How Donald Trump emboldened the US far right
Trump declined to attack the so-called
alt-right and sparred with reporters about what he termed the alt-left.
He urged reporters to define the alt-right to him and criticized the alt-left for charging at people without a permit. The counter-demonstrators were very, very violent, he said.
The president insisted to the assembled press that he knew more about the events in Charlottesville because he had watched this very closely, much more closely than you people watched it.
Trump added: You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.
He did condemn James Alex Fields Jr, the man who drove a car into counter-demonstrators, saying he is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country and calling him a murderer.
The presidents remarks were, according to senior aides who spoke anonymously to
CNN and NBC, not planned and surprised members of his staff who had hoped he would stick to talking about infrastructure.
He also fired back at media criticism of his initial response to the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, when he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides rather than explicitly calling out neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Trump said: I wanted to make sure that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday was a fine statement.
was widely criticized by lawmakers from both parties, including senior Republicans who were quick to describe the events as an act of domestic terrorism.
Trump, who said before I make a statement I need the facts, has long been prone to weighing in on breaking news events without the full information. In June, he
condemned what he called a terrorist attack in the Philippines. The attack was actually a failed attempt to rob a casino in Manila.
In addition to his comments about Charlottesville, the president also weighed in on White House intrigue and seemed to throw into doubt the
future of his top aide, Steve Bannon.
Although he said Bannon was not a racist and I like Mr Bannon, hes a friend of mine, Trump did not offer any guarantees of job security to the former editor of the Breitbart news organisation. Well see what happens, Trump said of Bannons continued employment at the White House.
The event was intended to host an announcement of an executive order to speed the infrastructure permitting process. Trump stood flanked by the chair of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, and the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, on one side and by the secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, on the other. Both Cohn and Mnuchin are Jewish and Chao is Asian American.
The new chief of staff, John Kelly, stood off to the side, where he was photographed with his arms folded, holding his head down as he stared blankly at the floor.
The event was cacophonous as shouted questions and irritated answers bounced off the marbled foyer outside of the golden elevators of Trump Tower, the scene of many memorable remarks by Trump, including his campaign announcement on 16 June 2015, when he claimed the Mexican government was deliberately
sending criminals and rapists into the US.
Trumps remarks on Tuesday met immediate criticism from both parties. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the most senior Republican on Capitol Hill, reprised remarks about his brother who died in the second world war.
I was just eight years old when my older brother Jesse was killed in world war two, Hatch wrote
on Instagram. As I said on Saturday, Jesse didnt give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. I will never hesitate to speak out against hate whenever and wherever I see it.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also criticized Trumps remarks. The former presidential candidate
tweeted: The organizers of events which inspired & led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons.
went on to note: Mr President,you cant allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain. And he added: the #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win. We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected.
The House speaker, Paul Ryan,
weighed in on Twitter as well, but did not directly mention Trumps comments: We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.
On the left, the Democratic senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii
tweeted: As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President.
Trumps press conference did draw praise from
David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who was one of the protesters in Charlottesville on Saturday. Duke tweeted:
At the site of Heyers death in downtown Charlottesville, mounds of flowers and chalked messages of remembrance fanned out on the road. A lone trumpeter played a sombre tune, as word of Trumps comments spread among those who had gathered to mourn. Rather than a sense of disappointment, many here had come to expect such divisive, off the cuff remarks.
Diane Townes, a 62-year-old African American working in education, said the comments were another example of Trump shaming the victims.
Pouting and blaming is not the way to show an example to young people, she said. He opened the gateway to this with his own gestures during the campaign.
Her son Mike Townes had heard the comments on the radio minutes before arriving at the memorial site.
Im actually glad hes saying it, Townes said. It is showing this country who he truly is. He represents the people who came to my community as supremacists. David Duke was right about him.
Eric Gilchrist, another mourner at the memorial, said: We know that he is selfish and vain, but now I worry he is a sociopath, too. He needs to leave office.
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