President Donald Trump responded to violence that erupted this weekend as white supremacists and a fringe group clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He refused to single out the activity of white supremacists, however, arguing that there was blame to go around on “many sides.”
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides ― on many sides. 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,” Trump said at a ceremony for the signing of a bill to reform the Veterans Affairs health care system.
“It has no place in America,” he added. “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
Trump went on to emphasize that he loves “all the people of our country,” and called for Americans of different races and backgrounds to remember their shared Americanness.
“We wanna get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville and we want to study it,” he said. “We want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen.”
Trump’s comments were his third attempt at addressing the unrest in Virginia. First, earlier on Saturday, he condemned “hate” and “violence,” but didn’t mention Charlottesville by name or directly address any of the groups demonstrating there.
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
He then followed up that tweet with another one 41 minutes later, finally mentioning Charlottesville by name but not referencing the white supremacists whose rally triggered the chaos.
Civil rights leaders criticized Trump for failing to squarely denounce the white supremacists who organized the rally.
“The president’s remarks were morally frustrating and disappointing,” former NAACP president Cornell Brooks told CNN. “Because while it is good that he says he wants to be a president for all the people and he wants to make America great for all of the people. Let us know this: Throughout his remarks he refused to” call out white supremacists by name.
Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” This isn’t a many sides issue. This is about white supremacy, plain & simple.
– Civil Rights (@civilrightsorg) August 12, 2017
.@realDonaldTrump never misses an opportunity–to miss an opportunity. Failure 2 honor dead or denounce white supremacists utterly shameful.
– Van Jones (@VanJones68) August 12, 2017
In a statement to the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, a White House spokesperson defended the president’s reaction as, “condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides.”
“There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today,” the spokesperson added.
David Duke, a white nationalist and supporter of Trump, criticized the president’s initial statement, arguing that, “it was White Americans who put you in the presidency.”
I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists. https://t.co/Rkfs7O2Ykr
– David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 12, 2017
“We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” Duke said. “That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer thanked Trump for his statement:
@realDonaldTrump, thanks, at long last, for condemning hate in speech and action. Our work here is just beginning. Yours is too.
– Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) August 12, 2017
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency Saturday as fist fights broke out in streets, objects were thrown and reporters were covered in raw sewage. The White House said it has been in contact with McAuliffe’s office, and Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, has had contact with local authorities.
First lady Melania Trump issued a statement Saturday condemning the violence, becoming the first White House official to react to the events in Charlottesville:
Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville
– Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 12, 2017
Trump’s responses to incidents of violence have varied since he took office.
He immediately condemned a June attack in London, calling it ” horrific” while criticizing London Mayor Sadiq Khan and calling for implementation of his proposed travel ban against citizens from several majority-Muslim countries. In February, he called anti-Semitic incidents in the United States “horrible” and “painful.”
But his response to other attacks has been delayed or non-existent.
After several days, Trump tweeted from the @POTUS account ― an official White House account, not the personal one he most often uses ― to recognize victims of a knife attack in Portland for “standing up to hate and intolerance” for standing up to a man yelling slurs and hate speech. Trump never issued a response to an attack on a mosque in Minnesota earlier this month.
The violence in Charlottesville erupted in the middle of Trump’s 17-day ” working vacation ” at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump has remained active on Twitter throughout his vacation, tweeting criticisms at several lawmakers, making comments on the situation with North Korea and retweeting stories from Fox News.