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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Proud Boys appear at Trump rally, drawing condemnation from Biden

    Former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during the North Carolina Republican Party Convention in Greensboro, N.C., June 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
    Members of the Proud Boys New Hampshire were outside Salem High School before former President Donald Trump's speaking engagement at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee 2023 annual meeting, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha, File)

    WILMINGTON, N.C. - At least 10 men wearing the uniform of the Proud Boys, a violent extremist group, appeared outside the entrance of a rally here Saturday for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, prompting condemnation from President Joe Biden’s campaign.

    The men - wearing black and yellow shirts, hats and masks identifying them as Proud Boys - were seen walking along the line of vendors selling Trump apparel and souvenirs around the time that the gates opened for a planned Trump rally here. One of the men held a sign saying “Free All of the J6 Prisoners,” a reference to people charged in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

    Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita said, “We don’t comment on stupid.”

    A spokesman for the Biden campaign condemned Trump for emboldening violent extremists.

    “When Trump told his supporters to ‘stop the steal,’ they attacked the Capitol, violently assaulted police officers, and tried to overturn an election,” Biden spokesman Ammar Moussa said. “Now they’re back, standing by once again as Trump threatens of a ‘bloodbath’ if he loses in November. This is Donald Trump’s America: where white nationalists and violent far-right extremists are empowered and working families are left behind.”

    It was not clear if the Proud Boys entered the event, which was subsequently canceled because of severe weather. They were seen walking away from the entrance and were not seen by a Washington Post reporter inside the event. A county sheriff’s deputy on-site said officers were aware of their presence.

    The Proud Boys are a right-wing extremist group with a history of violence, and they were heavily involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Their former national chairman, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, was sentenced to 22 years in prison and 36 months of supervised release for seditious conspiracy and other charges related to the Capitol breach.

    Trump has repeatedly pledged to pardon rioters, without specifying who among the more than 1,000 people charged. He has increasingly glorified Jan. 6 defendants, calling them “patriots” and “hostages.” He recorded a duet of himself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with incarcerated Jan. 6 defendants singing the national anthem, and has repeatedly played that song at his rallies.

    Trump, whose claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate inspired the Capitol attack, has never disavowed domestic political violence. Asked during a 2020 presidential debate to condemn violent extremism groups such as the Proud Boys specifically, Trump said to “stand back and stand by.” Members of the group reacted on social media posts by celebrating the remark as a form of recognition.

    The rally here was supposed to be Trump’s first major public address since his trial started this past Monday in New York. He is accused of falsifying business records to conceal payments to an adult-film star as part of a hush money scheme before the 2016 election. Jury selection concluded Friday; opening arguments will begin this coming Monday.

    The crowd awaiting Trump on the airport tarmac was similar in size to the audience during a rally here in 2022. Vendors sold T-shirts, posters and lawn signs bearing varied renderings of Trump’s mug shot; as well as vulgar signs; bumper stickers and shirts directed at Biden; knives; Confederate flag bedsheets; shirts for the QAnon online extremist movement; and MAGA visors with attached orange poufs. One flag said “I’d Rather Be an American Than a Democrat.” Another said “Trump 2024: The rules have changed.”

    Also mingling with rallygoers as they lined up was Scott Presler, a well-known pro-Trump activist focused on voter turnout. He and another woman were collecting signatures that they said would help independent Cornel West qualify for the ballot in North Carolina.

    “This helps take away votes from Joe Biden,” Presler told an interested rallygoer.

    “We’re helping the Trump team who’s trying to get him on there,” the woman added.

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