President Trump refused to condemn white supremacists during the first of three scheduled presidential debates with Joe Biden. When pressed by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News to disavow far-right extremism, Trump name-checked the Proud Boys and told them to “stand back and stand by,” words widely denounced as a tacit endorsement of the violent, white supremacist organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The Proud Boys almost immediately responded by changing its logo online to include the Trump quote. Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who now leads the Free Radicals Project, a group focused on helping people disengage from violent extremism, says Trump’s words were a clear encouragement for “continued violence” from far-right groups. We also speak with Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill, who says Trump’s performance at the debate is a continuation of his white supremacist project. “He wants violence in the streets, he wants chaos at the polls, because he wants Americans to feel a sense of unsafety. It’s its own kind of diplomatic terrorism,” he says.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden met in Cleveland Tuesday for the first of three scheduled presidential debates. It was a night filled with chaos and insults as Trump repeatedly mocked and interrupted Biden, who responded by calling Trump a “clown” and “the worst president the nation has ever had.” Trump refused to condemn white supremacists after being questioned by debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News.
CHRIS WALLACE: Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure.
CHRIS WALLACE: — 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?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure, I’m willing to do that.
CHRIS WALLACE: Are you prepared to specifically —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But —
JOE BIDEN: Well, do it.
CHRIS WALLACE: Well, go ahead, sir.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would say — I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.
CHRIS WALLACE: So, what are you — what are you —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you look —
CHRIS WALLACE: What are you saying —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
CHRIS WALLACE: Well, then do it, sir.
JOE BIDEN: Say it. Do it. Say it.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Do you want to call them — what do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name.
CHRIS WALLACE: White supremacists and right-wing —
JOE BIDEN: White supremacists.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Go ahead. Who would you like me to condemn?
JOE BIDEN: Proud Boys.
CHRIS WALLACE: White supremacists and right-wing militia.
JOE BIDEN: The Proud Boys.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.
JOE BIDEN: His own —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a left-wing —
JOE BIDEN: His own FBI director said the threat comes from white supremacists.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a left-wing problem.
CHRIS WALLACE: Go ahead. Go ahead, sir.
JOE BIDEN: Antifa is an idea, not an organization
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.
JOE BIDEN: Not militia.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, really?
JOE BIDEN: That’s what his FBI —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: OK.
JOE BIDEN: — his FBI director said.
CHRIS WALLACE: Gentlemen, I’m going to —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, then, you know what? He’s wrong.
CHRIS WALLACE: No, no. We’re done.
AMY GOODMAN: Soon after President Trump said these words, the Proud Boys posted a new version of their logo including Trump’s quote, “Stand back and stand by.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Proud Boys as a hate group whose leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. After the debate, Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs wrote, quote, “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir! we’re ready!!” he said. One recent study from July found right-wing extremists have killed 329 people in the United States in the past 25 years.
We begin today’s show with two guests: Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who leads the Free Radicals Project, a global extremism prevention and disengagement network, his most recent book, Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism; we’re also joined by Marc Lamont Hill, professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University.
We’re going to start with Christian Picciolini. “Stand back and stand by.” Can you talk about President Trump’s message to the Proud Boys and what exactly it means, you as a former white supremacist skinhead?
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Well, Amy, it’s very crystal clear to me what President Trump was calling for last night, and it’s, I think, crystal clear to the Proud Boys what he was asking for. And that was for continued pressure, continued violence against what he is calling the threat of the left.
And in reality, there is no threat from the left, because if we look historically, you know, just over the last 25 years, and the number that you’ve quoted, far-right extremists — everything from neo-Nazis to white supremacists to white nationalists — are responsible for nearly 100% of the violence, 100% of the death and 100% of the fear and rhetoric and propaganda that is inducing this type of violence.
So, he was completely wrong. But it was a clear-cut call to a violent white supremacist group that they must stay vigilant. If I were a Proud Boy, which essentially is version 2.0 of a neo-Nazi skinhead, I would see that as a call to arms, specifically against anti-fascist groups and protesters like antifa and Black Lives Matter.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marc Lamont Hill, I’m wondering your reaction to the president’s comments, especially in the light of the almost — not only chaotic, but a preview of what kind of authoritarianism there will be in future debates, in political debates between candidates, that the president set here. Do you think that the progressive movement in America is underestimating how quickly we are careening toward fascism and authoritarianism in this country?
