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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Trump’s Proud Boy moment sparks Black outrage in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — President Donald Trump’s shoutout to the far-fight hate group Proud Boys is energizing black voters to turn out against him in the must-win state of Florida.

“His call to the white supremacist group Proud Boys to ‘stand by,’ and telling his followers to go to the polls and watch them, that is straight up voter suppression,” said incoming state Minority Leader Bobby DuBose, a Black Broward County Democrat.

DuBose made his comments during a conference call to roll out Democrat Joe Biden’s “Black men, VOTE!” campaign, a push to secure what has been an important but inconsistent Florida voting bloc.

The Biden call was scheduled before Trump stood on the debate stage in Cleveland and ordered the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” creating a sense of urgency and outrage that could work in Biden’s favor.

“He had an opportunity to sort of dim the views of the underbelly of the country,” said former Florida Rep. Alan Williams, a strategic adviser to Biden’s campaign and former head of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. “I was watching with my son last night and my daughter was with us on Facetime. That was hard.”

Florida’s Black vote has been consequential in recent election cycles, delivering an outsized impact on outcomes in a battleground where every vote matters. Trump’s remark on Tuesday could motivate Black voters, which overwhelmingly support Democrats, in a state he almost certainly has to take to win reelection.

The Proud Boy moment was one of few that broke through the chaotic 90-minute debate, during which Trump seized the stage, ignored the ground rules and interrupted both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. Almost immediately, the debate was labeled “a national embarrassment.”

“This summer we had a sort of American spring, if you will,” said Williams, referring to mass protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. “It was a clarion call that the president needs to be the leader for everyone, and last night Trump showed us he was not up to that task.”

Trump on Wednesday tried to walk back his comments, telling reporters that he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were despite mentioning them by name.

“I don’t know who Proud Boys are,” he told reporters in Washington. “But whoever they are they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”

Paris Dennard, the Republican National Committee’s adviser for Black media affairs, said the president has denounced hate groups, including the Proud Boys. Trump has called for antifa and the KKK “to be labeled terrorist organizations,” she said.

The Proud Boys are no strangers to Florida politics. During the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, the group disrupted an Orlando forum featuring Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam. Members of the group handed out anti-DeSantis literature and picked shouting matches with DeSantis supporters as the event came to an end.

The group opposed to DeSantis in the primary that year, but have since shown up at events in support of the first-term governor.

If Trump’s comments weren’t a racist call to arms, as most viewed it, that message was lost on the Proud Boys themselves. The group quickly unveiled a new logo with the words “stand back and stand by,” and private message boards were full of self-described Proud Boy members embracing Trump’s acknowledgment of the group on the nation’s biggest political stage.

“I can tell you this was not a dog whistle,” said Maya Brown, a Tampa-based Democratic organizer working to turn out Black and Hispanic voters. “To not only fail to condemn, but actually directly ignite a group like the proud Boys was shocking to me. It was hard for me to watch.”

But Black voters really flexed their muscle in the 2018 Democratic primary, making up nearly 30 percent of the turnout and helping Andrew Gillum, the Black former mayor of Tallahassee, win an upset primary race against former Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham.

“If you’re looking for an example of where Black voters make a difference in Florida, there might not be a better example than Andrew Gillum,” Brown said. “Everyone counted him out, but he mobilized progressive and black voters and that got him through the Democratic primary.”

As a candidate, Biden wants to give $15,000 in federal down-payment assistance for first-time Black homebuyers, invest $70 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, offer student loan forgiveness and protect the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s plan for Black communities, which he has dubbed the “Platinum Plan” includes expanded tax credits for minority-owned businesses, increased lending to black-owned small businesses and more federal contracting opportunities for minority-owned businesses.

In most Florida public polling, Biden has maintained a strong lead. The former vice president was up 86 to 11 with Black voters in an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this month, consistent with turnout in the past two election cycles.

As the Biden campaign turns its focus to turnout, it wants to recreate the momentum that lifted Obama to the White House.

“Go back in history in 2008 and 2012, Black men voted in historical numbers for President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden,” Clifton Addison, who is helping lead Biden’s Florida Black turnout effort, said on the conference call. “The Biden campaign hopes to recreate that energy in November.”

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