Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that he had never heard of the violent white nationalist group he had egged on the night before. Such feigned ignorance was right out of his typical playbook.
During the first 2020 presidential debate on Tuesday night, Trump had been asked to condemn white supremacists and white militias, and when he asked for a specific name, Joe Biden volunteered, "Proud Boys," designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Trump instead encouraged the group by name, saying, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by."
A day later, he again refused to denounce the Proud Boys, this time claiming not to know anything about them.
"I don't know who the Proud Boys are," he told reporters. "I mean, you'll have to give me a definition, because I really don't know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work. Law enforcement will do the work more and more. As people see how bad this radical, liberal, Democrat movement is and how weak, the law enforcement is going to come back stronger and stronger. But again, I don't know who Proud Boys are."
Hogan Gidley, the Trump campaign's press secretary, had directly contradicted this earlier in the day, telling Fox News Radio that Trump had "condemned the Proud Boys on multiple occasions."
Recalling racist politicians of the past, Trump has a long history of claiming to "know nothing" about white nationalists and political scandals surrounding his administration.
In 2016, Trump was asked in an interview to disavow the support he was receiving from former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and other white supremacists. "Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't even know anything about what you're talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. Did he endorse me, or what's going on? I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists," he told CNN.
This statement too was a lie: Trump had expressly condemned Duke repeatedly in 2000 as a "Klansman" and cited Duke's involvement in the Reform Party as a reason not to run for president on its ballot line.
In August of this year, in a similar vein, Trump denied any knowledge of QAnon, a movement of conspiracy theorists who claim powerful public officials — mostly Democrats — are running an international child-trafficking cabal and working to destroy Trump. The FBI has labeled them a domestic terrorism threat.
A day after pretending not to know what QAnon was, Trump used similar language to disclaim knowledge of his former top strategist Steve Bannon's scam border wall campaign. "I know nothing about the project, other than I didn't like — when I read about it, I didn't like it," he claimed on Aug. 20.
Former Trump campaign chief and White House adviser Bannon and others had been arrested earlier that morning for allegedly operating a fraudulent crowdfunding effort to raise money for private construction of part of the wall along the United States' southern border.
Asked if he had, as former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had claimed, endorsed the project, Trump said, "I didn't. I didn't know that. I didn't know about Bannon's involvement, but I didn't know any — I didn't know the other people."
In May, Trump tried to distance himself from his own decision to fire the inspector general for the State Department, who was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the time. "I don't know anything about him, other than the State Department, and Mike in particular," he told reporters. "I guess they weren't happy with the job he was doing or something, so because it's my right to do it, I said, 'Sure, I'll do it.'"
Asked in March why his administration disbanded the White House pandemic response team prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump dismissed the "nasty question" and said, "I didn't do it. We have a group of people. I could perhaps ask Tony [Fauci] about that, because I don't know anything about it. I mean, you say we did that. I don't know anything about it."
In January, Trump was asked about his relationship with Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who implicated Trump and Mike Pence in efforts to force President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. "I don't know him," Trump answered, "other than he's sort of like a groupie. He shows up at fundraisers. Okay? So I don't know anything about him."
Trump has also claimed previously to know nothing about payments his attorney made to porn star Stormy Daniels or about the Mexican drug cartel leader known as El Chapo, about whom he had previously tweeted.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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