Within hours of the year’s first nationally televised presidential debate on Tuesday night, T-shirts with the words, “Stand back, stand by,” and the Proud Boys logo were selling on Amazon.
President Donald Trump coined the phrase during his heated, 100-minute exchange with Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Asked by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News whether he would openly and directly condemn white supremacists, Trump deflected Wallace’s prompt to call for such groups to “stand down.”
“Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what, someone has to do something about Antifa and the left.”
Proud Boys, an all-male group whose members self-identify as “western chauvinists,” have been called “an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism” by the Anti-Defamation League.
“While the group can be described as violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic, its members represent a range of ethnic backgrounds, and its leaders vehemently protest any allegations of racism,” according to the ADL, which says on its website that “members have been known to engage in violent tactics; several members have been convicted of violent crimes.”
The unisex shirts from third-party sellers, available in several colors and styles, were listed at about $25. Diversity advocates and social activists called out the online marketplace, including the anti-extremist Sleeping Giants organization, whose post was shared more than 3,000 times.
A few of the items disappeared quickly, while others remained on the site for several hours on Wednesday, captured in screen shots on social media. A search in the afternoon did not find any Proud Boys merchandise still for sale on Amazon.
Sleeping Giants later posted an update saying, “It appears that @amazon has removed all of this merchandise. Unfortunately, as what regularly happens with Amazon, they will not apologize nor make any statement about their total abdication of responsibility.”
Amazon did not respond to emails from Adweek asking for comment.
The quick appearance and equally quick disappearance of extremist merchandise reflects a recurring issue of opportunistic third-party sellers on marketplaces such as Amazon. A spokesperson for Amazon told Adweek last month that the platform leverages “sophisticated, automated tools that use machine learning to scan listings and automatically block or remove listings found to be in violation of the policies.”
Amazon has removed Proud Boys items from its site in the past, along with other third-party merchandise like swastika pendants and white nationalist literature, under pressure from members of Congress. The site, in a 2018 letter to Rep. Keith Ellison, said it prohibits product listings that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or that promote organizations with such views, according to BuzzFeedNews.
Twitter and Instagram have banned accounts from Proud Boys and associated groups.
As for Antifa, the anti-fascist movement frequently criticized by Trump during Tuesday night’s debate, some items can be found on Amazon featuring imagery associated with the decentralized group. Buttons with anti-Nazi symbols, such as a swastika being dropped into a trash can, are sold alongside more polarizing images, such as a masked activist punching someone on the ground with the title “Good night, alt-right.” An Antifa symbol of three arrows pointing down and to the left, sometimes associated with the phrase “Destroy Fascism,” can be found on shirts and buttons sold via Amazon.