President Donald Trump’s remarks condemning violence at a white nationalist rally were meant to include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the White House insisted on Sunday, a day after he was criticized across the political spectrum for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists.
U.S. authorities are investigating the outbreak of violence in Virginia, which has put new pressure on the Trump administration to take an unequivocal stand against that segment of his political base. Some rightists have claimed allegiance to Trump, a Republican.
A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 injured, five critically, on Saturday when a man plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally in the Southern college town of Charlottesville. Another 15 people were injured after rival groups fought pitched battles using their fists, rocks and pepper spray in the streets.
Democrats and Republicans criticized Trump for waiting too long to address the violence and when he did so, failing to explicitly condemn the white-supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.
On Sunday, however, the White House said: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
The statement was emailed to reporters covering Trump at his golf resort in New Jersey and attributed to an unidentified “White House spokesperson.”
On Saturday, Trump had said that “many sides” were involved in Charlottesville. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.
On Sunday TV shows, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, a Democrat, said the police response was adequate with nearly 1,000 law enforcement personnel assembled. Signer blamed Trump for the violence, starting with the 2016 election campaign.
“Look at the campaign he ran … there is two words that need to be said over and over again, domestic terrorism and white supremacy. That is exactly what we saw on display this weekend,” Signer said on CNN’s “State of the Nation”.
Solidarity With Charlottesville
Across the United States, events were planned on Sunday to “stand in solidarity with Charlottesville … honor all those under attack by congregating against hate” a loose coalition of civil society groups said in postings on social media.
Virginia police have not yet provided a motive for a man who rammed a car into the crowd, but U.S. prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation, an FBI field office said.
Four people have been arrested, including James Fields, a 20-year-old white man from Ohio who is being held in jail on suspicion of deliberately crashing the car.
Federal authorities were also looking into a helicopter crash on Saturday that killed two Virginia state policemen aiding efforts to quell the clashes.
On Sunday morning, before the White House statement, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, appealed on Twitter for Americans to “be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville.” She also posted: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”
Also before the statement, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the Republican Party’s Senate election effort, called on the president to condemn “white supremacists” and to use the term. He was one of several Republican senators who squarely criticized Trump on Twitter on Saturday.
“Calling out people for their acts of evil – let’s do it today – white nationalist, white supremacist,” Gardner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday. “We will not stand for their hate.”
An organizer of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of Confederate army commander General Robert E. Lee’s statue from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down. The rally stemmed from a long debate in the U.S. South over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over slavery.
Organizer Jason Kessler, whom civil rights groups identified as a white nationalist blogger, attempted to hold a press conference outside city hall in Charlottesville on Sunday, but was quickly shouted down by counter-protesters. They then approached Kessler, who was quickly taken away by state police.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, declared an emergency and halted Saturday’s planned rally, but that did not stop the violence.
“There is no place for you here,” McAuliffe said, addressing white supremacists. “There is no place for you in America.”
The Charlottesville violence is the latest clash between far-rightists and the president’s opponents. At his January inauguration, black-clad anti-Trump protesters in Washington smashed windows, torched cars and clashed with police, leading to more than 200 arrests.