On Tuesday, as part of a bizarre press conference, Donald Trump reversed course and defended his initial response to Saturday’s outbreak of violence in Charlottesville, which resulted in the deaths of three people.
In those remarks, Trump blamed “both sides” for the riots and skirmishes that spilled onto the streets of Charlottesville after white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and other members of the “alt-right” converged on the small Virginia college town for a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.
After receiving criticism from many, including prominent Republicans, for his initial response, on Monday, Trump issued a longer statement, in which he condemned neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the KKK.
But when the criticism failed to die down, Trump took to Twitter to complain that he was being attacked by biased news media.
“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!”
Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
Subsequently, Trump doubled down on his comments from Saturday, accusing the media of biased reporting when it chooses to highlight the involvement of right-wing extremist groups without reporting on the violent actions of left-wing counter-protesters who were also present in Charlottesville.
“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly,” Trump said in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York.
The president then seemed to justify the rationale behind the rally, asking if those objecting to the Lee statue would object to monuments to some of the nation’s founders because they owned slaves.
Trump’s defense of his initial remarks echoes arguments and talking points from by right-wing pundits, including Star Parker, who appeared on Fox News to place part of the blame for the violence on the “alt-left.”
“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.
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” he added. “You look at both sides — I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.”
Trump said he believes his initial statement on Saturday was sufficient in condemning the violence. He said his remarks were not stronger because he did not “know the facts” at the time.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct — not make a quick statement,” Trump said. “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. You still don’t know the facts. And it’s a very, very important process to me, and it’s a very important statement.
“There was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters,” he added later in the press conference.
When asked if a man who drove his car into a crowd of people, killing one counter-protester and injuring 19 others, was an example of domestic terrorism, Trump hedged. He called the driver a murderer but refused to condemn the attack as terrorism, despite his attorney general and national security advisor characterizing the attack as such.
“I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family, and this country,” Trump said. “And that is — you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as ‘the fastest one to come up with a good verdict.’ That’s what I’d call it. Because there is a question: Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
It remains unclear whether Trump’s attempt to rally his political base and paint right-leaning activists as being unfairly maligned by media will result in a rebound in his approval ratings.
Nonetheless, the president continues to receive criticism from elected officials, activists and media outlets.
“Blaming ‘both sides for #Charlottesville?! No,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) tweeted. “Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.”
Blaming "both sides" for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.
— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) August 15, 2017
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) also piled on the president, tweeting: “When someone shows you who they are, you believe them. Trump is again letting white supremacists off the hook for #Charlottesville violence.”
When someone shows you who they are, you believe them. Trump is again letting white supremacists off the hook for #Charlottesville violence.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) August 15, 2017
The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, tweeted: “There is only one side. Condemn white supremacy, loud and clear.”
There is only one side. Condemn white supremacy, loud and clear, @realDonaldTrump
— GLAAD (@glaad) August 15, 2017
But former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke, who was among the white nationalists involved in Saturday’s rally, tweeted his thanks to the president.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017