Outrage over Trump 'shout-out' to far-right militia Proud Boys during US presidential debate

Yellow smoke fills the air as an American flag is raised at a Proud Boys rally in Portland on Sept 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

CLEVELAND (AFP) - United States President Donald Trump drew outrage on Tuesday (Sept 29) after he dodged an opportunity to condemn white supremacists, and instead dropped the name of a far-right militia group during the first presidential debate.

When asked if he was willing to reject racist and militia groups, Mr Trump deflected and said: "Proud Boys - stand back and stand by.

"But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa," he continued, referring to the far-left movement.

The Proud Boys, a far-right paramilitary group, then appeared to adopt the phrase, with one known social media account posting a logo that read "Stand Back, Stand By".

Outrage swiftly followed the President's words.

"At a time of peak far-right violence and growing racism... (Trump) gave another nod to white supremacists, who are already calling that a 'shout-out'," tweeted Ms Rita Katz, director of SITE, a US watchdog of extremist groups.

The head of the Anti-Defamation League called on Mr Trump to explain or apologise.

"Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission. President Trump owes America an apology or an explanation. Now," Mr Jonathan Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a major civil rights organisation, has classified the Proud Boys as a hate group.

They are at the opposite end of the spectrum to Antifa, which stands for anti-fascist and refers to a loose international coalition of activists and protesters who oppose far-right ideology.

Mr Joe Biden, Mr Trump's challenger in the Nov 3 presidential election, also attacked the President over his mention of the group.

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"This is Donald Trump's America," Mr Biden wrote in a re-tweet of a New York Times reporter's message that noted "the Proud Boys are ecstatic tonight about getting mentioned in the debate".

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Proud Boys are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.

"Their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists," the centre noted.

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