Members of the Proud Boys, a group of self-described “Western chauvinists” who yearn for violent civil conflict, are taking President Trump’s debate remarks that they should “stand by” as a “call to action,” said an expert on extremism at the Anti-Defamation League.
“Stand by” is a law enforcement and military term, said Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the Center on Extremism at the ADL. That kind of rhetoric fuels the sense that the United States is heading into a civil war, she added.
Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote on the site that the president’s statement indicates that Trump was telling militiamen to “wait until I give the signal.”
“He is telling the people to stand by. As in: get ready for war,” Anglin wrote. “In a month’s time, your president could ask you to go out into the streets and defend your country. You need to be ready to do that.”
Mendelson said that many of the memes and messages about the “stand by” comment and about the fear of a coup or civil war have taken on a white supremacist bent, but that those posters are “equal-opportunity in terms of who they hate” and are not zeroing in on any specific group in their talk of preparations.
The Proud Boys is primarily misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration, but some of the roughly several hundred members espouse antisemitic beliefs. One of the organizers of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville is a former Proud Boy, and a member of the group was arrested Wednesday on charges of multiple felonies for acts during a clash with Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland.
The organization “actively pursues violence against their perceived enemies,” according to the ADL.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys a hate group.
Since the debate, Mendelson has seen posts that reference violence and the President’s comment, including one of a photo Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, holding a gun alongside the words “Stand back, stand by.” Others mention “right-wing death squads.”
In the immediate aftermath of the debate, the ADL saw the Proud Boys and other right-wing groups generate content about Trump’s comments on Telegram, Gab and Parler in particular, said Mendelson.
Users on 4chan are also taking the president’s statement as a call to action, with one anonymous user writing, “HE LITERALLY SAID HE WANTS PROUD BOYS TO KILL ANTIFA,” another posting a meme that says, “It’s okay to kill communists” and another commenting, “i hope the proud boys literally beat antifa to death in the streets.”
Apparel marked with a Proud Boys logo and the president’s quote is being sold on Teespring.com, according to the Miami Herald. It’s unclear if there is a connection between that site and the group.
One user on Telegram said that the group is seeing an increase in “new recruits.”
The Proud Boys are ecstatic tonight about getting mentioned in the debate tonight.
“Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy,” writes one prominent Proud Boy. pic.twitter.com/hYA7yQVAOn— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) September 30, 2020
Proud Boys in social media groups are going wild about the “Stand back and stand by” comment. They are basically seeing it as acknowledgment and a call to arms— Ezra Kaplan (@EzraNBC) September 30, 2020
The Proud Boys on Telegram have now posted an image with its logo and Trump’s remark. https://t.co/xSySGrohcmpic.twitter.com/UAJFsKCsbX— Alex Kaplan (@AlKapDC) September 30, 2020
Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted that the president “owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.”
Mentions of the Proud Boys got a boost on social media, including a jump to “thousands per minute” on Twitter after the president’s statement, said the ADL.
Correction, September 30, 3:49 p.m.: A previous version of this story misspelled Joanna Mendelson’s surname.
ADL: Proud Boys see debate remarks as ‘call to action’