White House insists Trump did condemn 'white supremacists'
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US President Donald Trump's condemnation of bigotry and hatred at a "Unite the Right" rally in Virginia that turned violent included white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, the White House insisted Sunday.
"The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups," a spokesperson said.
"He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together."
A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured, five critically, on Saturday when a man plowed a car into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia after the rally, which had ignited bloody clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters.
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.
US prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation into the car ramming incident, an FBI field office said.
Federal authorities were also looking into a helicopter crash on Saturday that killed two Virginia state policemen aiding efforts to quell the clashes.
Trump has come under mounting fire, even from members of his own party, for blaming the violence on hatred and bigotry "on many sides", and not explicitly condemning the white extremist groups at the rally.
Soon after the White House's statement Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence went a step further by specifically condemning the hate groups by name when asked to respond to the events in Charlottesville.
"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, where he was on the first leg of a Latin American tour.
"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."
But he also defended Trump, saying the president "clearly and unambiguously condemned the bigotry, violence and hatred" on display in Charlottesville. Pence chided the media for what he called its stronger focus on Trump's words than on those who perpetrated the violence.
Racially tinged rhetoric
The president has long had a following among white supremacist groups attracted to his nationalist rhetoric on immigration and other hot-button issues.
Some of the white supremacists cited Trump's victory as validation for their beliefs, and Trump's critics pointed to the president's racially tinged rhetoric as exploiting the nation's festering racial tension.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a "pro-white" rally in Charlottesville, with fellow white nationalists and their opponents promoting the event for weeks.
The hostilities were the latest to grip the city since it voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The turbulence began Friday night, when the white nationalists carried torches though the University of Virginia campus. It quickly spiralled into violence Saturday morning. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. The governor declared a state of emergency and riot police moved in.
Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said multiple white power groups gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organisations, racist skinhead groups and Ku Klux Klan factions.
The white nationalist organisations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa; the Southern nationalist League of the South; the National Socialist Movement; the Traditionalist Workers Party; and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights also were on hand, he said, along with several groups with a smaller presence.
On the other side, anti-fascist demonstrators also gathered in Charlottesville, but they generally aren't organised like white nationalist factions, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Many others were just locals caught in the fray.
Colleen Cook, 26, stood on a curb shouting at the rally attendees to go home.
Cook, a teacher who attended the University of Virginia, said she sent her son, who is black, out of town for the weekend.
"This isn't how he should have to grow up," she said.
Cliff Erickson leaned against a fence and took in the scene. He said he thinks removing the statue amounts to erasing history and said the "counter-protesters are crazier than the alt-right".
'Advocating for white people'
In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.
Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and "advocating for white people".
"This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do," he said in an interview.
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices.
"I'm not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you're seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president," he said.
Charlottesville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a liberal-leaning city that's home to the flagship UVA and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
The statue's removal is part of a broader city effort to change the way Charlottesville's history of race is told in public spaces. The city has also renamed Lee Park, where the statue stands, and Jackson Park, named for Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. They're now called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively.
For now, the Lee statue remains. A group called the Monument Fund filed a lawsuit arguing that removing the statue would violate a state law governing war memorials. A judge has agreed to temporarily block the city from removing the statue for six months.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
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