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'Stand back and stand by': Donald Trump refuses to condemn white supremacists
30 September 2020, 06:00 | Updated: 30 September 2020, 10:53
Donald Trump has refused to condemn white supremacists during a heated Presidential debate against Democratic rival Joe Biden, instead telling them to "stand back" and "stand by".
The two politicians faced off in Cleveland, Ohio, for the highly anticipated first televised debate just over a month before the election.
The current US President was repeatedly pressed by the moderator, Chris Wallace, to condemn the actions of far-right organisations and militias, but Trump repeatedly danced around the question.
"I'm willing to do anything. I want to see peace," Mr Trump said. "What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Who do you want me to condemn?"
"Proud Boys", Mr Biden replied, referencing a far-right extremist group that has shown up at protests in the Pacific Northwest.
The male-only group of neo-fascists describes themselves as "western chauvinists," and they have been known to incite street violence.
"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," Mr Trump said.
"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."
Mr Trump has tried to tie incidents of violence that have accompanied largely peaceful protests to Mr Biden and the Democrats, running on a "law and order" message that warns people will not be safe under a Democratic president.
Proud Boys leaders and supporters later celebrated the president's words on social media.
A channel on Telegram, an instant messaging service, with more than 5,000 of the group's members posted "Stand Back" and "Stand By" above and below the group's logo.
Mr Biden shared a screenshot of alleged messages within the group following Trump's comments, and said: "This. This is Donald Trump's America".
Antifa followers have appeared at anti-racism protests, but there has been little evidence behind Republican claims that Antifa members are to blame for the violence at such protests.
Trump has repeatedly been seen to skirt around the condemnation of white supremacists in America.
In 2017, following a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white supremacist deliberately drove into peaceful anti-racism protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, the President described the incident as having "very fine people on both sides".
Celebrities are among those to bring sharp and immediate criticism online, including from celebrities.
In a stinging response, Frozen star Josh Gad, who is of Jewish descent, said: "The Nazis killed my family members. Tonight Trump told them to 'stand by.' I have never imagined saying these words in my life. 'Mr. President, F*** YOU.'"
Actress Kerry Washington, best known for her work on political drama Scandal, tweeted: "Once again. He refuses to condemn White supremacy. PAY ATTENTION FOLKS. Please vote."
Comedian and actress Robin Thede also accused Mr Trump of failing to condemn white supremacy, adding: "He encouraged it. The end. There are no two sides to this."
Singer Christina Perri tweeted: "We just watched the president of the united states UNABLE and UNWILLING to condemn white supremacy. you all just saw and heard that."
The Boys star Jack Quaid said: "He literally couldn't denounce white supremacy."
Zach Braff, best known for his work on TV comedy Scrubs, tweeted: "Only honest thing I digested: Nazis standby!"
And actor Patrick J Adams, the Duchess of Sussex's former Suits co-star, said: "He just refused to condemn white supremacy. That just happened right?"
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the verdict from Hollywood was in favour of Mr Biden.
Many stars - include Mark Ruffalo, John Legend and Pete Davidson - were critical of the president.
"We can't put ourselves through another 4 years of this walking dumpster fire," Legend, a frequent critic of Mr Trump, said.
The debate - which was marred by frequent interruptions from Mr Trump - included segments on the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare and climate change.
Marvel star Ruffalo, a climate change activist, criticised Mr Trump's environmental record and said "he has no leadership qualities, he has shown that all he can do is denigrate and lie".
And best-selling author Stephen King, another vocal critic of the president, said: "You've got a decent man vs. a hulking, loudmouth bully with no specific plans on anything."