BARNSTABLE — When President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys, a group labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to “stand back and stand by” during the presidential debate on Tuesday, it wasn’t a surprise to Rev. Will Mebane Jr.
The pastor of St. Barnabus Episcopal Church in Falmouth said he argued this point with Trump supporters back in 2016.
“I’m not a great seer or prophet, but I argued vehemently with those who were insistent on supporting his candidacy, and I warned them that what we are experiencing today is exactly what would happen,” he said in an interview Thursday.
The phrase “stand back and stand by,” has since been embraced by the group and used on merchandise. The phrase showed up on T-shirts coupled with “Trump 2020.” Amazon and Ebay blocked sales of the merchandise on Thursday.
Mebane grew up in what he referred to as KKK-infested North Carolina. He called white supremacists, which he said are “a part of the fabric of every institution and of many organizations in this nation,” a real threat.
“Donald Trump represents the antithesis of everything I understand about the theologies and beliefs of every religious tradition and denomination, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Unitarian, Baha’i or whatever,” he said. “The core and foundational element is love. Love for your neighbor, love for the other. And when a person, be they president of the U.S. or a peasant farmer, violates those tenants, they must be called out. They cannot be supported.”
Rev. Wesley Williams, retired pastor of the Orleans Methodist Church, said Trump’s reluctance to condemn the Proud Boys represented a failure of leadership.
“Particularly when he claims to not know who they are,” Williams said.
A member of the Nauset Interfaith Association and the MLK Action Team, Williams has been leading group discussions about King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The civil rights leader had a big influence on Williams when he was growing up, and his embrace of King’s strategy of nonviolence is the polar opposite of that used by the Proud Boys.
Trump’s comments Tuesday were comparable to giving the group license, Williams said.
“Regardless of your political leanings, whether you’re for or against Trump, people have to be sensitive to the language he’s using,” he said. “When he cannot condemn white supremacists, that is a problem.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday asserted that the president has disavowed white supremacist groups several times, in spite of his words Tuesday. But Williams was not convinced.
“White people must realize that no matter what their political leanings are, how incendiary his words “stand back and stand by” are to everybody, particularly to the Proud Boys,” Williams said.
He called the resurgence of white supremacy groups terrifying to people of color, particularly African Americans, who have suffered years of cruelty.
“None of us, regardless of our political leanings, can be indifferent to racism because it corrodes all of our souls and it poisons the vision of our children,” Williams said.
Williams called his faith the foundation for his confidence in people and the reason he has hope in the future.
“The more we come to understand about each other’s histories and what we’ve been through, the less we will tolerate the proliferation of hate groups,” he said.
When asked about the president’s comments, John Reed, president of the Cape Cod chapter of the NAACP, had one response.
“November 3rd. Vote.”
Follow Denise Coffey on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.