America Speaks: What do they think President Trump meant when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back"

November 02, 2020, 7:26 PM GMT+0

In the first presidential debate when asked to condemn white nationalist group the Proud Boys, President Trump said to the group "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by".

Following the controversy that ensured, President Trump condemned all white supremacists. In an interview with Sean Hannity the President said: "I've said it many times, let me be clear again, I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys”.

But nearly half of American adults said they interpret the President's words as a call on the Proud Boys to be ready to help Trump should he need their aid (47%).

We asked our YouGov Chat users to go deeper and tell us what they believe President Trump really meant when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”? You can share your views on the topic here.

“It was painfully obvious that he was signaling the Proud Boys to be prepared to perpetuate violence if the election doesn't go his way.”


Chat users were divided about the exact meaning of “stand back and stand by”.

For many users the phrase was a call to far right groups like the Proud Boys to gather their forces and be ready to help President Trump...

  • “Stand ready for me to call you to action to put down my opponents by any means necessary.”
  • “Just hold on until I give you a signal to brandish firearms and create chaos, if not out right murder”
  • “He meant for them to be ready to create problems when he needs them to”
  • “He's telling them to wait to act, till he needs them. He's inciting violence!”

...particularly if he should lose the election.

  • “I felt like he was threatening what would happen if he didn’t win.”
  • “He was putting them on notice that if he lost the election to be ready to riot or activate riots.”
  • “It's a call to arms in case he does not win the election. He already has made it clear that he will not accept the results if he loses. I am fearful his rhetoric could lead us into violent clashes pitting American against American. This is so sad!”
  • “Get your guns ready if the vote goes against me.”

For others, however, “stand back and stand by” was meant to encourage groups like the Proud Boys to hold off on taking the law into their own hands.

  • “He told them to stand back and allow law enforcement agencies to do their job without interference or increased difficulty.
  • “He meant, we don't need you to enforce the laws--hopefully the police will get involved again and protect people.”
  • “I think he meant don't go into cities and add to the violence. I think it was a moment where he had to choose his words quickly and his "stand by" sounded like he wanted them ready, but I just think they were a poor choice of words and not what he actually meant.”
  • “Proud Boys is a militia group. He told them to stand back? It’s really that simple.”

Some took Trump’s statement as a clear sign of his support for the Proud Boys in particular...

  • “It sounded like he was encouraging them”
  • “He was affirming their false law and order.”
  • “He acknowledged their presence and encouraged their involvement”
  • “He validated their existence and told them to wait for instructions.”

…and white nationalism in general.

  • “It was clearly a huge dog whistle to white supremacy and a rallying call for violence and I was horrified.”
  • “He is provoking a violent racist response from people who don't understand the rule of law or common decency”
  • “He was encouraging the white supremacists and letting them know he appreciates them.”

Others believe Trump meant nothing by it.

  • “Nothing since he was being attacked by the moderator just an answer to move on since he was basically being interrogated not good not good at all mainstream media needs to be fair and unbiased but it is obvious that is not the case.”
  • “I think he just threw out a stupid off the cuff comment and had no idea what he meant. But I’m sure the Proud Boys took it as a call to revolution.”
  • “I don’t think he meant it the way it was interpreted. As usual he probably didn’t think through what he said but once the words were out, he won’t back down from it once it’s out there.”

During an exchange with reporters at the White House a day after the debate, Trump said “I don’t know who the proud boys are”. A number of Chat users had suspected this was the case.

  • “I don't think he knew who the Proud Boys were when asked the question. When Biden or Chris Wallace threw their name into the disaster.”
  • “He doesn't know much about them so he sounded neutral to me. All Americans have been standing down and by for hundreds of years. Not a big deal.”
  • “Nothing. He probably doesn’t even know who the group is or what they stand for neither do you by lumping them in with extremists.

Others were not so convinced. Many Chat users interpreted Trump’s words as a misguided attempt to appeal to far right voters.

  • “He did not want to offend them to keep their votes. He did not denounce them because he needs them to be part of his base.”
  • “I think Trump was attempting to not outright condemn white supremacy and any white supremacist groups in order to not upset his base.”
  • “He meant that he didn’t want white supremacists not to vote for him. It was a dog whistle and an attempt to play both sides.”


Every day, members of YouGov Chat are asked to share their opinion on a topic in the news. We allow anyone to take part in these chats, and do not display or weight results in real-time. Instead, to make the experience informative but still interactive, the chat displays weighted data from YouGov Direct to show them how the rest of the country voted. This enables us to pose the question to all, while retaining data accuracy and validity when communicating results.

YouGov chat seeks to add to the ‘what?’ (the quantitative poll result) by finding the ‘why?” (qualitative open ends) in a member’s own words. Learn more about YouGov Chat here.

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