Trump Dives Back Into Charlottesville Controversy, Denounces ‘Alt Left Violence’
President Donald Trump waded back into the controversy arising from last weekend’s far right rally in Charlottesville, as he seemingly walked back comments made on Monday that placed the blame for the violence on Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi and racist groups.
As was the case with his initial reaction to the violence at the rally, Trump again drew an equivalence between the far right and anti-fascist protesters in his comments on Tuesday afternoon.
“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said during a visit to New York. “No one wants to say that, but 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.”
Trump pointedly added that in making his assessment of the violence, “I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters.” The president also referred to the anti-fascist counter-marchers as the “alt left,” in a dig at concerns that the “alt right” exercises too much influence over his administration.
At least 34 people were injured in clashes that accompanied the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which used as its focal point the planned removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the most prominent Confederate military leader during the US Civil War. One anti-fascist protester, 32 year-old Heather D. Heyer, was killed along with two state troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates.
Throughout the day, right-wing extremists brandished Nazi swastikas and KKK symbols, with a substantial contingent from the militia movement carrying weapons along the rally’s route. Openly Nazi slogans such as “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” were frequently chanted.
On Tuesday, Trump refused to say whether he shared the view of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the murder of Heyer in a car ramming attack amounts to “domestic terrorism,” dismissing the discussion as an “exercise in semantics.”
Trump closed his remarks by appearing to compare George Washington, the first president of the United States, with Gen. Lee – whose mission was to achieve the permanent secession of the South from the United States through the use of military force.
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson (another prominent Confederate general). Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
When reporters pressed the president on his comparison of Washington and Lee, Trump responded that both Washington and Thomas Jefferson, his fellow Founding Father, had been slave-owners, asking if their statues should be removed as well.
The president forcefully disputed claims that the rally was a neo-Nazi event. “Those people – all of those people, excuse me – I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” Trump told the crowd of reporters. “I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”