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Trump Appears To Engage Far-Right Group During Debate Answer

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So as Mara mentioned, we want to focus in on that moment where the moderator, Chris Wallace, asked President Trump whether he is willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups. Twice the president said he'd be willing to condemn, but then he actually wouldn't do it. Instead, his answer took off in a different direction. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.

CHRIS WALLACE: So what are you...

TRUMP: If you look...

WALLACE: What are you saying...

TRUMP: I'm willing to do anything - I want to see peace.

WALLACE: Well, then do it, sir.

JOE BIDEN: Say it. Do it. Say it.

TRUMP: Do you want to call them - what do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name. Go ahead...

WALLACE: White supremacists and right-wing militia.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Who would you like me to condemn?

BIDEN: The Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Who?

BIDEN: The Proud Boys.

TRUMP: The Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by. 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.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR's Leila Fadel with us to talk about this. Leila, good morning. Can you just give us some context here? Who are the Proud Boys?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: So it's an extremist group. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it a hate group. It has chapters across the country, some internationally. The Anti-Defamation League says it's misogynistic, anti-immigration, transphobic, Islamophobic. Proud Boys describe themselves as Western chauvinists. They're big supporters of President Trump and have members from different ethnic backgrounds. And while the Proud Boys deny any allegations of racism, some of its members espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and have taken part in violence, intimidation and brawls with antifa and leftists.

The primary organizer of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 was a former Proud Boys member. And remember, Rachel, people are - were marching with torches and chanting, Jews will not replace us.

MARTIN: So this phrase that people are seizing on that the president said to the Proud Boys - stand back, and stand by - that was alarming to a lot of folks.

FADEL: Right.

MARTIN: Can you tell us more about how the group has actually reacted?

FADEL: Right. Proud Boys members erupted with excitement on social media. The chairman, Enrique Tarrio, posted on Parler, which is a social networking site popular with far-right groups, that's my president - standing by, sir.

We started to see posts of the Proud Boys logo with Trump's words added to the image. Another member seemed to take the words as a call to action, posting, Trump basically said to go eff them up; this makes me so happy. So they definitely didn't take it as a condemnation. And on Twitter, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League called the president's words astonishing and asked if this was an answer or an admission.

MARTIN: Lastly, we need to just fact-check something. President Trump deflected a few times in his answer by saying - trying to say the violence comes from the left, not the right. Even the president's own FBI director has said that there's just not evidence of that in any widespread way.

FADEL: Right. It doesn't bear out according to the FBI. First of all, the FBI calls antifa, short for antifascist, an ideology or movement rather than an organized group in the way Trump describes it. FBI Director Christopher Wray said in recent testimony before Congress that the majority of domestic terrorism threats and violence comes from racially motivated violent extremism, mostly from people who subscribe to white supremacist ideologies.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Leila Fadel - we also heard from NPR's Mara Liasson - giving us some context and analysis after what was an incredibly contentious first presidential debate last night. Leila, thank you. We appreciate it.

FADEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NITSUA'S "5:21") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.