Bipartisan disapproval of response to Charlottesville protests
One dead in car-ramming incident as FBI opens investigation
The president spoke after two days of violent protests in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, triggered by a “Unite the Right” rally organized to protest the removal of statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The pedestrian died after a car struck counter-protesters. The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a civil-rights probe into the incident.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, violence -- on many sides,” Trump said in Bedminster, New Jersey, in brief remarks before signing legislation extending a program allowing veterans to receive private health care. “We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history -- together.”
Even as Trump called on the nation to unite, many faulted the president -- and his reference to “many sides” -- for not strongly coming out against the type of far-right groups that supported his campaign and organized the weekend’s events.
The president’s daughter Ivanka, a White House adviser, on Sunday tweeted: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis. We must all come together as Americans -- and be one country UNITED.”
The Charlottesville police chief said a driver was in custody after a 32-year-old woman died and 19 sustained injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening when a car hit counter-protesters in downtown Charlottesville. A further 15 injuries were reported in connection with the protests, police said. Two state police troopers died when their helicopter crashed nearby.
Murder ChargeThe city government identified the driver of the car that hit the pedestrians as James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Ohio resident, and said he’s been charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one of a hit-and-run.
Earlier Saturday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency after violent run-ins between thousands of the demonstrators, counter-protesters and supporters of the activist group Black Lives Matter. Some of the white nationalists reportedly chanted anti-Semitic slogans. Television images showed police in riot gear among the crowd, and helicopters circling overhead.
At a press conference, McAuliffe addressed “the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today -- our message is plain and simple: go home. You are not wanted in this great Commonwealth. Shame on you.”
By contrast, in his comments in New Jersey and in a Twitter message earlier Saturday, Trump avoided direct references to the white nationalists, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates and other right-wing activists who congregated in the city and on the campus of UVA, which was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson.
‘Come Together’In his tweet, he said, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” He later added that the situation in Charlottesville was “sad!" Trump also called for “a swift restoration of law and order.”
While he condemned Saturday’s violence, Trump has not always forcefully denounced far-right nationalists, early supporters of his presidential campaign.
One of the best-known white supremacists in the U.S, former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana lawmaker David Duke, tweeted at Trump: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group based in Montgomery, Alabama, sent a blast fund-raising email calling Trump’s comments about unity “hollow.”
Lawmakers were also quick to respond.
‘Hateful Policies’“Make no mistake –- these insidious psychologies have been given license to be brought out in the open air by a president that openly seized upon these hatreds during his campaign, and continues to traffic in divisive rhetoric and hateful policies in the White House,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement.
The Congressional Black Caucus tweeted that Trump’s “false equivalency, dog whistles are sad. White supremacy is to blame.”
Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans were just as blunt.
“We should call evil by its name,” said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, among the losers to Trump for the Republican nomination for president, tweeted that it was “Very important for the nation to hear Potus describe events in Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by white supremacists.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, another defeated candidate, said the car-ramming incident was a “grotesque act of domestic terrorism,” and called for the Department of Justice to investigate.
Call Out ‘Evil’“Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” said Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. And Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, a Republican, said on Twitter that “White supremacists, Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antithesis of our American values. There are no other ‘sides’ to hatred and bigotry.”
First lady Melania Trump, in a rare foray into a contentious issue, tweeted earlier: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence.”
More than an hour before Trump’s first tweet, House Speaker Paul Ryan had offered a comment, saying on Twitter, “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”
Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney and co-founder of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, said he was “outraged and disgusted with what is occurring right now in Charlottesville,” noting that he’s the son of a Holocaust survivor.
“As a group that consists of millions of Americans of different races, religions, creeds and colors -- these actions will not go unnoticed,” he said. “The coalition stands with and supports the president’s message condemning these individuals and what they stand for."
— With assistance by Laura J Keller