Claim: Some Americans believe that Trump helps white supremacists by fueling racism in the United States and refusing to condemn white supremacist leaders and organizations.
Rating: This claim is MOSTLY TRUE. Trump enjoys support from white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Proud Boys. Although Trump has denounced these groups, he has done so only when pressured. In addition, he has shown tolerance for violent white supremacist groups through his public statements and Twitter account, even retweeting a video of a man chanting, “white power.”
White supremacy is the belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and should have power over all other races. In October 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified white supremacist extremists as “the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists” in the United States. DHS reported that, since 2018, white supremacists have conducted more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic violent extremism movement.
Trump’s relationship with white supremacists has been widely reported during his career and presidency. Despite sustained criticism of his closeness with white nationalists, Trump has continued making overtures to these racists. Most recently, Trump refused to condemn the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group that promotes violence, during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020. Trump told them to “stand back and stand by,” a message that the Proud Boys interpreted as supportive and adopted as a motto.
Although Trump sometimes criticized white supremacist groups, records show that this behavior fits into a pattern of rhetoric in which Trump refuses to condemn these groups, then only does so later after facing backlash from the media. And he consistently downplays white supremacy as a national threat.
Her are some examples of Trump’s recent history with white supremacists:
- January 2016: A social media analytics firm found that one third of Trump’s retweets that month were from well-known white supremacist Twitter accounts.
- February 2016: When asked to denounce Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who supported him, Trump refused to do so and claimed that he didn’t “know anything about [Duke].” This is false. Trump was aware of Duke’s racist history, as Trump called Duke a “a bigot, a racist, a problem” in 2000. But in 2016, he still failed to condemn Duke.
- November 2016: Trump hired Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, a decision that was widely praised and supported by white supremacist leaders like Duke, who felt that Bannon would champion their policies against immigration.
- August 2017: White supremacists held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they carried guns and lit torches, while chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. One of those protestors also ran their car through a group of counter-protestors, killing one person (32-year-old Heather Heyer) and injuring 28, according to the indictment. In response, Trump claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides” and stated that racist demonstrators “were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.” Trump’s statements seemed to bolster white supremacist leaders such as Richard Spencer and David Duke, with Duke tweeting: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth.”
- March 2019: A white supremacist killed 51 people in a mosque in New Zealand. The shooter called Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Trump has made derogatory remarks about Muslims, and sought to ban immigrants from countries with majority Muslim populations. When asked if he thought white supremacy was a threat, Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”
- June 2020: Trump retweeted a video in which a man chants “white power,” a well-known white supremacist slogan.
Conclusion: The claim that Trump tolerates white supremacists has been determined to be MOSTLY TRUE. Although Trump does not explicitly support white supremacist groups, he has been slow to directly criticize them and has even pandered to them, such as when he retweeted a video of a man chanting, “white power.” Trump continues to gain support from white supremacist leaders but fails to denounce them, even though the Department of Homeland Security calls these groups “the most persistent and lethal threat” in the United States.