Pressed at the debate to condemn “white supremacist and militia groups,” Trump said he would. Then, after Joe Biden pushed him to condemn the far-right extremist “Proud Boys,” Trump told them to “stand back and stand by,” then immediately pivoted to attacking the left — without condemning either the Proud Boys or white supremacist groups.
But there is zero doubt that the Proud Boys, who celebrated Trump’s initial comments with great joy, as well as other similar groups, will continue taking an undiluted message of empowerment from what happened.
This is where Neumann’s Twitter thread comes in.
As Neumann recounted, she had a front-row view of the surge of right-wing extremist activity in the Trump era, since it took place on her watch. She said that in her position, she tried to get Trump to take this sort of right-wing extremism far more seriously, yet was unable to do so.
Neumann noted that she, along with others, “tried to educate” Trump and his staff on this threat. Strikingly, Neumann also said that she viewed Trump as bearing some of the blame for the mass murder in El Paso, where the alleged shooter told police he was targeting “Mexicans.”
Neumann pointed out that an online manifesto believed to be linked to the alleged shooter had used language about immigrants that Trump often uses, calling them an “invasion.”
“I concluded after the attacks in El Paso that POTUS was complicit in the deaths of Americans for his refusal to recognize his language was in the shooter’s manifesto,” tweeted Neumann, who has said she voted for Trump but has since spoken out publicly against him.
Neumann asked us to look at Trump’s latest comments in this context. “He was given the opportunity to condemn White Supremacy,” she said. “He refused.”
What this strongly suggests is that Trump surely knows that all sorts of right-wing extremists and white supremacists out there are paying extremely close attention to his language, both about their potential targets and about the groups themselves.
This includes language from Trump that comes in response to their activity. Other experts on right-wing extremist groups have noted that when Trump declines to offer unequivocal condemnation of them — such as with his “many sides” comments after white supremacist violence and murder in Virginia — they understand this as tacit support.
Trump offered exactly the same sort of language at the debate. After saying he’d condemn white supremacy, he immediately said: “Almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
This language is itself a clear sign to those groups that Trump is willing to deflect attention from them, giving them cover.
As Neumann also pointed out, Trump can still issue an unequivocal condemnation of this activity any time he wants. If not, she noted, we should assume he “intended” to refrain from such full condemnation — again, in the full knowledge that these groups are heavily influenced by what he says.
Trump’s latest clean-up comments stop well short of that. Indeed, Neumann just said that they are “not a condemnation,” and added: “Extremists will assume he was sending them a signal last night.”
Here’s the final point: It seems likely that Trump and his staff have been extensively briefed on all these nuances — that these groups pay extremely close attention to what he says about their activity, and that hedging or equivocating in response to it only emboldens them further. Yet this continues unabated.
We need to know more about what Trump and his staff have been told about the impact of his own words on these groups. It would shed more light on just how depraved and reckless Trump is being through his refusal — or inability — to condemn them forcefully and unequivocally. Perhaps in coming days Neumann can enlighten us further in this regard.