Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism & Islamophobia are poisoning our societies. We must stand up against them. Every time. Everywhere.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 15, 2017
US President Donald Trump yesterday insisted that left- and right-wing extremists became violent during the weekend rally by white nationalists in Charlottesville.
His statement reignites a political firestorm over US race relations and his own leadership of a national crisis.
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) August 15, 2017
Mr Trump, who drew sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats for his initial response, reverted to his position that both sides were at fault for the violence.
His latest remarks came a day after bowing to pressure to explicitly condemn the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.
Appearing angry and irritated, the president maintained that his original reaction was based on the facts he had at the time.
Blame, he said, belonged on both sides.
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now,” Mr Trump said, referring to right- and left-wing protesters.
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Donald Trump says there were bad people on both sides in Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/jbDU6nWljM
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) August 16, 2017
From there, the back and forth with reporters turned tense.
“Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” Mr Trump said of the participants in the deadly protest.
“There was a group on this side. You can call them the left … that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”
As he spoke, his new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former Marine general, appeared displeased during the president’s long tirade, standing rigidly.
Mr Trump’s comments were immediately welcomed by David Duke, a former “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan and a key figure at Saturday’s rally.
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists,” he tweeted.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017
But on the political left, the president’s words were met with indignation.
“Charlottesville violence was fuelled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance and intimidation. Those are the facts,” said Tim Kaine, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate and senator from Virginia.
The state’s other Democratic senator, Mark Warner, tweeted: “No words.”
Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans did not mince their words.
“We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote on Twitter.
“This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
The violence erupted on Saturday after white nationalists converged in Charlottesville for a ‘Unite the Right’ rally in protest at plans to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the US Civil War.
Many of the rally participants were seen carrying firearms, sticks and shields. Some also wore helmets.
Counter-protesters came equipped with sticks, helmets and shields.
The two sides clashed in scattered street brawls before a car ploughed into the rally opponents, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harboured Nazi sympathies, has been charged with murder.
Two state police officers also were killed that day when the helicopter they were flying in as part of crowd-control operations crashed.
Violence on ‘many sides’
Addressing the situation for the first time on Saturday, Mr Trump denounced hatred and violence “on many sides”.
The comment drew sharp criticism across the political spectrum for not explicitly condemning the white nationalists whose presence in the southern college town was widely seen as having provoked the unrest.
Critics said Mr Trump’s remarks highlighted his reluctance to alienate extreme right-wing groups, whose followers constitute a devoted segment of his political base despite his disavowal of them.
Yielding two days later to a mounting political furore over his initial response, Mr Trump delivered a follow-up message expressly referring to the “KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other hate groups” as “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans”.
Mr Trump’s detractors dismissed his revised statements as too little too late.
His remarks yesterday inflamed the controversy further.
Republican senator Orrin Hatch said on his instagram account: “I was just eight years old when my older brother Jesse was killed in World War II.
“As I said on Saturday, Jesse didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. I will never hesitate to speak out against hate – whenever and wherever I see it”.
“By saying he is not taking sides, Donald Trump clearly is,” said Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
“When David Duke and white supremacists cheer your remarks, you’re doing it very, very wrong.”
In a similar vein, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said Mr Trump’s characterisation of the violence missed the mark.
“Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight. One of them murdered a young woman in an act of domestic terrorism, and two of our finest officers were killed in a tragic accident while serving to protect this community. This was not ‘both sides,'” he said.
A tweet by former president Barack Obama soon after the violence had garnered 2.8 million “likes” to become the most liked Twitter message ever by yesterday, the social media network said.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…” pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) August 16, 2017
Administration officials, hoping to put the controversy behind them after the remarks on Monday, worried that the controversy would now last for days and, potentially, affect the president’s ability to achieve legislative and policy goals.
Asked about the White House’s next steps, one official said: “I think next steps are just to stop talking.”
US trade union federation president quits Trump council
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labour federation representing 12.5 million workers, became the latest member of Mr Trump’s advisory American Manufacturing Council to resign in protest.
“We cannot sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism,” Mr Trumka said.
“President Trump’s remarks today repudiate his forced remarks yesterday about the KKK and neo-Nazis.”
I cannot sit on a council for a President that tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism; I resign, effective immediately. pic.twitter.com/ip6F2nsoog
— Richard L. Trumka (@RichardTrumka) August 15, 2017
Three other members of the council – the chief executives of pharmaceutical maker Merck & Co Inc, sportswear company Under Armour Inc and computer chipmaker Intel Corp- resigned on Monday.
In yesterday’s remarks, Mr Trump also sympathised with protesters seeking to keep Lee’s statue in place but offered no equivalent remarks for those who favoured its removal.
“You had people in that group … that were there to protest the taking down of a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E Lee to another name,” he said.
Trump says many people were protesting the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee and equates Lee with Washington and Jefferson pic.twitter.com/WMQHSz3Ca7
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) August 16, 2017
Mr Trump also grouped former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two of the nation’s founding fathers, together with Confederate leaders such as Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, who fought to separate Southern states from the Union, noting that all were slave owners.
“Was George Washington a slave owner? Will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? … Because he was a major slave owner,” Mr Trump said.