If I were asked to condemn white supremacy, I, like most Americans, would do so without hesitation. Although I already had low expectations of President Donald Trump, especially in regards to combating racism, I would expect the leader of the United States to share a similar reaction. But during the Sept. 29th presidential debate, when asked to explicitly condemn white supremacy, President Trump instead told the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to “stand back and stand by.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Proud Boys are regularly Islamophobic and transphobic, and many of their members align with white supremacist ideologies. The group has been tied to several instances of hate-fueled violence, many of these assaults being part of a far-right, vigilante mentality to assist police in countering left-wing protesters. The group is consistent with their racism, proudly attending neo-Nazi rallies in Shelbyville, Tennesse, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also regularly resort to misogyny, demeaning women, and mocking feminism. This is all enhanced by their overt anti-Semitism; their founder, Gavin McInnes, has been quoted saying “Heil Hitler,” “Jews: If you don’t want people to get mad, don’t be annoying,” and “God, they’re so obsessed with the Holocaust. I don’t know if it’s healthy to dwell.”
Disturbed yet? Me too. Beyond the sheer knowledge of this group’s existence being extremely unsettling, its empowerment by the most powerful figure in our country, if not the world, is a terrible omen of the direction in which our nation is heading. From a Jewish perspective, this group checks off several boxes on the list of things we should morally oppose: violence, bigotry, hate (I can keep going). More so, after thousands of years of diaspora, to see anti-Semitic ideologies given a platform by the leader of our country feels far too familiar.
Of course, to claim Trump’s comment at the debate was an endorsement of the Proud Boys would be a bold assumption. But, with the Proud Boys’ logo now reading, “Stand Back, Stand By,” it’s clear that it has certainly been interpreted that way. Former members of the group have said the Proud Boys and, by association, white supremacists, are emboldened by the president. They feel like he’s speaking their language. Now, these hateful people are just waiting for his command to start up violence, with members enthusiastically posting “Standing by, Mr. President” on forums.
With the election creeping around the corner on Nov. 3, one can only hope that those on the fence about whom to vote for will use the past debate as a reflection point. In the span of a chaotic 90 minutes, one candidate spoke of neo-Nazi sentiments in Charlottesville with disgust and signaled support for “equity and equality.” The other put white supremacists on stand-by. It’s up to the American people to choose which of those sentiments guides our country.
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