The Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, pledged allegiance to President Donald Trump on Tuesday night after he told the group to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate.
Many people on social media who identify with the group echoed that language, saying they were “standing down and standing by.” One known social media account for the group made “Stand back. Stand by” part of its new logo.
Trump was asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace to disavow white supremacy during a part of the debate focused on race. Wallace asked whether Trump would urge white supremacist groups that inflamed violence at nationwide protests to “stand down.”
Trump said to “give me a name” when asked to denounce a specific group, and former Vice President Joe Biden called out the Proud Boys.
But Trump did not denounce any far-right or white supremacist groups, and he then pivoted to talk about antifa.
“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,” Trump said.
On the Proud Boys’ account on the social media app Telegram, the group appeared to take the statement as marching orders.
“Standing down and standing by sir,” the account wrote. The account then posted two videos of the answer, including one with the caption “God. Family. Brotherhood,” in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump’s response.
Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks online extremism, said Trump’s giving the Proud Boys orders was their long-sought “fantasy.”
“To say Proud Boys are energized by this is an understatement,” Squire said. “They were pro-Trump before this shoutout, and they are absolutely over the moon now. Their fantasy is to fight antifa in his defense, and he apparently just asked them to do just that.”
The Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization, is considered a violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic hate group, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization that tracks extremist groups. Proud Boys members marched at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and have organized against Black Lives Matter protests in recent months.
The group recently staged a rally in Portland, Oregon, in support of Trump. About 200 people, some armed with guns, attended the rally, short of the expectations of thousands.
Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs also posted after the debate that he was “standing by,” and he said the president “basically said to go f— them up.”
“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA… well sir! we’re ready!!” Biggs wrote.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a tweet that the president’s answer was “astonishing.”
“President Trump owes America an apology or an explanation,” he said. “Now.”
Trumps’ comments drew widespread condemnation on social media.
Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” tweeted that she quoted the refusal to condemn white supremacy multiple times on air.
“It was a remarkable moment for the commander in chief as white supremacy is seen by national security experts as a threat to national security,” she wrote.
David French, a conservative commentator who has been critical of Trump, tweeted that Trump’s comments were “a call to be ready.”
“In a nation wracked by unrest, that was one of the most irresponsible and reprehensible statements I’ve ever seen from a president,” French wrote.
Democratic politicians also weighed in.
“Let’s be clear: The Proud Boys are white supremacists,” tweeted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. “Racism and hate are not forms of patriotism.”
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey tweeted: “Donald Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists tonight. He wouldn’t. He must be defeated.”
Biden commented on the Proud Boys reaction, responding to a journalist who tweeted out a screenshot of the group celebrating the mention.
“This. This is Donald Trump’s America,” Biden tweeted.