JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was one of the biggest topics of conversation on Wednesday, the day after the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and candidate Joe Biden.
Specifically, people were talking about what happened when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacy in America.
His response was to tell far-right group members of the Proud Boys “to stand back and stand by.”
But on Wednesday afternoon, Trump walked back his statements on the stage and said he doesn’t know the group.
“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” Trump said to reporters. “I mean, you will have to give me a definition because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work.”
After telling the Proud Boys hate group to "stand back and stand by" at the debate, President Trump claims he doesn't know what the group is and says, "I can only say they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work" https://t.co/H9n7JKbYS7 pic.twitter.com/IEJQ7ymKwf— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 30, 2020
News4Jax looked into the Proud Boys, both how the group classifies itself and why organizations tracking extremist groups are calling them a hate group.
After Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacist groups, Trump responded:
Trump: “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
Wallace: “Then do it, sir.”
Trump: “What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name. Go ahead, who would you like me to condemn?”
Wallace: “White supremacists.”
Trump: “Proud Boys, 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. This is a left-wing problem.”
So who are the Proud Boys? And what do they stand for?
One the organization’s leaders, Florida resident Enrique Tarrio, tweeted that although he was excited about the mention on the debate stage, he didn’t take it as a direct endorsement from the president because “the question was in reference to white supremacy … which we are not.”
According to ADL, the Proud Boys think of themselves as a pro-Western fraternity — essentially a drinking club dedicated to male bonding, socializing and the celebration of all things Western.
Sheri Zvi, regional director of Florida’s Anti-Defamation League, said the Proud Boys represent an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism.
“While the group, interestingly, can be described as violent and nationalistic and homophobic and misogynistic and transphobic, the members themselves represent a range of ethnic backgrounds, and so the leaders vehemently deny any allegations of racism," Zvi said. "Yet they’re going to public rallies and engaging, and some of them have participated in brutal and violent intimidation tactics, and some of them espouse white supremacists and align themselves with the white supremacist groups and anti-Semitic ideologies.”
Zvi said Florida serves as a hub for the Proud Boys because two of its main leaders are based in the state.
Membership is unknown but is likely several hundred. Proud Boys have chapters in most states and several international chapters in Britain, Norway and Australia, according to ADL.
In an email Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center said the goals of the Proud Boys were “to provoke violen[t] confrontations with counter-protesters.”
SPLC also named at least 11 incidents where a self-proclaimed Proud Boy has been involved with violence since 2018.
Gavin McInnes, the founder of the all-male group, filed a defamation lawsuit last year against the Southern Poverty Law Center after it labeled the Proud Boys as a hate group.
CNN correspondent Elle Reeve spoke with members of the Proud Boys at a recent event.
Reeve: “Are you here to get in fights with Antifa?”
Tarrio: “Absolutely not.”
Reeve: “But you guys are sort of dressed in the aesthetics of political violence.”
Tarrio: “Aesthetics, and actually what we are two different things. We’re all wearing protective gear.”
Reeve: “It just seems like every time there is a Proud Boys event, it ends with some people getting beat up.”
Tarrio: “If our mere presence causes people to want to come in acts of violence, we’re not afraid to defend ourselves.”
News4Jax attempted to reach Tarrio, but he did not respond.
In Jacksonville, a firefighter who hinted at a connection to the Florida Proud Boys was reassigned after the city discovered inflammatory statements posted on social media.