MARC LAMONT HILL: Well, after the last three years, three-and-a-half years, we shouldn’t be underestimating it. The evidence is there, whether it’s public policy, whether it’s the president’s statements, whether it’s his commitment to making these “both sides” arguments when it comes to white supremacy, when it comes to the debates. Even corporate media, in the last 24 hours, has framed this debate as both sides were uncivil, both sides were disrespectful, when in fact it’s one side doing this type of — this violence and the other side sort of responding to it however they do.
And so, when it comes to the president’s refusal to denounce white supremacy, we should not be surprised. There have been other white supremacist presidents who have attempted to cloak — and politicians, more broadly, who have attempted to cloak their white supremacy. Trump had an alley-oop. He had the opportunity to say, “I denounce white supremacy,” and then continued to do the white supremacist project that he’s been doing. But instead, he wouldn’t do it.
When he says, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” these were prepared remarks. This wasn’t Trump on the cuff. This is was actually one of the things that he was prepared to say. He went into the debate understanding that that kind of rhetoric and that kind of wink does an extraordinary amount of political work for his base. Trump is not trying to widen his base. He’s trying to create the chaos that you just mentioned. He wants chaos in the streets, he wants violence in the streets, he wants chaos at the polls, because he wants Americans to feel a sense of unsafety. It’s its own kind of diplomatic terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: Christian Picciolini, what should we understand about the white supremacist movement? We can’t underestimate what happened last night. It wasn’t so much Joe Biden. It was Chris Wallace of Fox News who said, “Will you condemn white supremacists?” President Trump refused. What does this mean? And what does it mean to you, too, as a former white supremacist skinhead? What this means, not only the Proud Boys and who they are, but to the white supremacist movement in this country?
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: You know, having been somebody who was there many, many years ago and knows how they’re taking this, they’re seeing this as a vote of confidence. They’re seeing it as a call of action, very clear-cut call to action. You know, they’re feeling as though their guy is in the White House and that they can’t do any wrong, that they’ve become emboldened and empowered to take to the streets, to carry weapons, to intimidate people, to really ramp up their rhetoric and their violence. And last night was not a wink and a nod; it was a clear bullhorn, a very clear bullhorn, to white supremacists that they have space to act.
And, you know, I think what was even more disturbing, or equally disturbing, was the fact that he called for vigilantism at the polls, that he asked for poll watchers to keep an eye on people who were voting. And that, to me, again, was also a call for white supremacist and militia members and “boogaloo” boys and anybody else who falls under this white supremacist umbrella to really start to act out what they’ve been talking about and to be violent against the left and to intimidate them to not show up and vote, which is exactly what we need to do, is we need to show up and vote, unless this is the kind of America and this is the kind of president you want.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Christian, you mentioned the issue of calling people to be, in essence, vigilantes at the polls. I recall, clearly, back in 1993 in a mayoral election in New York City, when Rudy Giuliani was attempting to unseat David Dinkins, who was then the first African American mayor in the city, and there were literally hundreds of off-duty police officers and off-duty correction officers who Giuliani mobilized to go into the Black and Latino neighborhoods of New York to intimidate the voters. And I remember, the night of the election, asking the campaign manager of David Dinkins, Bill Lynch — I said, “Bill, why aren’t you protesting this? We’re getting all these reports.” And it was a very close election, but Lynch and the Democratic machinery at that time basically accepted the result, even though they knew that there was massive intimidation occurring. I’m wondering, do you — as we move closer to the election, I see this potential being, in essence, publicly encouraged by the president to have this on a nationwide scale.
CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s exactly what the president was calling for. And I would urge people not to be intimidated by that, to vote, to vote by mail, to vote early if they can, because we don’t know what type of trouble we’re going to be seeing on Election Day. But despite that, we still need to vote, unless this is the kind of America we want to live in for the next four years and potentially see our democracy completely destroyed. So, again, we can’t be intimidated. This is not what, you know, American — this is not part of our American DNA, is to be intimidated by terrorists, to be intimidated by white supremacists. We are progressive. We move past this. And in order to do that, we have to come together, and we can’t be intimidated by these people.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Christian Picciolini, we want to thank you for being with us, of the Free Radicals Project.
I should just add this, this news: Fred Perry has announced — it’s a British brand — that it will stop selling one of its iconic polo shirts, the black-and-yellow polo shirt, to Canada and North America, after it was adopted as the unofficial uniform of Proud Boys.
Christian Picciolini, thanks for being with us. And, Marc Lamont Hill, we’d like to ask you to stay with us, of Temple University, as we continue to talk about issues of race, the climate crisis and voting. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “I Am Woman,” the ’70s feminist anthem by Helen Reddy, who died Tuesday at the age of 78.