President Donald Trump blamed what he called “alt-left” protesters for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, where a Nazi sympathizer carried out a vehicular terrorist attack that left one woman dead and 19 others injured and where white nationalists and their supporters brutally beat peaceful anti-racist counter-protesters.
“There’s two sides to every story,” the president said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in New York. “There’s blame on both sides.”
Trump’s remarks came after he was asked about the alt-right, the loosely defined group of people with far-right views, often of a nationalist, racist and xenophobic nature, who were instrumental in the billionaire businessman’s rise to power. Prominent alt-right figures, including former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to a Nazi-linked group in his native Hungary, have been appointed to top Trump administration positions.
“What about the alt-left?” the president asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging and swinging clubs? As far as I’m concerned… you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that’s very violent. Nobody wants to say that but I’ll say it now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very violent.”
Although there were some reports of fringe participants and antifascist activists, including members of the Antifa movement, wielding weapons and acting violently, most of the Charlottesville violence was committed by the white nationalist side, some of whom were armed with semi-automatic assault rifles and other weapons of war in the open carry state.
“They were beating me with poles,” special education professional and aspiring hip-hop artist Deandre Harris, 20, told The Root. “I have eight staples in my head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth. “The beating happened right beside the Police Department, and no police were there to help me at all.”
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and social justice activist, was killed and 19 others were wounded when James Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer from Ohio, plowed into a crowd of antifascist demonstrators protesting the rally. “Heather was not about hate, Heather was about stopping hatred,” the victim’s mother, Susan Bro, toldthe Huffington Post. “Heather was about bringing an end to injustice. I don’t want her death to be a focus for more hatred, I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion.”
When asked if he considered the “alt-left” to be as bad as Nazis, Trump said that “not all of those people were neo-Nazis.”
“Not all of those people were white nationalists, by any stretch,” the president asserted. “People were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of [racist Confederate President] Robert E. Lee.”
“This week it was Robert E. Lee,” said Trump. “I notice that [a statue of Confederate General] Stonewall Jackson is coming down. George Washington was a slave owner. Is he now going to lose his status? How about Thomas Jefferson? He was a big slave owner.”
“You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
“You’re changing history,” Trump said to no one in particular. “You’re changing culture.”
Critics blasted the president’s apparent inability to tell the difference between white nationalists, some of whom advocate race war, genocide and the extermination or expulsion of non-whites from the United States, and the anti-fascist protesters who put their lives on the line to resist a scourge that killed tens of millions of people in the 20th century.
“Neo Nazis themselves could not have scripted a better rant for Trump,” tweeted former Obama administration green jobs advisor Van Jones. “This is a green light for white supremacist violence.”
“From the beginning, President Trump has sheltered and encouraged the forces of bigotry and discrimination,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement. “We have seen the manifestation of this behavior in the hiring of White House staff members, but also in the unmistakable conduct of his administration toward immigrants, Muslims, and communities of color. There is only one side to be on when a white supremacist mob brutalizes and murders in America. The American people deserve a president who understands that.”
Even Republicans condemned Trump’s latest remarks. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) tweeted, “Blaming ‘both sides’ for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.”
As they did after Trump took two days to condemn the Charlottesville attack — compared to just 54 minutes to tweet-trash Merck CEO Ken Frazer after he quit the presidential advisory council on manufacturing in response to the president’s silence, leading white supremacists again praised Trump following Tuesday’s press conference.
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard and ardent Trump supporter David Duke tweeted.