President Donald Trump refuses to denounce white supremacy, tells neo-fascist organisation to 'stand by'

US President Donald Trump has refused to categorically denounce white supremacists during the first live Presidential debate, diverting the question into an attack on "left-wing" protesters.

During Wednesday's debate with Democratic opponent Joe Biden, Trump was asked whether he was "willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups" over their involvement and escalation of protests against police violence against black people across the US.

"Sure. I'm willing to do that," said Trump, before quickly backpedalling. "Almost everything I see is from the left-wing. Not from the right-wing."

Opponent Joe Biden chimed in, encouraging Trump to outright condemn white supremacists.

"Do it! Say it!"

Trump faltered and was briefly quiet before asking moderator Chris Wallace "what he wanted to call it, give me a name".

"White supremacists and right-wing militia," came the reply.

Trump then mentioned a notorious far-right, neo-fascist extremist group which prides itself on engaging in political violence

"Proud Boys - stand back and stand by," the President said. 

"I'll tell you what - I'll tell you what - someone has to do something about Antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem. This is left-wing."

When Wallace and Biden pointed out that Antifa (a shortened version of anti-fascism) is an idea, not an organisation - a claim backed by Trump's own FBI director - the President scoffed.

"You have got to be kidding...well, then he's wrong".

The President's mention of Proud Boys appears to have inspired the group, reports NBC News.

On the Proud Boys' account on the social media app Telegram, the group appeared to take the statement as marching orders.

"Standing down and standing by sir," a post read. 

The account then posted two videos of the answer, including one with the caption "God. Family. Brotherhood" in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump's response.

Proud Boys organiser Joe Biggs also posted he was "standing by," and said the President "basically said to go f***k them up."