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On Friday, former president Donald Trump denied knowing who white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes was after Axios reported that he dined with the noted racist and rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West.
“This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”
Of course, Mr Fuentes has been a prominent figure for years. In the days after the 2020 presidential election, he led the “Million MAGA March,” calling it “MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE.”
The former president’s words were familiar to anyone who has paid attention to how he has denied any knowledge about white supremacist and extremist groups. His campaign announcement where he called immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border as drug dealers, criminals and rapists emboldened numerous white nationalists, antisemites and other extremist groups like the Proud Boys.
In response, Mr Trump has always found ways to wink and nod to white supremacists, occasionally obfuscating or giving the lightest critiques while not completely denouncing them. This has in turn allowed him to seem like he is not fully enmeshed with hate groups, but many hate groups see it as a tacit endorsement.
In 2016, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd asked him about the fact he retweeted an account caled @ilduce2016 that tweeted “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” The remark is an old saying by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and the website Gawker had created an account that tweeted Mussolini quotes under the guise that they were quotes from Mr Trump.
But the then-candidate seemed nonchalant about the retweet.
“Chuck, it’s OK to know it’s Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It’s OK to — it’s a very good quote, it’s a very interesting quote, and I know it,” he said. “I saw it. I saw what — and I know who said it. But what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.”
Similarly, in 2016, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him what he thought about former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke supporting his campaign.
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“I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists,” he said. “So I don’t know. I don’t know – did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”
Later on, Mr Trump said “I was sitting in a house in Florida, with a bad earpiece” and said he disavowed Mr Duke. But the white supremacist still celebrated Mr Trump’s victory in November of 2016, saying “our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”
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The trend continued during the first 2020 presidential debate between Mr Trump and Joe Biden. In that one, debate moderator Chris Wallace and Mr Biden called on him to denounce the Proud Boys.
“Proud boys, stand back and stand by, but I tell you what, somebody has got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem,” he said at the time.
Trump rows back and says he ‘doesn’t know who the Proud Boys are’ after debate outrage
VICE Magazine founder Gavin McInnnes founded the Proud Boys in 2016 and they have been responsible for violence in numerous instances and the group took part in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The words allowed for Mr Trump to seem like he had distanced himself from the group and his senior adviser Jason Miller said the remarks showed he “very clear he wants them to knock it off.” But on sites like Parler, many members of the Proud Boys took it as an order, with chairman Enrique Tarrio saying “Standing by sir.”