On Thursday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden rushed to blame President Donald Trump for the plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.). In doing so, he lied about Trump’s comments during the first presidential debate, misquoting and twisting the president’s words in order to demonize his opponent.
“The FBI arrested a group of militiamen who had a plan to go in and to kidnap the governor of Michigan. You’ll see it in the news tonight, the governor of Michigan. Remember those guys with the assault rifles standing in her driveway? And the president is saying things in my debate with him, like ‘To the Proud Boys and all white supremacists group, stand down, but stand ready.’ This is serious stuff,” Biden said.
He went on to argue that “the words of a president matter.”
“They can cause a nation to have the market rise or fall, go to war or bring peace, but they can also breathe oxygen into those who are filled with hate and danger, and I just think it’s got to stop. The president has to realize the words he utters matter,” the Democrat argued.
If words matter, then Biden should choose his words more carefully, especially when quoting Trump’s words in the first debate. Biden misquoted the president in an attempt to accuse him of inspiring the kidnapping attempt.
What Trump actually said
President Trump did not say, “To the Proud Boys and all white supremacist groups, stand down, but stand ready.”
During the debate, Fox News anchor and moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump, “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups” — Trump cut in, saying, “Sure” — “and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” the president responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing. I’m willing to do anything, I want to see peace.”
“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace said. “Do it. Say it,” Biden chimed in.
“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said.
“White supremacists and right-wing militias,” Wallace said. Biden also spoke over him, saying, “White supremacists, Proud Boys.”
Trump, flustered, addressed the only named group, the Proud Boys. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” the president said. “But I tell you what, I tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the Left.”
It would have been more satisfying if Trump had said, “Of course I denounce white supremacists like I’ve been doing for years. And to the Proud Boys, I say, ‘Stand down, and let law enforcement do their jobs.’” Yet it seems, in the heat of the moment, the president realized he did not have much time and he wanted to say, “Sure,” give a quick statement urging militia groups to stand down, and then go after his opponent.
People are missing that when Wallace asked if Trump would condemn white supremacists HE SPECIFICALLY ASKED Trump to tell them to “stand down.”
Trump said “sure” 3x and then used Wallace’s OWN WORDS to tell Proud Boys to “stand down.”
WATCH THE CLIP ⬇️pic.twitter.com/E8wRrpJaDX
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) September 30, 2020
Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) quickly seized on this clip as evidence that “Trump is a white supremacist.” Yet Trump has repeatedly denounced and condemned white supremacy and white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan.
It made sense that Trump might be a bit flustered about the white supremacist question. He has denounced white supremacy time and time again, and he wanted to know exactly which groups Wallace and Biden would have him deny.
After the debate, Trump clarified his remarks.
“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you’re going to 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 the work,” the president told reporters at the White House. “Again, I don’t know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”
A reporter pressed the president on his order that the Proud Boys “stand by.” Trump said, “stand by” dismissively, using his hands to shove people out of the way. It seems the president did not mean to tell the Proud Boys to “stand by” as in “stand at the ready,” but rather to say, “stand aside and let the police do their jobs.”
“Look, law enforcement will do their work,” Trump added. Right-wing militias are “going to stand down, they have to stand down, everybody, whatever group you’re talking about.”
“Now, antifa is a real problem, because the problem is on the Left, and Biden refuses to talk about it,” the president added. “He’s got to condemn antifa.”
Reporters pressed Trump on white supremacists. “White supremacists, do you denounce them?” a reporter asked.
“I’ve always denounced them, any form,” the president responded. “Any form of any of that you have to denounce,” he added. Again, the president pivoted. “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.” (Indeed, an antifa militant received a nearly 6-year prison sentence after busting a man’s head open with a baton.)
President Trump: "I don't know who the Proud Boys are. You'll have to give me a definition…" pic.twitter.com/lpsBJnqLLQ
— CSPAN (@cspan) September 30, 2020
Biden’s misquote did echo Trump’s remarks during the debate, but Biden sneakily added words the president did not say — and words the president did not mean.
“To the Proud Boys and all white supremacist groups, stand down, but stand ready,” Biden said, twisting Trump’s remarks.
First, Trump was not addressing “all white supremacist groups,” but just the Proud Boys (which is not a white supremacist group, its bylaws condemn racism), because that was the one organization Biden named during the debate.
Second, Trump did not say, “Stand down, but stand ready.” In fact, he said, “Stand back and stand by,” and he later made it clear that he meant “stand aside.”
Biden has repeatedly lied about Trump’s remarks after the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. While Trump did say 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.
It seems Biden is trying to rewrite history on the debate just like he rewrites history on Charlottesville. Share this article so he can’t get away with it.
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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.