Before dinner with antisemitic white nationalist, Trump avoided disavowing right-wing extremists for years

Past controversies have involved David Duke, QAnon and others.

November 29, 2022, 10:18 PM

Donald Trump is caught in the latest of multiple firestorms over his associations with right-wing extremists after he had a two-hour dinner last week with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, who like Fuentes has made antisemitic remarks.

The former president insists he intended only to meet with Ye and that the rapper and designer unexpectedly brought Fuentes, whom Trump claims to not know. Some Republicans have defended Trump, saying the media is practicing a "double standard" by not covering Democrats with hardline ties.

"I had no idea what his [Fuentes'] views were, and they weren't expressed at the table … or it wouldn't have been accepted," Trump told Fox News on Tuesday, in his latest attempt to explain his participation in the dinner.

He called himself the "best friend" to Israel and said, "Why aren't people condemning Antifa?"

While Trump has distanced himself from Fuentes -- and Fuentes' history of racist, white supremacist and sexist comments, as well as his antisemitism -- he has not, as of yet, directly denounced Fuentes, despite a chorus of critics inside and outside his party.

It isn't the first time this has happened.

PHOTO: In this Nov. 11, 2020, file photo, Nick Fuentes, far-right activist, holds a rally at the Lansing Capitol, in Lansing, Mich.
In this Nov. 11, 2020, file photo, Nick Fuentes, far-right activist, holds a rally at the Lansing Capitol, in Lansing, Mich.
Nicole Hester/Ann Arbor News via AP, FILE

2016: Trump walks back David Duke remark

During his first presidential campaign, Trump initially seemed to struggle with an answer about whether he would accept the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan who had said Trump "deserves a close look" in that year's election.

Trump was pressed on CNN over whether he would renounce Duke and other white supremacists, like the KKK, who were supporting his campaign.

"Just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK?" Trump said.

"I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists," he added after being asked again three times. "So I don't know. I don't know -- did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists."

"I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about," Trump said at one point in the interview. "You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I'd have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong."

Years earlier, in 2000, Trump had cited Duke's participation in the Reform Party as a reason to not run for the White House under its banner. Days before his CNN appearance, he said, "David Duke endorsed me? OK, all right. I disavow, OK?"

Trump later blamed the CNN exchange on a "bad earpiece."

"I could hardly hear what he's saying," he said, referring to anchor Jake Tapper. "I hear various groups. I don't mind disavowing anyone. I disavowed Duke the day before at a major conference."

2017: Charlottesville rally

Perhaps Trump's most infamous comments about extremists were after the deadly white supremacist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. -- which Fuentes attended.

That demonstration drew widespread condemnation after a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered.

Trump, meanwhile, insisted that not everyone attending the event was a white nationalist.

"You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists," Trump said at a press conference. "The press has treated them absolutely unfairly."

"You also had some very fine people on both sides," he said.

Those comments led to denunciations from Democrats and some Republicans. President Joe Biden has also said the response was a motivator for him to run against Trump in 2020.Days after, Trump insisted he made a "fine statement."

"I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement," he said. In the years since, he has contended he was misunderstood.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally to support Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections, in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2022.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally to support Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections, in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2022.
Gaelen Morse/Reuters, FILE

2020: QAnon

Trump in August 2020 also notably avoided denouncing QAnon, the unhinged conspiracy theory movement claiming, among other discredited beliefs, that a satanic cabal of sex traffickers are operating a "deep state" inside the government and other institutions in conflict with Trump.

The conspiracy has been labeled a threat by the FBI, and supporters have been credited with various violent attacks.

When asked about it during a White House press conference, Trump said he was unaware of the theory but welcomed its adherents' support.

"I don't know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much. Which I appreciate. But I don't know much about the movement," Trump said.

"I have heard that it is gaining in popularity and from what I hear ... these are people that don't like seeing what's going on in places like Portland and places like Chicago and New York and other cities and states," he added. "I've heard these are people that love our country and they just don't like seeing it. So I don't know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me and they also would like to see problems in these areas, like especially in the areas that we're talking about, go away."

Since leaving office, Trump has more openly embraced QAnon-related messages, including on social media.

2020: Proud Boys

At a September 2020 debate with Biden, Trump declined to denounce the Proud Boys, a white nationalist and male chauvinist group.

When asked whether he would condemn white supremacist groups, Biden followed up by urging him to specifically rebuke the Proud Boys.

"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," Trump responded.

"But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem," he said.

Afterward, Trump's use of the phrase "stand by" was called into question and some Proud Boys members wrote in private channels that Trump was indicating tacit support for them and their tactics.

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