Matt Gaetz invokes Trump’s infamous call to Proud Boys at trial: ‘Stand back and stand by’

During a 2020 debate, Mr Trump was asked to denounce white supremacy. He responded: ‘Proud Boys, stand back and stand by’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington DC
Thursday 16 May 2024 17:38 BST
Matt Gaetz in the courthouse for Donald Trump’s trial on 16 May
Matt Gaetz in the courthouse for Donald Trump’s trial on 16 May (via REUTERS)

MAGA Republican Matt Gaetz invoked Donald Trump’s notorious – and widely condemned – call to the far-right group the Proud Boys as he showed up in court in Manhattan to support the former president at his hush-money trial.

“Standing back and standing by, Mr. President,” Mr Gaetz wrote on X, along with an image of himself at the courthouse.

The phrase echoed Mr Trump’s infamous comments on stage at one of the 2020 presidential debates against now-President Joe Biden.

During the debate, Mr Trump had been pressed by moderator Chris Wallace whether he was “willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and they need to stand down”.

“I’m willing to do that,” Mr Trump responded. “Almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right-wing … I want to see peace.”

When pushed by Mr Wallace to condemn white nationalism, but Mr Trump asked for a name of a specific group, prompting Mr Wallace to mention the Proud Boys.

Mr Trump replied: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what ... somebody’s gotta do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”

The former president was widely condemned for his comments, which were seen as a call for violence and unrest.

His comments were even brought up during the federal criminal trial against the Proud Boys leaders for their parts in the January 6 Capitol riot.

Matt Gaetz in the courthouse for Donald Trump’s trial on 16 May
Matt Gaetz in the courthouse for Donald Trump’s trial on 16 May (via REUTERS)

Several members of the far-right group were convicted in 2023 of seditious conspiracy over their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Mr Trump’s favour.

The leader of the group, Enrique Tarrio, was sentenced to 22 years – the longest sentence to date over the Capitol riot.

Another former leader of the group, Zachary Rehl, was sentenced to 15 years after he was seen on video spraying a chemical irritant on officers. Proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Proud Boys played a “central role” in setting the attack on the capital “into motion”.

The Proud Boys, who describe themselves as a “Western chauvinist” group, are defined as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The group was founded by Gavin McInnes, a VICE Media co-founder, in 2016.

On Thursday morning, Mr Gaetz was joined by Colorado Republican Rep Lauren Boebert at Mr Trump’s trial – making them just two of the latest members of the former president’s entourage to show up in a sign of support.

Several Trump surrogates have shown up in court in recent days in what appears to be a bid to side-step the gag order placed on Mr Trump.

Previously, House Speaker Mike Johnson travelled to New York to back Mr Trump, as did North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ohio Senator JD Vance.

“I wonder if I’ll run into Judge Merchan’s daughter here in court today,” Ms Boebert wrote on X on Thursday morning – referring to the judge’s daughter who was subjected to attacks from Mr Trump prior to the gag order’s expansion.

“She’s probably too busy being paid millions and millions of dollars by Democrat campaigns all across the country and won’t be able to make it. She’s likely busy working for Shifty Schiff again today,” she added in reference to Adam Schiff, the California House Democrat running for the Senate seat vacated by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Judge Merchan placed Mr Trump under a gag order, barring him from making or directing public statements about the witnesses, jurors, attorneys, court staff and their families.

The former president has violated that gag order 10 times, racking up $10,000 in fines, and could face jail time if he continues to violate it.

But surrogates are free to make the comments on his behalf – for now.

Mr Trump is on trial charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records over a hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election, to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Mr Trump in 2006.

Mr Trump has denied the affair took place and pleaded not guilty.

Alex Woodward and Ariana Baio contributed to this report

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