President Trump’s response to Saturday’s fatal racial clash in Charlottesville, Virginia drew widespread criticism on Saturday from civil rights groups and lawmakers of both parties who said the president did not go far enough to condemn the white supremacists who provoked the violent mayhem.
One person was killed and nine pedestrians suffered minor to life-threatening injuries after a car plowed into a crowd of counter protestors at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. The impact sent bodies flying and left many sprawled in the streets, lying in pools of blood.
Trump condemned the incident as an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time,” Trump said, speaking at an event in Bedminster, N.J.,
“The hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now,” Trump added. “We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection — really — and I say this so strongly — true affection for each other.”
But at no point did Trump mention white supremacists, white nationalists or groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, whose participation in the event and inflammatory rhetoric precipitated numerous violent skirmishes before the fatal auto collision. He also did not call the violence “terrorism.”
Republicans and African-American leaders both condemned Trump’s failure to directly blame the white supremacists in Charlottesville.
“We should call evil by its name,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, tweeted. “My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."
Florida Republican Marco Rubio urged Trump to call the violence terrorism: "Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists."
“We expect from our president not mollifying words of appeasement,” former NAACP president Cornell Brooks said on CNN. “We seek words of strength and firmness when it comes to dealing with white nationalists. He said nothing in that statement that would cause any portion of his base to get the message that it’s not a mark of American greatness to drive a car into a crowd of people sending their bodies everywhere.”
Some lawmakers and civil rights leaders went so far as to blame the known alt-right leaders surrounding Trump for kindling racial hatred.
NAACP interim president Derrick Johnson urged Trump to fire strategist Steve Bannon, who he called a “known racial supremacist.”
“The atmosphere that’s been created by this administration created the incidents that have happened over the last 48 hours,” Johnson said.
Trump often has talked casually, even dismissively of violence, once telling supporters at a political rally that he would pay their legal fees if they assaulted protestors at the event. And after recently telling a gathering of police to be more physical with suspects, police officials nationwide condemned the president’s comments.
“The fact of the matter is this president is trying to have it both ways. To speak to the country in ways that are just morally sufficient to suggest that he cares about the problem without alienating the very people who support him, who are quite willing to victimize other Americans,” Brooks said.
As violent skirmishes at the rally escalated during the day, Trump, before the attack by car, tweeted: “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!”
That quickly drew a response from Trump supporter and former Klan leader David Duke, who attended the event.
On Twitter, Duke told Trump: “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.”
By virtue of his words, policies and embrace of “alt-right” supporters, many said Trump couldn’t provide the moral leadership needed in times of racial strife.
“Donald Trump has no credibility to serve as a calming influence on matters of racial unrest,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department under Barack Obama. “In his remarks today, he refused to call out the white supremacists marching in his name. He and his administration pursue policies and use rhetoric that embolden racism and bigotry.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-AZ, on CNN said Trump’s “alt-right’ advisors, including Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, have hurt the president’s ability to lead on matters of race.
“We’ve seen him condemn violence involving people of color and involving Muslims, but somehow, when white nationalists, or alt right or outright racists are involved,” he tries to sidestep direct criticism, Gallego said. “The fact is the president has already surrounded himself in his office with alt right heroes and white nationalists.”
“If he wants to see what we should do, he should start first with the rhetoric that he’s been pushing for the last eight years and also look internally and see who’s working for him right now. Many of them are actually part of the problem,” Gallego added.