The far-right 'hate’ group backing Trump
US President Donald Trump has been labelled a "national embarrassment" for failing to explicitly denounce white supremacist and far-right groups.
During the first presidential debate, Mr Trump was specifically asked to denounce groups such as the Proud Boys - but failed to do so.
The US President has now said he doesn't know who the far-right group is.
It comes as the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly issued an intelligence report on the day of the presidential debate, warning of an imminent "violent extremist threat" posed by a far-right militia, including white supremacists, according to The Nation.
The agency identified the current election period up to the 2021 inauguration as a "potential flashpoint".
During the presidential debate on Wednesday, Mr Trump lashed out at the leftist Antifa movement and other participants for their sometimes violent protests against police abuse and racism over the past several months.
Antifa groups believe in aggressively confronting far-right groups, arguing the Nazis would never have achieved power if people had fought them in the streets in the 1920s. Among them are communists and anarchists, and groups who believe in confronting the police.
Asked whether Mr Trump would likewise condemn armed right-wing and white supremacist groups - specifically the Proud Boys - the President said "sure" but then seemed reluctant to do so.
"Almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing," Mr Trump said.
"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," he continued.
"I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem."
His original comments were widely taken as an endorsement of the Proud Boys and other groups who, often heavily armed, have clashed with Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists around the country, as well as joining protests against public health measures for the coronavirus.
The Proud Boys themselves celebrated Mr Trump's comments.
"Standing down and standing by sir," the group said in a social media posting. "President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA … well sir! we're ready!!" Proud Boys organiser Joe Biggs wrote on a social media site that does not block extremists.
Democrat and presidential rival Joe Biden attacked Mr Trump's failure to make a clear and forceful denunciation of white supremacist groups or the far-right Proud Boys.
"The president of the United States conducted himself the way he did - I think it was a national embarrassment," Mr Biden said.
"My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is: cease and desist.
"That's not who we are. This is not who we are as Americans."
In an apparent attempt to tamp down outrage over his comments, Mr Trump later called on the group to "stand down".
"I don't know who Proud Boys are but whoever they are they have to stand down," Mr Trump told reporters at the White House. "Stand down, let law enforcement do their work," he said. "Whoever they are, stand down."
WHO ARE THE PROUD BOYS?
The male-only group take an oath to being a "proud western chauvinist" and have become known for their violent confrontations with anti-fascist groups.
While they are mostly based in the US, they also have a presence in Australia, the UK and Canada.
The Anti-Defamation League, which researches extremist groups, says the Proud Boys are bound by extreme male chauvinism, opposition to immigrants and Muslims, with some members also embracing white supremacy.
Mostly they have tied themselves to Mr Trump and whatever he supports, the ADL says.
"After several years of forging alliances with members of the Republican political establishment, the Proud Boys have carved out a niche for themselves as both a right-wing fight club and a volunteer security force for the (Republican Party)," it said.
The group was established amid the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, who told the New York Times: "I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of".
"I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life."
Members of the group wear red "Make America Great Again" caps, associated with Trump's election campaigns, and black Fred Perry polo shirts, which the company stopped selling after it became associated with the far-right group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys a hate group, with their ideology as being "general hate".
According to the site, the group's name comes from a song in the Disney movie Aladdin, "Proud of Your Boy".
They are opposed to the drug war, racial guilt, political correctness, closed borders and "venerating the housewife".
To become a member, someone has to declare: "I am a western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologise for creating the modern world".
The next level of membership involves a Proud Boy being beaten until they can yell out the names of five breakfast cereals, to demonstrate "adrenaline control". They must also give up masturbation because members believe it will leave them more inclined to go out and meet women.
Those who achieve the third degree of membership get a Proud Boys tattoo.
The organisation says any man, regardless of his race or sexual orientation, can join the group as long as they "recognise that white men are not the problem".
In 2018, Mr McInnes told the Get Off My Lawn podcast: "It's such a rape culture with these immigrants, I don't even think these women see it as rape. They see it as just like having a teeth [sic] pulled. 'It's a Monday. I don't really enjoy it,' but that's what you do. I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't have the same trauma as it would for a middle-class white girl in the suburbs because it's so entrenched into their culture."
Mr McInnes, 50, has since left the group, but other Proud Boys have cast it as a drinking club for men who renounce political correctness and enjoy provocative humour and the occasional street fight against radical left-wing groups. In Portland, Oregon, they have gathered to do battle against Antifa, or anti-fascist protesters.
"We've been the only ones standing up to Antifa," Mr Biggs wrote. "Yes. We aren't law enforcement. I'm not above the law nor is anyone else in our group. This is just hilarious that it took a men's drinking club to come to Portland to see law and order restored."
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Members regularly take part in street brawls and punch-ups with groups including Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
Last year, two members were jailed for four years for beating up anti-fascist activists outside a Republican venue in New York after a speech by Mr McInnes.
More recently, Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, shot three demonstrators at police brutality protests in Wisconsin last month, killing two, claiming that he acted in self-defence.
A week after the Wisconsin rally, anti-fascist protester Michael Reinoehl shot and killed a Trump supporter in Portland. He also claimed to be acting in self-defence. Reinoehl was later shot dead by police.
The Proud Boys were also linked to the fatal Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Former Proud Boys member Jason Kessler was instrumental in bringing together the rally where white supremacist groups shouted antisemitic slogans. Included among its attendees were members of the Ku Klux Klan and a number of neo-Nazi groups.
At this rally white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer. He is now serving a life sentence for her murder.
At the time Mr Trump said "there is blame on both sides" and there had been "very fine people on both sides".
The president's response to the rally was seen as the beginning of his soft approach to the far right.
In 2019, Richard Spencer, who organised Unite the Right, told US magazine The Atlantic that Mr Trump becoming president had made it possible for the extreme right to emerge from the shadows.
"There is no question that Charlottesville wouldn't have occurred without Trump," he said.
Since then, in public comments and on Twitter, Mr Trump has sided with right-wing extremist groups, currying their support without direct endorsements.
His retweets amplify a range of posts from racists, extreme nationalists and adherents of the incoherent QAnon conspiracy theory.
In contrast, he has repeatedly attacked social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter, rejecting their claim that racism abounds throughout US society.
In June, Mr Trump shared on Twitter a video of a supporter chanting "white power" in Florida's The Villages retirement community.
"Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall," the president commented.
The retweet was later deleted.
And in September, Mr Trump expressed sympathy and support for Kyle Rittenhouse, who faces murder charges after shooting dead two protesters in Wisconsin.
Originally published as The far-right 'hate' group backing Trump