One day after Donald Trump condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK for the Saturday riots in Charlottesville, Viriginia, which left one counter-protester dead, the president claimed “both sides” were at fault for the violence — comments that were slammed as “shocking” and “racist.”
During an event ostensibly about the country’s infrastructure, Trump sparred with reporters about his initial response to the Charlottesville unrest, which many criticized for failing to call hate groups out by name. “I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. And the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated,” Trump said Tuesday. Referencing his Monday remarks, which came two days after the violence, Trump claimed, “In fact, everybody said, ‘His statement was beautiful; if he would have made it sooner that would have been good.’ I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts. Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts.”
Two days after the white nationalist riots, Trump said in prepared remarks, “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”
But on Tuesday, after he was asked about the so-called “alt-right” and its responsibility for the Charlottesville violence, Trump wondered, “What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say — the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
He later added, “I watched this very closely, much more closely than you people watched it, and you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
Asked if he felt “the alt-left” is the same as “neo Nazis,” Trump claimed not all of the Charlottesville protesters were “white supremacists, by any stretch.”
“Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee,” Trump said, reiterating that he had condemned “neo Nazis” and “many different groups.” “You take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not. But many of those people were there to protest the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? But they were there to protest, excuse me, you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the statue of Robert E. Lee.”
On Friday, white nationalists gathered at the University of Virginia campus to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. They carried torches and chanted “blood and soil,” a prominent Nazi philosophy.
During his remarks, however, Trump defended those protesters. “I do think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there’s blame on both sides. I have no doubt about it and you have no doubt about it either. … You had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me — you had people in that group who were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and renaming a statue from Robert E. Lee to another name.” He later claimed the Friday march was organized by “people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” but allowed that there was likely “some bad ones” present as well.
Trump also conflated Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, to Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. “George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner?” Trump asked. “So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? … Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. It’s fine: You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people — and I’m not talking about the neo Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo Nazis and white nationalists and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. In the other group also, you had fine people but you also had troublemakers.”
Trump’s comments were swiftly condemned on social media by many prominent celebrities and politicians as well as the NAACP.
Former KKK leader David Duke, meanwhile, was a notable fan of the president’s commentary: