President Donald Trump has said a far-right group should "stand down" and let law enforcement do its work, after his failure to condemn the group in a TV debate sparked a backlash.
Mr Trump said "I don't know know who the Proud Boys are", despite urging them in the election debate with Joe Biden to "stand back and stand by".
Proud Boys members called his debate comments "historic" and an endorsement.
Mr Biden said Mr Trump had "refused to disavow white supremacists".
The exchange came during the first of three televised debates between the two men ahead of the 3 November election. The debate descended into squabbling, bickering and insults, with US media describing it as chaotic, ugly and awful.
The commission that regulates the debates said it would introduce new measures for the next two to "maintain order". Mr Trump said they should get a new anchor and a smarter Democratic candidate.
Not much was gleaned on policy and although one snap poll on the debate gave Mr Biden a slight edge, other opinion polls suggest 90% of Americans have already made up their mind on who to vote for and the debate may well have made little difference.
Mr Biden has consistently led Mr Trump in national polls, but surveys in so-called battleground states suggest the vote could still be a close contest.
What did Mr Trump say about Proud Boys in the debate?
Moderator Chris Wallace asked whether the president would condemn white supremacists and tell them to stand down during protests. These have flared this year over the issues of police killings and racism.
"Sure, I'm willing to… but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing," Mr Trump said.
Mr Biden twice said "Proud Boys" when the president asked who it was he was being told to condemn.
The president said: "Proud Boys – stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what… Somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem."
Founded in 2016, Proud Boys is a far-right, anti-immigrant, all-male group with a history of street violence against left-wing opponents. One Proud Boys social media account posted the logo "Stand Back, Stand By."
Antifa, short for "anti-fascist", is a loose affiliation of far-left activists that often clash with the far right at protests.
How did Mr Trump clarify his debate comments?
He was speaking on the White House lawn on Wednesday ahead of a campaign trip to Minnesota. A reporter asked him about Proud Boys and he said: "I don't know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work."
He did not clarify his use of "stand by" in the debate and said only that he wanted "law and order to be a very important part of our campaign" when asked whether he welcomed white supremacist support.
Pressed again on the issue, he said: "I've always denounced any form, any form of any of that."
Mr Trump has downplayed the threat of white supremacy groups in the past, although the Department of Homeland Security says they will remain the most "persistent and lethal threat" in the United States into next year.
What was the president accused of?
Joe Biden returned to the issue in a tweet on Wednesday, saying: "There's no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night."
In his tweet he quoted a comment, addressed to the president, from a Proud Boys online forum that read: "This makes me so happy. We're ready! Standing by sir."
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said Mr Trump's words were "astonishing" and Rita Katz, of the SITE extremist watchdog, said Mr Trump had given "another nod to white supremacists".
Proud Boys members certainly believed they had been supported by Mr Trump.
Organiser Joe Biggs wrote: "President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with antifa… well sir! we're ready!!"
One member said the group was already seeing a spike in new recruits.
What were the other key debate moments?
The 90-minute debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was chaotic, with frequent interruptions and the men flinging insults at each other.
The main issues included:
- Among the insults, Mr Biden call the president a "clown". He told the president: "Will you shut up, man?" and later snapped "Keep yapping, man"
- Mr Trump said Mr Biden had "graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class" and had done nothing in 47 years of politics
- Mr Biden said Mr Trump had "panicked" over the coronavirus epidemic and a "lot of people died". Mr Trump later tweeted that many more would have died if Mr Biden had been president
- Mr Trump defended Read More – Source