called on him to correct his words.

Asked on Wednesday about denouncing white supremacist groups, Trump said he had always done so.

The president has a long history of making comments that his critics view as racist or as supportive of racist groups.

In 2017, he said “both sides” were to blame for violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. He later sought to walk back the comments.

Trump called on Biden to condemn antifa, a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Joseph Ax, and Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Trump says he doesn’t know who Proud Boys are, but tells them to ‘let law enforcement do their work’

President Trump said he is unfamiliar with the far-right Proud Boys, a day after he made headlines for telling them to “stand back and stand by” during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are, I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition cause I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work,” the president told reporters on the South Lawn Wednesday afternoon. “Law enforcement will do the work more and more as people see how bad this radical liberal Democrat movement is and how weak, the law enforcement is going to come back stronger and stronger. But again, I don’t know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”

Trump added: “Just stand by. Look, law enforcement will do their work. They’re going to stand down, they have to stand down. Everybody. Whatever group you are talking about, let law enforcement do the work.”

Many Proud Boys celebrated the president’s remarks during the debate. One prominent organizer, Joe Biggs, said that the president gave the group a “shout out” and noted that the group would take his message to heart. They also started using the phrase “stand back and stand by” as a new slogan.

His comments on Tuesday night, which came after he was asked to denounce white supremacy during the debate, sparked criticism from Democrats, and members of his own party urged him to clarify what he meant.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he agreed with Sen. Tim Scott, one of three black U.S. senators, who said Trump misspoke and “should correct it.”

“He said it was unacceptable not to condemn white supremacists,” McConnell said of Scott’s response. “And so, I do so in the strongest possible way.”

Scott, a South Carolina Republican, told reporters it appeared Trump misspoke.

“If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” Scott said.

On Wednesday, the president brought the conversation back to antifa and far-left wing violence, which he also did during the debate.

“Now, antifa is a real problem, because the problem is on the Left. And Biden refuses to talk about it. He refuses to issue the words ‘law and order.’ You saw that last night when he choked up. He can’t say those words because he’ll lose the rest of the Left. So, he’s got to condemn antifa,” Trump explained. “Antifa is a very bad group.”

Over the last couple months, protests and demonstrations took place all across the country as many sought to raise awareness about racial injustices, and police brutality, against people of color. Amid those protests, there were also riots and destruction, which many claim were carried out by antifa. In some cases, far-right extremists sought to stop the damage, and it resulted in deadly clashes.

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