Then a curious smile came over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's face, and he jumped in and suggested Proud Boys, the controversial group whose members often stand up to left-wing violence in the streets.
But instead of ignoring Biden's unrequested suggestion, Trump took it: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by — but I'll tell you what ... somebody's gotta do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem."
Biden shot back: "His own FBI director said the threat comes from white supremacists — Antifa's an idea, not an organization."
"Oh, you gotta be kidding," Trump retorted, adding that — based on Biden's assertion — FBI Director Christopher Wray is "wrong."
A big moment in last night’s debate. POTUS asked to condemn white supremacy. Tells the Proud Boys to “stand down &… https://t.co/b73Vyizlxs— Juliana Mazza (@Juliana Mazza) 1601467608.0
What's the background?
Actually Wray confirmed in testimony before Congress earlier this month that "Antifa is a real thing." And while Wray did say Antifa is "not a group or an organization. It's a movement, or an ideology may be one way of thinking of it," unlike Biden, he didn't minimize Antifa's threat.
"And we have quite a number — and I've said this quite consistently since my first time appearing before this committee — we have any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists, and some of those individuals self-identify with Antifa," Wray said.
What was the reaction to Biden saying Antifa is 'an idea'?
As you might guess, Biden backers enthusiastically endorsed keeping a lid, so to speak, on Antifa's reality — but not everybody was down with that:
“Antifa is an idea not an organization” - Joe Biden at the debates Holy sh*#— ELIJAH SCHAFFER (@ELIJAH SCHAFFER) 1601431847.0
Biden just came out in defense of Antifa, a group that has burned, looted, and murdered all across the country. The… https://t.co/F8QlIddjkS— Matt Walsh (@Matt Walsh) 1601431921.0
Tonight clarified something important: Joe Biden ❤️’s Antifa. #debates— Robby Starbuck (@Robby Starbuck) 1601434525.0
Favorite debate exchange ... BIDEN: Antifa is an idea, not an organization. TRUMP: Yea, an idea with a bat. #Debates2020— Donna Cahill (@Donna Cahill) 1601466163.0
A little gaslighting tour
Biden hasn't been alone is his Antifa gaslighting. In July, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), chairman of House Judiciary Committee, called Antifa violence in Portland a "myth," despite numerous videos and news reports documenting its violence.
In June, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — the Judiciary Committee's top Republican — blasted Nadler for calling Antifa "imaginary."
"They're not imaginary, they're real," Jordan said, adding that "to have the chair of the Judiciary Committee, on the House floor, say ... these words ... 'imaginary things like Antifa.' They are far from imaginary. And there are people in every major city in this country who know that, and yet the chair of the Judiciary Committee just made that statement. That is scary."
The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee just called #Antifa "imaginary." Antifa is real. Ask the journalists th… https://t.co/526Qmdsv7B— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Rep. Jim Jordan) 1593115796.0