WASHINGTON — The all-male, far-right group the "Proud Boys" is cheering after President Trump told them to "stand back and stand by" during the first Presidential debate.
The day after the debate, the president said that he did not know who the Proud Boys were, but reiterated that they needed to stand down and let law enforcement do its job. The FBI has classified the Proud Boys as "extremist" and anti-hate analysts said the group has a propensity for street violence.
The comment came about after debate moderator Chris Wallace had asked President Trump if he would condemn White supremacy.
"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," the president responded.
"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."
The Proud Boys have a long history in the D.C. region. They lept to infamy during the violence in Charlottesville three years ago, during the deadly Unite the Right rally organized by now-former Proud Boys member Jason Kessler.
The Proud Boys skirmished with anti-fascist protesters in D.C. again last year. They rallied last week in Portland, and two self-proclaimed members are doing jail time for an assault in New York.
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"This is a group that bears many of the hallmarks of a gang," Meredith Weisel, D.C. associate regional director for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said.
The ADL calls the Proud Boys a hate group.
"We would describe them as a violent, nationalist, Islamaphobic, transphobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic group," Weisel said.
The Proud Boys are now selling t-shirts online celebrating the president’s words. Their chairman posted on a social media account “Standing by Sir…. Proud Boys!!! I will stand down sir."
An email to the DC-Maryland Proud Boys chapter earned an apparently sarcastic reply, when asking for an interview.
“We are a breakfast cereal awareness group," the chapter responded. "We hope that clears the air. No Zoom Meet needed.”
Cassie Miller, an analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Proud Boys have indicated they plan to send observers to the polls.
"That could result in voter intimidation, harassment and voter suppression," Miller said.
The experts at both the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center said there’s no equivalence between Antifa and the Proud Boys. Antifa, they said, is a philosophy and a loose collection of individuals, while the Proud Boys is an organized group with a history of violence.