MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - President Donald Trump’s failure to explicitly condemn white supremacists during Tuesday night’s debate has sparked controversy.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
That was the president’s response when asked to condemn white supremacists during Tuesday’s first presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden.
Those comments became a big talker on social media.
“We just see such a shift in the society to both sides. The one side is shifting further left and left and left, and the other side is drifting further right and right,” said T.M. Garret, a former self-proclaimed white supremacist.
Garret was part of several hate groups 20 years ago and even led some of them before connecting with some of the people he hated and changing his life around, which led him to become a human rights activist.
Garret says Tuesday night’s debate was troubling.
“That worried me a lot because it lowers the barrier for regular Americans to accept these groups as the status quo,” Garret said.
Cassie Miller, senior research analyst with SPLC, says there are more than 44 Proud Boys groups across the country.
“This is a group that paints itself really as a men’s drinking club -- something in the style of the Elks Lodge -- and this is an image they can use to create possible deniability,” Miller said.
Miller says the Proud Boys were labeled a hate group because of their anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and misogynistic rhetoric.
Garret believes if he can change anyone can change and hopes people can open their minds and get to know someone who doesn’t look like them or think like them.
“It’s all about dialogue and compassion,” Garret said. “Seek the dialogue from somebody who seems to be different from you.”
The Proud Boys were banned from popular social media sites for hate speech, but experts say they do have a big presence on other apps.
According to SPLC there is a statewide Proud Boys group in Tennessee.
WMC Action News 5 tried to get in touch with someone from the group for a comment but did not hear back.