Under intense pressure from fellow Republicans, President Donald Trump on Monday forcefully condemned the Klu Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups after refusing to do so for two days after racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The central Virginia city was the scene of a car attack by a Nazi sympathizer that left a counter-protester dead and 19 others injured during the second day of rallies organized by white nationalists trying to stop the removal of a statute of Confederate military commander Robert E. Lee. But in remarks Saturday, Trump criticized groups on “many sides” and his silence about the Nazi and white supremacist groups continued throughout Sunday and into the first half of Monday.
But after returning to the White House earlier Monday morning, Trump struck a different tone
“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” the president told reporters in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.
The words will be welcomed by members of his own party and Democrats alike who spent the weekend, in part, urging Trump to disavow white supremacists.
Trump’s presidential campaign was boosted by his often racially tinged rhetoric and support from such groups. David Duke, a former KKK leader, said in Charlottesville on Saturday that Trump’s presidency is partially about enacting white supremacists groups’ desired policies.
But he and other neo-Nazis and white supremacists likely will feel let down by the president’s Monday remarks, which also featured threats to prosecute any rally participants who broke the law.
“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered,” Trump said after being updated on a federal civil rights probe of the violence in Charlottesville by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Echoing his Saturday remarks, the president said his administration condemns “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of bigotry, hatred and violence.”
“It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we all are made by the same almighty God,” he said.
“All of us are created equal,” Trump said, adding that all Americans are “equal under the law” and “under our Constitution.”
He appeared eager to challenge the ideological nub of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups: “Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”
Trump did not tell the groups he rejects their support. It took him two days to condemn the groups by name, but only a few hours on Monday morning to lash out on Twitter at Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who is African-American, after Frazier announced he would step down from the President’s American Manufacturing Council.
Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
Trump’s critics, and even some Republicans, noted how quickly Trump can lambast an individual or group when he wants to.
Sen. Mark Warner, a former Democratic governor of Virginia, praised Trump moments after he concluded his remarks.
Trump “actually sounded presidential,” Warner told MSNBC. “I wish he would have said those same words on Saturday. I’m disappointed it took him a couple of days.”
The Virginia Democrat added that lawmakers must now watch Trump and his Justice Department to ensure their actions match his words. He said the DOJ must go after “some of these hate groups across the country — because they will be back.”
The president’s comments came after his vice president, Mike Pence, beat him to the punch, denouncing the KKK and other white supremacist groups Sunday evening.
“We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK,” Pence said at a news conference in Cartagena, Colombia, the first stop of a six-day trip to Latin America. “These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
At a pre-planned brewery opening in Portsmouth, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Monday the state was coming off a “tough” weekend that was particularly hard for him because the two state troopers who died in helicopter crash that coincided with the Charlottesville protest had been part of his executive detail.
One trooper had been one of his pilots nearly every day for three and a half years, while the other had been part of his executive protection unit, McAuliffe said.
“People came into our state from out of state. They were neo-Nazi’s, which when I think about that I’m almost appalled to even say that,” he said.
He then turned to a message of healing.
“You thought you had come to our beautiful Commonwealth to hurt us? No you didn’t. You made us stronger,” McAuliffe said.
“There is no room for your hate or your bigotry in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said. “Go home.”
“There’s no room for your hate in America. Leave this country as well,” McAuliffe said. “We’re back to business. We’re stronger today as a Commonwealth. You will never hold us back.”
“Virginia is going to lead the nation on healing and reconciliation,” he said.