Charlottesville: Trump under fire after failing to denounce white supremacists

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President laments ‘hatred, bigotry and violence from all sides’ but senior Republicans and Democrats demand direct condemnation of far-right extremists

Donald Trump speaks about violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Donald Trump has faced a hail of criticism after failing to explicitly condemn violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in a car running into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing at least one person.

The president said he condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides”. But both Republicans and Democrats quickly lined up to call for a specific denunciation of the white nationalists responsible for the “Unite the Right” rally and its deadly outcome.

The clashes started after the far-right extremists planned a rally around a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee that is slated to be removed. A White House spokesperson later amplified the president’s remarks, telling the Guardian: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter-protesters today.”

Speaking at a previously scheduled event in Bedminster, New Jersey, to discuss healthcare for veterans, Trump said: “I should put out a comment as to what’s going on in Charlottesville.”

After stopping to shake the hands of the assembled veterans, the president said: “We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Trump added that this had been “going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. A long, long time.” Trump added: “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order.”

Trump urged Americans to “love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.”

But the Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was among those calling for a straightforward condemnation:

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election, issued a string of tweets, several of them striking implicitly at Trump and the emboldening of extremists it had wrought. “The incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets,” Clinton said.

The Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement: “The march and rally in Charlottesville goes against everything the American flag stands for. President Trump must condemn this in the strongest terms immediately.” The Hawaii senator Brian Schatz offered a pointed comment on Twitter: “It is not too much to ask to have a President who explicitly condemns nazis.”

The leftwing Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders rejected Trump’s characterisation of violence from all sides:

There was also a riposte from Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring, who said the violence was not the fault of “many sides” but of “racists and white supremacists”.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and father of the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, issued a strident tweet about white nationalism. “‘White supremacy’ crap is worst kind of racism – it’s EVIL and perversion of God’s truth to ever think our Creator values some above others,” Huckabee said on Twitter.

The Republican House speaker, Paul Ryan, tweeted: “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”

: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville” at 12:36 on Saturday.

The president did not issue a statement until 40 minutes later, when he said on Twitter: “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!”

David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan who was the subject of controversy during the 2016 campaign when Trump did not immediately condemn his endorsement, pushed back on this initial tweet. “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,” responded Duke, who was in Charlottesville.

Trump did not specifically mention Charlottesville until a following statement on Twitter, in which he described the clashes as “Sad!” Trump tweeted: “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”

The president also bemoaned that the clashes were happening when “our country is doing so well in so many ways”, citing low unemployment and the renegotiation of trade deals. He noted: “We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.”

The White House response also included a since deleted tweet from the homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, in which he condemned “the violence and hate in Charlotte”. The city of Charlotte is in North Carolina.



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