A former top Homeland Security aide to Donald Trump has strongly criticised his old boss for giving tacit “permission” to domestic terrorist groups to operate in the US, saying the president’s refusal to directly and unequivocally condemn white supremacists at the first presidential debate on Tuesday was tantamount to giving such groups a “loaded gun.”
Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security who has endorsed Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president, told CNN in an interview on Thursday that white supremacist groups have “celebrated” Mr Trump’s comments about them on multiple occasions, including on Tuesday night.
“Donald Trump has created, in my opinion, the favourable conditions that have allowed these domestic terrorist groups to rise,” said Mr Taylor, who served as chief of staff to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and later Acting Secretary Chad Wolf from 2017 to 2019.
The Trump administration “didn’t want to pay attention” to white domestic terrorist groups because they viewed them as “a potential base of support” politically, Mr Taylor said.
In the days since Mr Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” at his debate with Mr Biden, members of the far-right gang have been seen wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the president’s comments, according to reports.
On Thursday, online retailing giant Amazon blocked the sale of merchandise with the phrases “stand back” and “stand by.”
At the debate on Tuesday, moderator and Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Mr Trump if he was willing to denounce violence committed by white nationalist groups, many of whom have been aggressively confronting left-wing activists at racial justice demonstrations this summer.
“Sure, I would be willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” Mr Trump replied.
Mr Trump challenged Mr Wallace to name a specific group to condemn.
Mr Biden cut in to suggest the Proud Boys.
“Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by. But I tell you what — somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left wing problem,” Mr Trump said, referring to the loose collection of far-left anarchists whose stated goal is to topple fascist elements in the US.
While the vast majority (93 per cent) of the protests against police brutality and systemic racism this summer were nonviolent, a key study found, Mr Trump has seized on the pockets of vandalism, looting, and violence that have sprung up at times in places such as Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, as a way to attack Mr Biden and the Democrats.
Mr Biden has directly condemned Antifa and political violence “across the board.”
Mr Taylor, the ex-Homeland Security chief of staff, echoed the sentiments of several other Republicans who believe Mr Trump squandered an easy opportunity to denounce something so plainly vile as white supremacy.
“The president’s rhetoric has served as a loaded gun for those groups, who have since taken his words as sort of permission to do what they’re doing,” Mr Taylor said.
“If you look at what happened in Charlottesville [in 2017], when the president said that there were ‘fine people’ on ‘both sides,’ those groups celebrated it afterwards,” he said.
Mr Taylor has been working with the political organisation Republican Voters Against Trump to defeat the president in the 2020 election.
He blasted Mr Trump as incompetent and singularly focused on political gain in an ad for the group that went viral in August.
The president’s lack of focus on matters of national security made the US a less safe place than when he took office, Mr Taylor later wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
“Trump showed vanishingly little interest in subjects of vital national security interest, including cybersecurity, domestic terrorism and malicious foreign interference in US affairs,” Mr Taylor wrote.
“How can you run a huge organisation under those conditions? You can’t,” he wrote.