The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden descended into chaos from the beginning when the incumbent president, flailing and trailing in the polls, employed a scorched earth approach and sought to disrupt the event at every step of the way.
In the midst of Trump’s interruptions, false statements, and insults, very little substance emerged from the debate — and there was no discussion of LGBTQ issues. Rather, the president cast doubt on the election process and made headlines when he did not denounce white supremacists, further cementing his enduring racist reputation dating back decades.
In response to a question about whether he would denounce white supremacists, Trump asked who exactly he should condemn. Biden then pointed to the Proud Boys — the alt-right group that has also been known for wide-ranging bigotry spanning from homophobia and transphobia to misogyny, racism, and xenophobia.
Instead of seizing an easy opportunity to denounce that group, Trump instead gave them a call to action and sought to shift responsibility away from them.
“Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “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.”
Immediately following that moment, numerous reports surfaced of Proud Boys members gleefully responding to Trump’s words with vows to indeed stand by, as he requested.
That moment in the debate was especially notable because of the president’s refusal to condemn a group that has such a disturbing record of bigotry. Founded by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes in 2016, the Proud Boys have touted far-right viewpoints at demonstrations across the nation, encouraged violence, and was eventually labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
The Anti-Defamation League has also blasted the Proud Boys as a group with “extreme, provocative tactics — coupled with overt or implicit racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny and the fact that the group is so decentralized, inconsistent, and spread out — suggest the group should be a significant cause for concern.”
The group has drawn the ire of New Yorkers on multiple occasions, including in the winter of 2017 when, according to Gothamist, McInnes was giving a speech at New York University when members of the Proud Boys wound up fighting protesters and attacking journalists. The group even encouraged its members to go after the “faggots wearing black that won’t let us in.”
The group also returned to New York City in 2018 when McInnes, who left the group that year, delivered remarks at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan and Proud Boys members again engaged in altercations with protesters.
McInnes wrote multiple pieces for “Thought Catalog” that were not only insensitive but also laced with overt misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia. In one extremely transphobic piece entitled “Transphobia is Perfectly Natural,” he made light of gender-affirming care, deliberately misgendered transgender folks, and labeled trans individuals as “mentally ill” people who “need help.” Furthermore, he criticized those who respect pronouns.
Among his other pieces included one entitled “Having Kids Turns You Into a Complete Fag.” McInnes has also used homophobic slurs in pieces he wrote for VICE, Taki’s Magazine, and in his own book, which included an anti-gay slur in one of the chapter’s titles.
Trump, not surprisingly, also shares an anti-LGBTQ history of his own on a number of fronts, including his ban on transgender service members from the military, his administration’s refusal to recognize the citizenship of children whose same-sex parents are bi-national, and his decision to reverse Obama-era guidance to schools stipulating that transgender students should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. His administration has also moved to strip trans folks of healthcare protections and worked to give adoption agencies the right to deny prospective same-sex parents.
Trump’s refusal to criticize the Proud Boys resembled a moment in August of 2017 when he reacted to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, by saying there were “very fine people on both sides” and again attempting to shift blame on others by saying “What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging…”
Two years later, Trump posted a tweet saying four women in Congress should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Following Trump’s antics during the debate, the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced on September 30 that “additional structure” would be needed in future debates and forums. The commission added that it will be “carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”
The next debate will feature Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris on October 7 at the University of Utah. That debate is the only debate slated between the vice presidential nominees.
Biden and Trump are slated to square off for a second time on October 15 in Miami.
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