The White House has said Donald Trump condemns white supremacist groups, after the President received backlash for what critics viewed as an equivocal response to a white nationalist protest that turned deadly.
“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,” the White House said. “He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
Mr Trump on Saturday did not directly denounce the actions of the neo-Nazis, skinheads, and members of the KKK who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia earlier that day to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. The rally of white nationalists, met by counter-protests, quickly became violent, prompting the state governor to declare a ‘state of emergency’.
While most of the brawling resulted in cuts and bruises, a car bearing Ohio license plates slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman. More than 30 people are reported to have been injured, at least 19 in the car crash. James Fields, 20, who was driving the car, has been charged with second-degree murder.
Additionally, two Virginia state troopers en route to the scene were killed when their helicopter crashed, according to NPR.
Speaking from a stage at his golf club in New Jersey, President Trump on Saturday decried “violence on all sides” rather than explicitly taking aim at far-right extremists, some of whom are his supporters.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said. “On many sides.”
Neo-nazis applauded Mr Trump’s first response to the violent clashes, saying that it was “really, really good” that the President did not condemn them.
The founder of Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi and white supremacist site which considers itself to be part of the alt-right movement, hailed the fact that Mr Trump “outright refused to disavow” the gathering of white supremacists.
“People saying he cucked are shills and kikes,” said the site’s editor Andrew Anglin. “He did the opposite of cuck. He refused to even mention anything to do with us. When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room.”
Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress were critical of Mr Trump’s tepid condemnation on Saturday of the violence in Virginia, viewing his comments as muted and equivocal.
“Mr President – we must call evil by its name,” said Republican Senator Cory Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
Senator Orrin Hatch wrote that his brother “didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home”.
Meanwhile, some Democrats suggested that Mr Trump was unwilling to alienate the racist segment of his voter base. The alt-right – a name given to the group that has rejected mainstream conservatism in favour of white nationalism – drew considerable controversy during Mr Trump’s bid for the White House.
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, said in a tweet directed at the President: “Repeat after me, @realDonaldTrump: white supremacy is an affront to American values.”
Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer blamed Mr Trump for inflaming racial prejudice while he was running for president, saying, “I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the President.”
In an interview on Sunday with CNN, Thomas Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, dismissed any suggestion that Mr Trump had failed to adequately denounce white supremacists.
Mr. Bossert praised the first statement the president made, saying that Mr. Trump had appropriately criticized an event that “turned into an unacceptable level of violence at all levels.”
“This isn’t about President Trump — this is about a level of violence and hatred that could not be tolerated in this country,” Mr. Bossert said on the network’s “State of the Union” programme with Jake Tapper. “I was with the president yesterday, and I’m proud of the fact that he stood up and calmly looked into the camera and condemned this violence and bigotry in all its forms. This racial intolerance and racial bigotry cannot be condoned.”
Mr Tapper responded by citing a white nationalist website that said Mr Trump’s remarks were “really, really good.” He then asked Mr Bossert: “Are you at least willing to concede that the President was not clear enough in condemning white supremacy?”
Mr Bossert replied that Mr. Trump “didn’t dignify the names of these groups of people, but rather addressed the fundamental issue.”
On Sunday morning, Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father, used Twitter to denounce the violence in Charlottesville.
“There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis,” she wrote.