In an apparent attempt at damage control, the White House clarified on Sunday that by condemning violence “on many sides” without explicitly attributing guilt, President Donald Trump did not aim to exculpate white supremacists.
A spokesman said the neo-Nazis are “of course” on the list.
A number of high-profile politicians from across the US political spectrum took aim at Trump for falling short of condemning white supremacists in his immediate comments on Saturday and instead settling for a generalized call for unity and rejection of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
The statement, issued by the White House Sunday, more than 24 hours after the onset of the violence in Charlottesville, purported to set the record straight.
Pointing out that Trump had “very strongly” condemned violence whatever its source, the statement went on to stress that “of course, that includes white supremacists, KKK [Ku Klux Klan], Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday also apparently sought to mitigate the negative effects of Trump’s rather vague initial statement telling a press conference in Cartegena, Colombia, that “we have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK.”
However, the damage had been already done. In the space before the belated follow-up clarification was issued, a host of Trump’s opponents along with Republican lawmakers were quick to call him out for hushing up what many view as the most important side of the story – the alleged white supremacist background of the driver who allegedly slammed his vehicle into counter-protesters, killing one, James Alex Fields Jr.
“Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists,” Senator Marco Rubio (R) tweeted.
Senator Cory Gardner (R) called on Trump to “call evil by its name” calling the attack, which is being treated by police as a “vehicular homicide,” an act of “domestic terrorism.”
If the language of Trump’s fellow Republicans was not strong enough, his political rivals have stepped the rhetoric up a notch.
“Having reflected, I have now concluded the #Charlottesville speech by @realDonaldTrump shows he is a coward. Hope he finds some courage soon,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) wrote.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), a fervent and a long-time critic of Trump, went as far as to pin the blame on the US leader for being on the same side as the far-right crowd.
“Trump refuses to condemn white supremacists & terrorists who showed up in Charlottesville. Is he sending a signal? Everyone must be careful,” Waters wrote, before adding “No, Trump. Not on many sides, your side.”
Trump refuses to condemn white supremacists & terrorists who showed up in Charlottesville. Is he sending a signal? Everyone must be careful.
— Maxine Waters (@MaxineWaters) August 13, 2017
However, it’s Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer who has apparently been the most direct at linking the tragic events in his city to Trump’s political agenda.
“Look at the campaign he ran,” Signer said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’, suggesting it had attracted and inspired racist groups in the country.
On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’, he commented: “Old saying: when you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change, the devil changes you.”
The White House clarification on the matter did little, it seems, to mend the situation and stop the uproar, as commentators displeased with its timing and obscure manner of delivery slammed Trump, a prolific social media-user, for not speaking up himself.
“White House criticizes media for using anonymous sources, then WH cowardly issues an anonymous statement that POTUS meant more than he said,” former US Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub wrote, noting that no official statement was put on the White House website regarding the protests.
White House puts out an ANONYMOUS statement condemning white supremacists. Gee, I guess Trump lost his phone or broke his twitter fingers.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) August 13, 2017
Some witty Twitter users compared Trump’s silence on the issue to the statement by Tiki, a company that makes torches used by white supremacists at the rally, which outright rejected any association with right-wing violence.
Lawyer and filmmaker Mike Cernovich told RT that to say that violence is being generated on only one side of political extreme is to distort the facts.
“What we saw today is a part of a broader trend which actually started in what they call in America the Battle of Berkeley, there were some of these ‘alt-right’ [the white supremacists’ preferred rebranding term] events, they went to a park and then the left-wing groups, called Antifa, antifascists, but really [they] were not distinguished both from Nazis, they got in huge street fights in the middle of Berkeley like nothing I have ever seen,” Cernovich said.
Earlier this year a serious of violent protests shook the city of Berkeley, California, where anti-fascists clashed with far-right activists over the planned appearances by high-profile conservative figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. The appearances were eventually canceled under pressure from the protests.
Cernovich argued the media is partly to blame for publicizing the right-wing rallies, which otherwise would attract several hundred people at best who would protest peacefully and go home.
“Since the inauguration, America has been in a state nearly of civil war for the past several months and there has been a lot of violence on both sides,” Cernovich said.
Political cartoonist Ted Rall argued that Trump is at least partially to blame for the spike in what he sees as right-wing violence.
“The president is, I think, concerned that part of his base sympathizes with these people, so he doesn’t want to antagonize them and that’s only making things more dangerous,” Rall told RT.
Saying that over many decades he doesn’t remember “any torch light parades of far-right-wing, pro-KKK [Ku Klux Klan], pro-neo-Nazi people marching in the streets,” Rall warned that Trump might be “playing into the hands” of such opportunists “by trying to play the egalitarian card and saying that all sides need to be peaceful.”