Members of the far-right Proud Boys celebrated being mentioned by President Trump during Tuesday night’s first presidential debate, after he refused to condemn the extremist group.
Asked whether he would denounce white supremacists, Trump demurred before saying: “Proud Boys – stand back and stand by.” He quickly sought to place the blame on Antifa, adding: “Almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.”
Within minutes, the New York Times reported, members of the group were lauding the president’s remarks as “historic” in private social media groups. In one, on Telegram, members said that Trump’s comments amounted to an endorsement of their violent actions.
In another, the paper said, a Proud Boys member said that the group was already seeing a spike in “new recruits”. On Telegram, the organisation added Trump’s remarks to their logo.
The neo-fascist group describe themselves as a “pro-Western fraternal organisation for men”. It openly endorses violence, and has been tied to a number of violent incidents at recent protests.
British fashion brand Fred Perry earlier this week pulled one of its most famous polo shirt designs after it became associated with the Proud Boys.
The company halted sales of its black and yellow top in North America, after the far-right group adopted it.
In a statement posted to its website, Fred Perry said it was “incredibly frustrating” to see the polo shirt and its famous laurel wreath co-opted by the Proud Boys.
Despite seeking to represent inclusivity, the company said, ““we have seen that the black/yellow/yellow twin tipped shirt is taking on a new and very different meaning in North America as a result of its association with the Proud Boys. That association is something we must do our best to end.”
The statement continued: “To be absolutely clear, if you see any Proud Boys material or products featuring our laurel wreath or any black/yellow/yellow related items, they have absolutely nothing to do with us, and we are working with our lawyers to pursue any unlawful use of our brand.”
The Proud Boys were created in the run-up to Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of Vice magazine. He has since distanced himself from the group, which has a history of glorifying misogyny and violence.
It is listed but the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and as an “extremist group” by the FBI.
The Proud Boys staged a pro-Trump rally in Portland over the weekend, forcing the Oregon state governor to declare a state of emergency in anticipation of “white supremacist groups” arriving from “out of town”.