Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacist and extremist groups like the Proud Boys was meant to win over suburban voters. However, the suburbs are more diverse than ever—and their opinions reflect that.
As Election Day has drawn closer, President Donald Trump has repeatedly tried to depict himself as the defender of white suburbanites. In doing so, he’s often invoked racist stereotypes of Black Americans in the process while ignoring the reality that the suburbs are now multi-racial.
During the first presidential debate Tuesday, Trump again tried to strike fear into suburban voters—many of whom are Black, female, or immigrants—while simultaneously refusing to condemn a violent, far-right group that describes itself as chauvinist and has at times espoused white supremacist views.
“Our suburbs would be gone and you would see problems like you’ve never seen,” Trump said about a potential Biden presidency.
In response, the former vice president delivered a scathing critique of Trump’s outdated views: “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn. I was raised in the suburbs,” Biden said. “This is not 1950. All these dog whistles and racism don’t work anymore.”
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Later, Trump was asked to explicitly condemn white supremacists and violent, right-wing militias like the Proud Boys, which have caused violence at racial justice protests throughout the summer. Instead of doing so, he deflected.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by!” Trump said.
The extremist group, which includes a male-only membership and has the hallmarks of a gang, according to the Anti-Defamation League, immediately celebrated Trump’s comments as “historic.” Members also made clear they view them as a call to action. One user wrote on the messaging app Telegram that Trump was essentially preparing them to “let loose the dogs of war.”
Suburbanites Don’t Approve of Trump’s ‘Law & Order’ Rhetoric
Polls and research have shown that suburban voters have largely rejected Trump’s divisive rhetoric and attempts to use fear tactics, underscoring the reality that America’s suburbs are no longer those of the 1950s.
A 2017 study from Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey found that the percentage of white residents in suburbs outside the nation’s major cities had decreased from 93% in 1970 to 68% in 2010. And in the 2018 midterm elections, suburban voters in many parts of the United States swung in favor of Democrats, returning them to a majority in the House of Representatives.
Instead of buying into Trump’s rhetoric, suburbanites have made clear they disapprove of the president’s management of issues like the coronavirus, race relations, and health care. Rather than take substantial steps to address these issues, Trump has continued to double down on his “law and order”-focused campaign. He has spoken of the possibility of violence spilling into the suburbs and promised to protect the “Suburban Housewives of America” and preserve their neighborhoods and “American dream.”
That approach makes his failure to condemn the Proud Boys, a violent extremist group, all the more glaring.
The Proud Boys insist they’re merely “Western chauvinists” who believe in an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda, but group members have been known to spout misogynistic, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, transphobic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented extensive examples of the organization’s vile rhetoric. Many of those comments come directly from Proud Boys co-founder Gavin McInnes, who has used his podcasts to:
- attack immigrants and downplay rape;
- admit he’s a “sexist” and question women’s abilities to write;
- say Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is Black, was “shucking and jiving for the white man” and “pretends” to be a Black man;
- call Muslims “stupid,” and say they “have a problem with inbreeding,” and “tend to marry their first cousins”;
- and say that people in India and aboriginal people should be thankful for colonization.
Proud Boys have also appeared alongside other hate groups at violent gatherings, and a former member even helped plan the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracted members of the KKK and other violent militias and ended with a neo-Nazi killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The group has perhaps been best known for its frequent presence in Portland, where it has repeatedly unleashed violence on left-wing activists and organizers. McInnes has endorsed the group’s violent behavior and explicitly threatened to harm the group’s enemies in 2016. “We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell. We will kill you,” McInnes said during a June 2016 episode of the “Gavin McInnes Show.”
Trump Was Criticized by Scholars, CEOs, and Suburban Voters
Now, the group appears ready to “stand by” for Trump. In the aftermath of the president’s comments, the New York Times reported that one Proud Boy posted on Telegram that the group was seeing an increase in “new recruits.”
Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy and the Proud Boys was immediately criticized by anti-discrimination experts, racial justice advocates, and suburban voters alike.
“It’s astonishing that, when asked a simple question, ‘Will you condemn white supremacists,’ [the president] responded – ‘The Proud Boys should stand back and stand by,’” said CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt in a tweet. Trump “owes America an apology or an explanation,” he added.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a professor and the Director of Anti-Racist Research at Boston University, similarly blasted Trump’s non-denunciation. “’Stand back and stand by.’ The line of the night. What Donald J. Trump said to the greatest domestic terrorist threat of our time: White supremacists,” Kendi wrote on Twitter.
Tracy McCullough, a mother and compliance director living in the suburbs of Chicago, was also appalled by Trump’s rhetoric and said it represents another failure in his effort to woo suburban women.
“If Trump’s strategy was to completely turn off educated suburban moms, then he succeeded in a big way in last night’s debate,” McCullough told COURIER. “His shameless lying, relentless bullying, complete lack of respect and decency, dog whistles to violent white supremacists, and attempts to undermine our confidence in our democratic system make this a clear choice: Joe Biden is the only acceptable choice if we want to restore integrity, competence, and humanity back to the White House.”
Speaking outside the White House on Wednesday, Trump again failed to explicitly condemn white supremacists and instead claimed he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were and said they “have to stand down” and “let law enforcement do their work.”
RELATED: Trump Paints Picture of Chaos But Only 7% of Racial Justice Protests Were Violent, Report Finds
As journalist Yamiche Alcindor pointed out, those comments mirror past statements on former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke—one of Trump’s first endorsements. “I don’t know anything about David Duke,” Trump said in 2016. “I know nothing about white supremacists.”
Instead of speaking out against white supremacy Trump on Wednesday again tried to stoke fears about the “radical liberal democrat movement,” with the hopes of stoking fear among suburban voters.
“Biden REFUSED to use the term, LAW & ORDER!” he tweeted. “There go the Suburbs.”
Biden echoed the president’s other critics and took Trump to task for his comments. “There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night,” Biden wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
UPDATE (October 1, 2020 9:14 a.m.): This article was updated to reflect statistics from the 2018 midterm elections.