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President Donald Trump drew criticism over the weekend from Republicans and Democrats alike for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists in the aftermath of violent clashes in Virginia, with lawmakers saying he needed to take a public stand against groups that espouse racism and hate.
Trump, while on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club, addressed the nation Saturday soon after a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, a college town where neo-Nazis and white nationalists had assembled for march. The president did not single out any group, instead blaming “many sides” for the violence.
“Hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now,” he said. “We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and … true affection for each other.”
The president condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He added: “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”
Trump did not answer questions from reporters about whether he rejected the support of white nationalists or whether he believed the car crash was an example of domestic terrorism.
On Sunday, the White House issued a statement seeking to expand on Trump’s remarks: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred and of course that includes white Supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups,” according to a White House spokesperson. “He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
The White House would not attach a staffer’s name to the statement.
On Monday, Trump televised a follow-up statement, in which he specifically called out the “hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” calling the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists “repugnant.”
After two days of criticism, Trump appeared to be clarifying his stance when he spoke from the White House. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. … No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws. We all salute the same great flag and we are all made by the same almighty God.”
— CNN (@CNN) August 14, 2017
Aides who appeared on the Sunday morning news shows said the White House did believe in condemning the specific hate groups, but many fellow Republicans had demanded that Trump personally denounce the white supremacists.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., tweeted: “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” Added Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.” Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a staunch Trump supporter, wrote: “We reject the racism and violence of white nationalists like the ones acting out in Charlottesville. Everyone in leadership must speak out.”
On the Democrat side, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said “of course we condemn ALL that hate stands for. Until @POTUS specifically condemns alt-right action in Charlottesville, he hasn’t done his job.”
The president’s only public statement early Sunday was a retweet saluting two Virginia state police officers killed in helicopter crash after being dispatched to monitor the Charlottesville clashes. The previous day, Trump tweeted condolences to those officers soon after the helicopter crashed. His tweet sending condolences to the woman killed in the protests came more than five hours after the incident.
Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Sunday that he considered the attack in Charlottesville to be terrorism.
“I certainly think anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism,” McMaster told ABC’s This Week. It meets the definition of terrorism. But what this is, what you see here, is you see someone who is a criminal, who is committing a criminal act against fellow Americans.”
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who also appeared on This Week, said he wouldn’t have “recommended” the statement made by Trump and that he would advised something “much harsher.”
“With the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out,” Scaramucci said, calling out the influence of the website Breitbart and chief strategist Steve Bannon as a “sort of ‘Bannon-bart’ influence” in the White House. The appearance was Scaramucci’s first since leaving his post as White House communications director.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House aide, tweeted Sunday morning: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”
White nationalists had assembled in Charlottesville to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters massed in opposition. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car drove into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the rally. The driver was later taken into custody.
Alt-right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke attended the demonstrations. Duke told reporters that the white nationalists were working to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”
Trump’s speech also drew praise from the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, which wrote: “Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. … No condemnation at all.”
The website had been promoting the Charlottesville demonstration as part of its “Summer of Hate” edition.
Trump, as a candidate, frequently came under scrutiny for being slow to offer his condemnation of white supremacists. His strongest denunciation of the movement has not come voluntarily, only when asked, and he occasionally trafficked in retweets of racist social media posts during his campaign. Bannon once declared that his former news site, Breitbart, was “the platform for the alt-right.”
Aug. 14, 12:55 p.m.: Updated with Trump’s Monday address.
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