Donald Trump says ‘both sides to blame’ for Charlottesville violence
Clashes surrounding far-right rally in Virginia over the weekend turned fatal
US president Donald Trump has said both sides were to blame for the clashes that surrounded a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.
He said that protesters on the political left violently attacked white nationalists rallying against a decision to remove a Confederate statue.
Mr Trump had been sharply criticised for his initial comments blaming “many sides” for the violence, but eventually explicitly condemned right-wing racist elements on Monday.
Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Trump said the groups “came at each other with clubs...it was a horrible thing to watch” before adding that left-wing protesters “came violently attacking the other group.”
In a long and combative exchange with reporters at Trump Tower in Manhattan, the president insisted he did nothing wrong on Saturday when he declined to specifically condemn Nazi and white supremacist groups.
“The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement, but you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts.”
Mr Trump again placed blame on “many sides” for the violence and criticised “alt-left” groups who he claimed were “very, very violent” when they sought to confront the nationalist and Nazi groups.
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” he said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
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
We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) August 15, 2017
The President of the United States just defended neo-Nazis and blamed those who condemn their racism and hate. This is sick.— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 15, 2017
Street brawls broke out as the white nationalists were met by crowds of anti-racism demonstrators. A car then plowed into a group of the counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people.
A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harbored Nazi sympathies, was charged with murder, malicious wounding and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
Mr Trump defended those gathered in the park to protest the statue’s removal, saying, “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
The president was speaking at what was supposed to be an announcement of his administration’s infrastructure policy.
Mr Trump also described business leaders who quit a presidential advisory panel in protest over his response to the rally as “grandstanders.”
He has faced a storm of criticism from Democrats and members of his own Republican Party over his initial response to Saturday’s violence around the rally in the Southern college town.
Three business leaders quit a Trump panel in protest on Monday and on Tuesday, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said on Twitter he was also resigning “because it is the right thing for me to do.”
Wal-Mart chief executive Officer Doug McMillon, the biggest private employer in the US with 1.5 million staff, said he would remain on the council “to help bring people together” but criticised the president. Johnson & Johnson chief executive Alex Gorsky also said he would remain on the panel.
“As we watched the events and the response from President Trump over the weekend, we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists,” Mr McMillon wrote in a note to employees Monday evening.
The note was later posted on a company website which was accessible to the public.
Mr Gorsky said in a statement that “...if we aren’t there standing up for our belief in diversity and inclusion, or if we fail to speak out when the situation demands it, then we have abdicated our...responsibility.”
Mr Trump bowed on Monday to two days of pressure for a more forceful response, singling out groups behind the “Unite the Right” rally that were widely seen as stoking the disturbances. But he was still clearly frustrated over the reaction to his response.
“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!” Mr Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday.