During the first presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, moderator Chris Wallace asked President Donald Trump if he would condemn white supremacist groups. Trump, following his traditional practice, refused to condemn white supremacy. Instead, Trump urged the violent neo-fascist group the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys immediately began to cheer Trump’s tacit support for their violence in yet another cycle of Trump providing fuel for extremist groups.
Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy during the debate was met with widespread condemnation. Despite Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security stating that white supremacist groups constitute the largest domestic terrorist threat in this nation, Trump and right-wing media constantly pivot to fearmongering about anti-fascist activists, or “antifa,” and other left-wing protesters. During the debate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden echoed FBI Director Christopher Wray in stating that anti-fascism is an ideology and not a group.
A sitting president refusing to condemn white supremacist terror would be shocking if it was not typical behavior of this president. Following the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one anti-fascist counterprotester dead and many wounded, Trump referred to neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “very fine people.” In the years since that horrific endorsement of hate, right-wing media has consistently defended Trump’s comments, arguing that the president did not actually say what he said.
In 2019, former CNN commentator Steve Cortes produced a video for the right-wing online propaganda operation PragerU in which he developed an elaborate conspiracy theory arguing that Trump did not, in fact, call neo-Nazis “very fine people.” Founder Dennis Prager promoted this video on Fox News, saying, “The president never said there were fine Nazis.” Prime-time host Laura Ingraham called the basic observation that Trump praised neo-Nazis a “lie” on her Fox show. Fox host Tucker Carlson, who has a long history of promoting white supremacy, likewise called the outrage over Trump’s praise for neo-Nazis “fraudulent, entirely manufactured by the left and its servants in the media.” Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway absurdly claimed that Trump “explicitly denounced” white supremacists while he actually praised them.
Right-wing media has an established playbook for rewriting history on Trump’s public remarks. Having learned that they can completely rewrite history after Trump praised neo-Nazis in 2017, right-wing media figures are already flocking to obfuscate the truth of his comments during last night’s presidential debate by actively lying about what he said, pivoting to unrelated issues, and attacking Wallace for asking a perfectly reasonable question.
The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed that Trump has condemned white supremacy repeatedly and did so last night and called it, adding that it was wrong for Wallace to ask Trump to condemn these groups.
Prager said Wallace asked Trump a “trap question” and falsely conflated white supremacists with militia groups.
BlazeTV’s Dave Rubin referred to Trump’s Charlottesville comments while falsely saying the president has consistently condemned white supremacy, and he attacked Wallace for even asking the question.
CNN’s Rick Santorum likewise attacked Wallace for asking the president “to say something bad about people who support him.” ABC contributor Chris Christie said he didn’t hear Trump refuse to condemn white supremacy. A Fox & Friends panel the day after the debate pivoted to attacking Biden for not condemning Black Lives Matter protesters. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh stated that Trump “doesn’t need to” condemn white supremacy again because he’s already done it in the past.
Culture editor at The Federalist Emily Jashinsky falsely stated that Trump “didn’t ‘refuse’ to denounce white supremacy.”