Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

EARLY VOTING WILL BEGIN NEXT WEEK IN THESE STATES: Maine, Montana, California, Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Arizona

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He eventually claimed he didn't know the white nationalist group he encouraged last night.

Last night, asked to denounce the white nationalist group, Trump instead ordered them to "stand back and stand by." He then followed up by ordering his followers to "watch" polling sites in places like Philadelphia, where a sizable number of votes will be cast for his opponent. "Poll-watching" is an old voter suppression technique that Trump's party was barred by a legal settlement from doing for decades.

None of the post-debate spin, or anything from the White House this morning, suggested that Trump meant anything other than what he said. But after a member of the Proud Boys was arrested this morning for pointing a gun at anti-racist protesters in Portland last month, the official story changed. By this afternoon, Trump was telling reporters he'd never heard of the Proud Boys.

Q: Mr. President, can you explain what you meant last night when you said that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by”?

TRUMP: I don’t know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition, because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work. Law enforcement will do the work more and more. As people see how bad this radical, liberal, Democrat movement is and how weak — the law enforcement is going to come back stronger and stronger.

But again, I don’t know who Proud Boys are. But whoever they are, they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.

If true, that would be a pretty shocking admission of ignorance on Trump's part. As the arrest this morning shows, the Proud Boys have been some of the main instigators of the violence Trump attributes to anti-racism protestors, especially in Portland. Even before the events of this summer, the group was inciting violence in Portland, for which ten members were arrested in 2018. They're certainly very well known to state and federal law enforcement officials Trump says he's working with to restore "law and order." It's inconceivable that he wouldn't have been briefed on them, although whether Trump actually reads or understands his briefings is another story altogether.

But realistically, there's no way Trump could not know about the Proud Boys. They were part of last month's Russian-organized "cruise rally" of Trump supporters driving through Portland streets attempting to antagonize anti-racist protestors by shooting paintballs and pepper spray from their vehicles. (They succeeded in antagonizing someone; one of the participants, not a member of the Proud Boys, was shot and killed.) They've been some of Trump's most vocal and active supporters in the extremist fringe, targeting his opponents even before he started giving them orders. And Trump has repaid the favor: Proud Boys members were among the "very fine people" chanting "Jews will not replaces us" at the fatal Charlottesville rally in 2017. In fact, it was organized by Jason Kessler, then a member of the group.

The chairman of the group even got prime seating at a Trump rally in 2019, appearing directly behind Trump in full view of the TV cameras. Contrary to the campaign's claims, those coveted seats are not assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

Trump's "forgetfulness" about figures like this is nothing new. On the campaign trail in 2016, in order to avoid denouncing David Duke—a vocal Trump supporter and probably the most famous Ku Klux Klansman in the last century—Trump pretended he'd never heard of him. In fact, he'd spoken about Duke many times before running for president, and had disavowed him then, when it cost him nothing to do so.

Why should I care about this?

  • A president who hesitates to denounce racism and terrorism when it is politically inconvenient is a coward.
  • Extremist white supremacists with a history of violence don't whole-heartedly support a presidential candidate for no reason.
  • Nobody tries to intimidate voters in an election they think they can win fairly.