© Reuters. U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the White House in Washington
© Reuters. U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the White House in Washington

By Jeff Mason

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he condemned all white supremacists including the “Proud Boys,” an organization identified as a hate group, further walking back comments he made this week that were viewed as emboldening the group.

“I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys but I condemn that,” Trump told Fox News in an interview.

During the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday, Trump was asked if he was willing to denounce “white supremacists and militia groups” and tell them to stand down amid violence that has marred anti-racism protests in some U.S. cities.

Trump requested a specific name, and Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, an organization that describes itself as a club of “Western chauvinists” but has been categorized as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump then said. The comment drew wide criticism and was viewed by many to be a sign of encouragement to the group.

Shortly after Trump made the remark in the debate, Proud Boys member Joe Biggs celebrated the group’s mention on the social media platform Parler, saying: “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir! we’re ready!!”

Antifa is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist. Trump called on Biden to condemn Antifa.

On Wednesday, Trump began the process of walking back what he said at the debate. “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” he told reporters at the White House. “They have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”

The president has a long history of making comments that his critics view as racist or as supportive of racist groups.

In 2017, he said “both sides” were to blame for violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. He later sought to walk back the comments.

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