Campaign aides on Wednesday defended Donald Trump's comments calling on the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" as the president said he doesn't know the group, which Joe Biden asked him to denounce during the debate.
Facing sustained follow-up questions the morning after, multiple surrogates for the Trump campaign attempted to clarify the "stand back and stand by" comment while pointing to past examples of the president denouncing white supremacists.
White House communications director Alyssa Farah said during a Fox News interview that there wasn't anything that needed clarifying as the president said "sure" when asked if he would denounce white supremacists and tell militias to stand down.
"He’s told them to stand back," she said when asked about the Proud Boys. "This president has surged federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading. He doesn’t need any sort of vigilantism."
The Trump campaign's national press secretary, Hogan Gidley, said the Proud Boys were a "reprehensible group", and attempted to clarify that the president was saying he wants them to "get out of the way".
"He wants them to not do the things they say they want to do," Mr Gidley said during an interview with CNN.
The interview devolved as the two disagreed on what constitutes a denunciation, with CNN anchor John Berman telling Mr Gidley it wasn’t a debate stage and he will talk when asked a question.
“Hogan, you went 10,000 times further than the president did last night on the debate state. He said stand back and stand by, he did not call them reprehensible, he had every opportunity to call the Proud Boys reprehensible,” Mr Berman said.
Mr Gidley, who responded to Mr Berman’s rebuke “that’s not the way this works, I’ll talk when I want to talk”, said the president responded “sure” when asked by Chris Wallace to condemn the groups.
"He's said it many times, not just last night, in the past as well, he's condemned white supremacy by name on multiple occasions," Mr Gidley said.
According to The Hill, Mr Trump has condemned white supremacist groups multiple times, including in the aftermath of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas last year, as well as following the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Following the Charlottesville protests, the president said: "You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group. Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E Lee to another name."
He added: "And you had people – and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists – because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group."
Mr Biden says those comments, that there were "very fine people on both sides", directly led him to launch his run for president. Mr Wallace used that as a basis to ask both candidates why voters should trust them to deal with issues of race.
"A young woman got killed and when they asked the president what he thought he said there were very fine people on both sides. No president’s ever said anything like that," Mr Biden said during the debate.
Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s one black Republican, said white supremacy should be denounced at every turn.
“I think the president misspoke, and he needs to correct it. If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” Mr Scott told reporters at the Capitol.
When Mr Trump was asked on Wednesday to clarify what he meant by "stand by", he said he doesn't know who the Proud Boys are but that they should stand down. When asked to clarify the "just stand by" phrase, he repeated it while making a sweeping motion down, back and away.
"I don't know who the Proud Boys are, I mean you'll have to give me a definition because I really don't know who they are, I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work," Mr Trump said.
"I've always denounced any form of any of that, you have to denounce, but Joe Biden has to say something about Antifa, it's not a philosophy, these are people that hit people over the head with baseball bats."
Mr Biden refused Mr Trump's insistence during the debate that he denounces far-left violence committed in the name of Antifa, with the Democratic candidate quoting FBI director Christopher Wray saying that Antifa is an "idea, not an organisation".
Mr Biden introduced the Proud Boys to the debate after Mr Wallace asked if Mr Trump would denounce white supremacists.
"Sure, I'm prepared to do it," Mr Trump said, before adding. "You want to call them, what do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me…"
As Mr Wallace began saying "white supremacists and right-wing…", Mr Biden cut the moderator off to say Proud Boys.
The Proud Boys, founded by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInness, is a male-only fraternity that rose to prominence following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Heavily criticised for anti-Muslim and white nationalist rhetoric, the right-wing group is currently led by chairman Enrique Tarrio, who is of Cuban descent. Mr Tarrio said on Twitter on Wednesday that he was not taking Mr Trump's comments as a direct endorsement.
"The question was in reference to white supremacy … which we are not," Mr Tarrio said, while also responding to comments from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that fascism is at the door: “Hey sugar tots ... I ain't white and I ain't a fascist.”
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