Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content
AP

Trump blames 'many sides' for violent clashes in Virginia

Profile image for Jonathan Lemire
Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press

BEDMINSTER, N.J. -- President Donald Trump on Saturday blamed "many sides" for the violent clashes between protesters and white supremacists in Virginia and maintained that the "hatred and bigotry" broadcast across the country had taken root long before his political ascendancy.

That was not how the Charlottesville mayor assessed the chaos that led the governor to declare a state of emergency, contending that Trump's campaign fed the flames of prejudice.

Trump, on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club, had intended to speak briefly at a ceremony marking the signing of bipartisan legislation to aid veterans, but he quickly found that those plans were overtaken by the escalating violence in the Virginia college town. One person died and at least 26 others were sent to the hospital after a car plowed into a group of peaceful anti-racist counterprotesters amid days of race-fueled marches and violent clashes.

Speaking slowly from a podium set up in the golf clubhouse, Trump said that he had just spoken to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va. "We agreed that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and ... true affection for each other," he said.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," said Trump. "It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time."

The president said that "what is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives."

After completing his statement and the bill signing, Trump then walked out of the room. He ignored reporters' shouted questions, including whether he wanted the support of white nationals who have said they backed him or if the car crash in Virginia were deemed intentional, would it be declared to be terrorism.

The previous two days, Trump took more than 50 questions from a small group of reporters. A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation as to what Trump mean by "many sides."

White nationalists had assembled in Charlottesville to vent their frustration against the city's plans to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters massed in opposition. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car drove into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the rally. The driver was later taken into custody.

Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

"I'm not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you're seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president," he said.

Disturbances began Friday night during a torch-lit march through the University of Virginia before escalating Saturday.

The White House was silent for hours except for a tweet from first lady Melania Trump: "Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts."

Trump later tweeted: "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for." He also said "there is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"

Trump, as a candidate, frequently came under scrutiny for being slow to offer his condemnation of white supremacists. His strongest denunciation of the movement has not come voluntarily, only when asked, and he occasionally trafficked in retweets of racist social media posts during his campaign. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, once declared that his former news site, Breitbart, was "the platform for the alt-right."

Other Republicans were far more explicit in their denunciation of white supremacists.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner tweeted "Mr. President -- we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wrote "Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists It's the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be."

And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, father of Trump's press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, posted "'White supremacy' crap is worst kind of racism-it's EVIL and perversion of God's truth to ever think our Creator values some above others."

FEATURED PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Reactions to President Trump's statement

President Donald Trump blamed "many sides" for violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the wake of a white nationalist demonstration.

His comments drew swift reactions. Democrats and some Republicans called on him to specifically denounce white supremacy and racially motivated hate by name.

What Trump said:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," Trump said. "It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time."

What others are saying:

"@POTUS needs to speak out against the poisonous resurgence of white supremacy. There are not "many sides" here, just right and wrong." -- Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on Twitter.

"As @POTUS Trump said, "We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation... & true affection for each other." #Charlottesville" -- Vice President Mike Pence on Twitter.

"Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy." -- Former President Bill Clinton 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. -OGH" -- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Twitter.

"We must ALL condemn domestic terror & stand together against racism, hate and evils that if left unchecked will tear us apart #Charlottesville -- Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Twitter.

"White supremacists, Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antithesis of our American values. There are no other 'sides' to hatred and bigotry." -- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., on Twitter.

"Trump comments were good. He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. ... No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him." -- Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website promoting the Charlottesville demonstration as part of its Summer of Hate edition.