President Trump is walking back his ominous message to the far-right group, Proud Boys ... and now says he doesn't even know who they are.
Trump fielded questions on the South Lawn about the "stand back and stand by" remark he made when debate moderator Chris Wallace asked if he would denounce white supremacy.
He told the White House press corps ... "I don't know who the Proud Boys are" and asked reporters for a definition of the group -- which has been widely labeled a neo-fascist, male-only, politically violent organization.
The President added, "Whoever they are, they have to stand down -- let law enforcement do their work."
Interestingly, though, he was again asked straight-up if he denounces white supremacy. Watch how he dances around the question before finally responding ... but without ever saying the words, "white supremacy." Trump finally mutters ... "I've always denounced any form, any form, any form of any of that, you have to denounce."
As we reported ... the debate has been widely panned as a disgrace -- or much worse -- and the ratings were way down from 2016. That could be the result of voters turned off by the nastiness or voters who've already decided just not watching.
Either way, it could be too late for this kinda damage control