During the first presidential debate on Tuesday night, Fox News host and moderator Chris Wallace asked President Donald Trump to condemn white supremacists and the militia groups that have occasionally appeared at Black Lives Matter riots in American cities this summer. Trump, who has condemned white supremacists many times, asked for an organization he should tell to stand back. Democratic nominee Joe Biden suggested the Proud Boys, and Trump told them to “stand back and stand by.” Wallace did not press Biden to condemn antifa or Black Lives Matter, the movements behind most of the riots.
Democrats responded in two ways. They attacked the Proud Boys as white supremacists and they condemned Trump for supposedly being unwilling to condemn white supremacists. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proved the worst offenders, outright accusing Trump of being a white supremacist himself.
“Let’s be clear: The Proud Boys are white supremacists,” Gov. Kate Brown (D-Ore.) tweeted. (The president of the Florida chapter of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is Afro-Cuban. The organization’s bylaws clearly prohibit racism.)
“Donald Trump is not pretending to be anything other than what he is: someone who will not condemn white supremacists,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Biden’s running mate, tweeted.
Biden claimed that “the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night.” Warren raised this hyperbole to another level.
“He didn’t just refuse to disavow them—he asked them to ‘stand by.’ Donald Trump is a white supremacist and we have a moral obligation to fight back,” Warren tweeted.
He didn’t just refuse to disavow them—he asked them to “stand by.”
Donald Trump is a white supremacist and we have a moral obligation to fight back. https://t.co/GdoPbn65CB
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) September 30, 2020
AOC also claimed the debate proved Trump to be a white supremacist.
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist. People have been warning about this for a long time. They were ridiculed, called hyperbolic & radical – not bc they were wrong, but bc others couldn’t accept that our country elected a supremacist as President. This is fascism at our door,” AOC tweeted.
Donald Trump is a white supremacist.
People have been warning about this for a long time.
They were ridiculed, called hyperbolic & radical – not bc they were wrong, but bc others couldn’t accept that our country elected a supremacist as President.
This is fascism at our door. https://t.co/sahloCJt25
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 30, 2020
No, silly Democrats, Trump is not a white supremacist
If Donald Trump is a white supremacist, he’s the worst white supremacist in American history.
What kind of white supremacist guarantees permanent funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)? What kind of white supremacist elevates black and brown Americans to high positions in government (Ben Carson to HUD, Ajit Pai to the FCC, Omarosa Manigault Newman to the White House, and more)? What kind of white supremacist would commute the life sentence of black nonviolent drug offender Alice Marie Johnson? What kind of white supremacist brags about historically low rates of black unemployment?
In fact, Trump is such a raging hateful white supremacist, he released his Platinum Plan for Black America, which will invest $500 billion in black communities across America. Along with the Platinum Plan, Trump announced he would designate both the Ku Klux Klan and antifa — which instigated violent riots that disproportionately hit black communities — domestic terrorist groups.
Wait, isn’t this the same Donald Trump who supposedly won’t condemn white supremacists? About that…
Trump condemned white supremacists
When asked about the Reform Party in 2000, then-private citizen Donald Trump said, “You’ve got David Duke just joined — a bigot, a racist, a problem.”
“I totally disavow the Ku Klux Klan, I totally disavow David Duke,” then-candidate Trump said in March 2016.
When asked in a March 2016 radio interview, “So are you prepared right now to make a clear and unequivocal statement renouncing the support of all white supremacists?” the then-candidate replied, “Of course I am, of course I am.”
Later that month, he asked, “Who else do I have to reject? I’ve rejected David Duke, I’ve rejected the KKK, the Ku Klux Klan.”
While Biden has repeatedly condemned Trump for his remarks after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, the Democrat leaves out the truth of what the president actually said. After Trump made the remarks that there were “very fine people” on “both sides,” he immediately added that he wasn’t talking about “the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.”
The president later explained that when he praised the “very fine people,” he was referring to American citizens who came to Charlottesville to oppose the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, not the white nationalists and white supremacists.
Later the same month, in August 2017, Trump added, “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
After a mass shooter in El Paso, Texas, wrote a manifesto condemning immigrants, the president vocally condemned racism.
“The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” Trump declared. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”
“We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people,” he said. “We must seek real, bipartisan solutions.”
Joe Biden falsely claimed today that President Trump "doesn't deny" the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Here are 7 examples of President Trump condemning and rejecting the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. pic.twitter.com/1PZnZpUT4o
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) August 7, 2019
Black leaders praised Trump
Many black leaders have effusively praised Trump. Some leaders of HBCUs praised Trump as being “more responsive to our community” than Obama’s administration was. Robert Johnson, the first black billionaire, gave the president an “A+” on the economy. Vernon Jones, a Democrat in the Georgia House of Representatives, wrote that “President Trump did more for the Black community in less than four years than Biden did in over four decades.”
Jones also castigated Biden for expecting “Black people to compliantly cast their votes for him despite the fact that he has done nothing for us. In this election cycle, Biden went from insulting Black folks with his claim that ‘poor kids are just as smart as white kids‘ to presumptuously declaring that ‘you ain’t Black‘ if you don’t vote for him in this election.”
President Trump’s response to Wallace’s question was regrettable, but it does not prove that Trump is a white supremacist. Given Trump’s repeated and vocal condemnations of white supremacy and his efforts for the black community, Wallace should not have asked him to repeat his condemnations in the debate. Notably, Wallace did not even ask Biden to condemn antifa and Black Lives Matter, despite the fact that the riots destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments.
Trump wasn’t the one who spearheaded the 1994 crime bill that put more young black men in prison. Trump wasn’t the one who took black voters for granted. Trump wasn’t the one who said, “poor kids are just as smart as white kids.”
If Donald Trump is a “white supremacist,” what does that make Joe Biden?
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.