President Donald Trump sparked a backlash Saturday when he suggested “many sides” were to blame for the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia.
Democrats criticized the president for failing to single out white nationalists, and many Republicans issued statements mentioning white nationalism or white supremacists. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said on Twitter: “We should call evil by its name.”
In remarks from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he has been on a working vacation, Trump made the following statement: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
He added that hate and division in the country must stop, but that it is not linked to his presidency because it has “been going on for a long, long time.”
“No matter our color, creed, religion, our political party, we are all Americans first,” he said, adding that he’d like for his administration to “study” why such violence is occurring. He didn’t take questions from reporters.
Asked for clarification, a White House official later said: “The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”
But Democrats as well as some Republicans were quick to call out Trump’s language and apparent failure to single out white nationalists, who had organized Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally.
Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general, immediately tweeted that the “violence, chaos, and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides.’ It is racists and white supremacists.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others implored Trump to call the incidents at the rally — which included a car plowing through a crowd killing at least one person and injuring at least nine others — as a “terror attack” and “domestic terrorism” by white supremacists.
Other Republicans also spoke out, and used the words white nationalism or white supremacy. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted: “White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.”
Sen. Hatch, R-Utah, the longest serving Republican senator in history, said on Twitter: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie condemned the “racism and violence of white nationalists” and said “Everyone in leadership must speak out.” Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona called out “white supremacy” in condemning bigotry; and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa referred to white nationalists and called the violence “homegrown terrorism.”
Democrats also criticized Trump’s response. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted that Trump “needs to speak out against the poisonous resurgence of white supremacy. There are not ‘many sides’ here, just right and wrong.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, added that the president’s job is “moral leadership. He has failed. There are NOT many sides to this.”
Trump later tweeted condolences to the family of a woman killed when a car was driven into a group of counter-protesters at the rally, and expressed condolences to the families of two Virginia state police officers killed when the helicopter they were in to assist law enforcement efforts crashed.
Trump has been criticized in the past for taking too long to reject support from white supremacists.
During the 2016 election, Trump was endorsed by David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who also attended Saturday’s rally.
At the time, Trump told CNN: “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on.”
Earlier Saturday, the president and other lawmakers decried the events in Charlottesville, where demonstrators hurled bottles, punched and kicked one another, and shouted slurs and obscenities.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle agreed that such speech, which included racist and anti-Semitic slurs, should be condemned. Some emphasized that while they support freedom of speech and assembly, they do not condone the violence and racism seen in Charlottesville.
Ryan tweeted that the views expressed in the city were “repugnant” and “vile bigotry.”
A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 others were injured when a car plowed into counter-protesters, in an act that police are treating as a case of criminal homicide, police said. The suspected driver was arrested, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said.
Police said Saturday night that James Alex Fields, Jr., 20, was the person arrested and is charged with second-degree murder and other counts.
The “Unite the Right” rally was supposed to be in opposition to the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park.
State police and members of the Virginia National Guard surrounded the park after Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency before the noon start time and city officials declared the rally an unlawful assembly. That effectively ended the rally’s start, and Emancipation Park remained empty.
Duke responded to Trump’s earlier statements on Twitter in a series of his own tweets, reminding him “who put you in the presidency.”