US president Donald Trump angrily defended himself last night against criticism that he did not specifically condemn Nazi and white supremacist groups following last weekend's deadly racial unrest in Virginia.
In a long, combative exchange with reporters at Trump Tower in New York, the president repeatedly rejected a torrent of bipartisan criticism for waiting several days before naming the right-wing groups and placing blame on “many sides” for the violence on Saturday that ended with the death of a young woman after a car ploughed into a crowd.
He said that “before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”
And he criticised "alt-left" groups that he claimed were "very, very violent" when they sought to confront the nationalist and Nazi groups that had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest at the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee from a park. He insisted there was "blame on both sides."
David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, praised Mr Trump's comments as a condemnation of "leftist terrorists."
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville,” Mr Duke said in a Twitter post.
Mr Trump told reporters he had not consulted Stephen Bannon, his embattled chief strategist, about the decision not to initially explicitly condemn the hate groups.
But he said Mr Bannon, who formerly ran Breitbart News and has embraced the “alt right”, was not a racist. At the same time, Mr Trump said “we’ll see what happens” when asked about Mr Bannon’s future.
The president’s breathtaking statements inflamed and stunned people across Twitter. “Blaming ‘both sides’ for #Charlottesville?! No,” wrote Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.”
"No words," said Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat.
Mr Trump unleashed a torrent of frustration at the news media, saying they were being “fake” because they did not acknowledge that his initial statement about the Charlottesville protest was “very nice”.
The president's raw and emotional eruption during a news conference about repairing infrastructure was a rejection of the more measured language about the unrest Mr Trump offered in a brief statement on Monday from the White House.
“There are two sides to a story”, Mr Trump said on Monday. “I thought what took place was horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.”
Lack of information
Mr Trump said his initial statement on Saturday was shaped by a lack of information about the events on the ground in Charlottesville, even though television statements had been broadcasting images of the violence throughout the morning. “There was no way of making a correct statement that early,” the president said.
“I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts.”
He said that he believes there were “bad” people on both sides, and he criticised others for being unwilling to say that.
“You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” the president said.
“Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
– (New York Times service/ Bloomberg)