In Tuesday night's presidential debate, President Trump declined to condemn white supremacists when asked if he would. Instead, he prompted the Proud Boys, a far-right group, to "stand back and stand by."
Afterward, Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs had an exchange with Enrique Tarrio, chair of the Proud Boys, on the conservative social media platform Parler, according to Mike Baker of The New York Times.
"Trump basically said to go f*** them up! this makes me so happy," Biggs wrote.
Tarrio then posted seemingly in response to the president, commenting “standing by sir.”
Tarrio and Biggs are both prominent leaders in the Proud Boys infrastructure. Founded in 2016, the “western chauvinists” organization — widely condemned as a hate group — has local chapters across the county. Members, normally decorated in logos and donning weapons, have been known to become violent at rallies or protests.
While they don’t claim to be white supremacists, they use their organization as a gateway to engage in violent acts in defense of Western culture. Their agenda focuses on anti-political correctness and anti-white guilt, the Southern Poverty Law Center says.
They have a set of rules for gaining and sustaining membership that includes restrictions on certain drugs and clothing choices, such as cargo shorts and flip flops, plus a masturbation policy, the Daily Beast reports. A former hazing ritual used to include getting punched while reciting breakfast cereal brand names.
“It's one of the many groups of the Trump era that is influenced by the culture of the internet,” she says. “So there's a lot of irony and there's a big gap between the superficial meaning of the things they say and the implied meaning.”
Their strategy is to keep critics on the defensive, she says, by trying to suggest reverse racism exists, for example.
Armed and ready for a brawl, Proud Boys “intentionally are projecting this kind of authoritarian image,” she says. “And I think that's quite unsettling.”
Reeve has had many conversations with members, especially while clashes unfolded in Portland, Oregon, involving Proud Boy members. After the debate Tuesday night, Reeve spoke with Tarrio about the president’s comments.
“He said his phone was blowing up,” Reeves says. “He said that he welcomed Trump's mention and that he was proud of his group for getting it, but that he didn't see it as an endorsement.”
But Tarrio mentioned that he believed Trump’s message to “stand back and stand by” was an order to let the police do their job, she says.
Tarrio often says his message with a wink, Reeves says, so it’s difficult to nail down exactly what actions the group will take.
“There have been many Proud Boys who have gotten in legal trouble for getting in fights with anti-fascists. So they might say that they don't want to engage in that,” she says. “I think we'll see ahead of the election what actually happens.”
This segment aired on September 30, 2020.