It should come as a surprise to no one that President Donald Trump refused to unequivocally denounce white supremacists when asked to do so Tuesday by debate moderator Chris Wallace. Trump may be unpredictable, but he’s been quite consistent when it comes to the coddling and courting of white supremacists.
Trump may be unpredictable, but he’s been quite consistent when it comes to the coddling and courting of white supremacists.
The list of examples showing this is long and well reported, but a few require repeating, including Trump’s refusal in 2016 to denounce former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke when asked to by CNN’s Jake Tapper and his recent retweeting of a supporter screaming, “White power.” (While Trump later deleted the “white power” tweet, he again failed to condemn the hateful ideology behind it.)
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Here’s the unpleasant truth: Trump’s actions are not solely because he’s trying to attract white supremacists. This is a man who has far too often sounded exactly like a white supremacist. This is a man who has demonized and belittled the very groups self-identified white supremacists despise, from immigrants to Muslims to Black Americans — who he deems “low IQ,” an insult that echoes the twisted logic of those who believe race determines intelligence. Trump has also called Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate.”
Not surprisingly, white supremacists are celebrating after Tuesday night’s debate. The Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, were thrilled to hear Trump tell them to "stand back and stand by." "To say Proud Boys are energized by this is an understatement," Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks online extremism, told NBC News. "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."
I’ve seen the people Trump once referred to as “very fine” firsthand when they defamed and threatened to kill me for criticizing him. In May 2017, months before white nationalists took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, bearing tiki torches, I wrote an article calling on Trump to use the words, “white supremacist terrorism,” since there had already been several reported incidents of self-avowed white supremacists committing acts of violence. It only seemed fair, given Trump had demanded during the 2016 campaign that Hilary Clinton use the words “radical Islamic terrorism” because “to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name.”
That article triggered neo-Nazis at The Daily Stormer, who jumped into action to defend their beloved Trump, a man they had published hundreds of articles in support of during the 2016 campaign. The editor of the publication fabricated tweets in my name bragging of my involvement in a recent terrorist attack that had occurred in the United Kingdom. (I’m Muslim.)
I’ve seen the people Trump once referred to as “very fine” firsthand when they defamed and threatened to kill me for criticizing him.
They then urged their supporters to “confront” me, which they did with a barrage of death threats. My response was not to cower in fear as they wanted, but to sue the website and its editor in federal court for defamation and emotional distress, eventually winning a judgment against them in 2019 for $4.1 million. (The judgment may never be collected, but standing up to bigoted bullies is the only option.)
I also had a run in with the Proud Boys and it's co-founder Gavin McInness in 2017 after writing an article detailing his group's history of bigotry.
What I experienced was not isolated. As Trump’s own FBI director, Christopher Wray, stated two weeks ago before Congress, “racially motivated violent extremism,” primarily from white supremacist groups, is the most lethal threat currently facing our nation. And as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has documented, white nationalist groups have grown by 55 percent in the Trump era. This threat has manifested in deadly acts of violence like the August 2019 attack at an El Paso, Texas, shopping mall that left 26 dead and the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that resulted in the murder of 11 Jewish American in their place of worship.
Despite this documented rise in white supremacist violence and the warnings of his own FBI director, Trump continues to deflect. When Wallace asked him Tuesday to condemn white supremacist groups, Trump falsely claimed most of the violence was from “antifa and the left.” And then, inexplicably, he gave the Proud Boys the acknowledgment they crave. This group — who, as the SPLC notes, has a history of working with white supremacist groups — has staged rallies in support of Trump. And now he seems to have wanted them to know he was on their side. In response, members of the Proud Boys tweeted, “Standing by, sir.”
There are not two sides to white supremacy, just as there are not two sides to homophobia, anti-Semitism or any other type of hate. That is unless your name is Donald J. Trump.