CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBS News) — The first presidential debate on Tuesday night was remarkable for its chaos and confrontation, and for many, a remark by President Donald Trump about a group known as the Proud Boys stood out in particular.
On Wednesday, CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey examined what we know about the Proud Boys and their presence in the Midwest.
While their official membership is somewhere in the hundreds, The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism said the Proud Boys have a presence in Illinois and in several of our neighboring states.
The group describes itself as “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt.”
The Proud Boys came up during the debate Tuesday night after moderator and “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace asked Mr. Trump if he was “willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and we’ve seen in Portland?”
In response, Mr. Trump said he was “willing to do that,” but claimed that “almost everything I see is from the left wing.”
“I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace,” the president continued.
Amid prodding from Wallace and former Vice President Joe Biden to categorically denounce white supremacists, Mr. Trump asked, “What do you want me to call them? Give me a name. Who would you like me to condemn?”
Biden then referenced the Proud Boys, a far-right group, while Wallace said white supremacists.
“The Proud Boys,” Mr. Trump said. “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.”
After the debate, in the Proud Boys’ Telegram channel, members boasted of Mr. Trump’s reaction. They used “stand back” and “stand by” in the logo and posted videos from the debate with the caption “God. Family. Brotherhood.”
“This was not a condemnation of white supremacy,” said David Goldenberg, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League Midwest, “and in fact, if you look at the response from the Proud Boys, they’ve actually taken it as a call to arms.”
Goldenberg said the phrase “stand back, stand by” has since popped up on Proud Boys social media nationwide.
The self-described “western chauvinists’” group was established during the 2016 presidential election. Among their other calls to action, as stated by founder Gavin McInnes, are to “close the border, outlaw censorship, venerate the housewife, glorify the entrepreneur, recognize the West is the best.”
“The Proud Boys essentially are a right-wing fighting club who have self-appointed themselves almost the security guard of the GOP,” Goldenberg said.
The ADL’s Center on Extremism has tracked the Proud Boys at the protests in Kenosha and a protest in Springfield, and has identified a base in Fort Wayne.
When asked to explain his controversial statement Wednesday afternoon, President Trump claimed not to know who the Proud Boys are.
“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition, because I don’t really know who they are,” President Trump said. “I can only say they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”
The ADL says that they’ll be tracking the group closely in the coming weeks.
“Usually, it’s only the dog that hears the dog whistle,” Goldenberg said, “but the reality is last night, all of us heard the dog whistle and we should all be deeply concerned.”
President Trump was specifically asked if he misspoke during the debate Tuesday night, but he did not answer.
He responded by reiterating: “Just stand by. Look, law enforcement will do their work. They’re going to stand down, they have to stand down.”
Contributing: Melissa Quinn/CBS News