Donald Trump condemned hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides” after violence erupted during a white nationalists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and an incident involving a car at the scene left one person dead and 19 injured.
The president spoke in Bedminster, New Jersey, after two days of violent protests capped by an incident, details of which are still emerging, where a car at the scene plowed into the crowd, leaving one person dead and the driver under arrest.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, violence — on many sides,” Trump said in brief remarks before signing legislation extending a program allowing veterans to receive private health care. “We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history — together.”
Even as Trump was calling on the nation to unite, some criticized the president — and his reference to “many sides” — for not strongly coming out against the type of far-right groups that supported his campaign.
“We should call evil by its name,” said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of several Republican lawmakers to comment. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
The Charlottesville Police Department said a driver was in custody after one person was killed and 19 hurt when a car hit protesters during the events in downtown Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia. Another 15 injuries were reported in connection with the protests, police said.
Driver in Custody
Miriam Dicker, a police spokeswoman, said she wouldn’t speak to whether or not the incident was intentional. Police earlier described a “three vehicle accident” in a statement on its Facebook page.
In his comments in New Jersey and in an earlier Twitter message Saturday, Trump avoided direct references to the white nationalists, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates and other right-wing activists who congregated in a park to protest the city’s vote to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In his tweet, he said, “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!” He later added that the situation in Charlottesville was “sad!" Trump also called for “a swift restoration of law and order.”
While he condemned Saturday’s violence, Trump has not always forcefully denounced far-right nationalists, who supported his outsider campaign for president.
One of the best-known white supremacists in the U.S, former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana lawmaker David Duke, tweeted at 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.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, sent a blast fund-raising email calling Trump’s comments about unity “hollow.”
Lawmakers were also quick to respond.
“Make no mistake these insidious psychologies have been given license to be brought out in the open air by a president that openly seized upon these hatreds during his campaign, and continues to traffic in divisive rhetoric and hateful policies in the White House," said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, in a statement.
The Congressional Black Caucus tweeted that Trump’s “false equivalency, dog whistles are sad. White supremacy is to blame.”
Call Out Evil
Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans were blunt.
“Very important for the nation to hear Potus describe events in Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by white supremacists,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who lost to Trump for the Republican nomination for president last year, said on Twitter.
“Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” tweeted Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said on Twitter that “White supremacists, Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antithesis of our American values. There are no other sides’ to hatred and bigotry.”
Earlier Saturday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency following violent run-ins between thousands of the demonstrators, counter-protesters and supporters of the activist group Black Lives Matter. McAuliffe said “mostly out-of-state protesters” had been involved.
First Lady Melania Trump, in a rare foray into a contentious issue, tweeted earlier that “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence.”
More than an hour before Trump’s tweet, House Speaker Paul Ryan had offered a comment, tweeting, “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”
Other lawmakers had questioned Trump’s initial silence on skirmishes that started Friday night on the UVA campus. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont tweeted that “President Trump’s silence as # Charlottesville roils with racist and fascist provocation is shameful, irresponsible…and, DEFINING.”
Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney and co-founder of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, said he was“outraged and disgusted with what is occurring right now in Charlottesville,” noting that he’s the son of a Holocaust survivor.
“As a group that consists of millions of Americans of different races, religions, creeds and colors — these actions will not go unnoticed,” he said. “The coalition stands with and supports the president’s message condemning these individuals and what they stand for."
With assistance from Laura J. Keller