- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump melted down during a press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday and defended his original statement on the violent white-nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
That statement, in which he blamed “many sides” for the violence, was widely criticized for not specifically condemning white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
Trump on Tuesday said it was a “fine statement” but that he wanted to get the facts before passing judgment on the driver who plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters and killed a woman.
But as reporters continued to press the president on that statement, he criticized what he described as the “alt-left” counterprotesting in Charlottesville.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump said. “What about the fact they came charging – that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Trump said it was a “horrible moment for our country,” but that “there are two sides to a story.”
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said. “Nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it.”
Trump also defended some protesters in Charlottesville, saying: “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists.”
He said that the event was billed as a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, and that other US cities were also considering removing Confederate statues.
“This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson‘s coming down,” Trump said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”
When pressed by reporters about the statues, he continued: “George Washington was a slave owner … Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?”
He later said: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”
The president’s comments immediately sparked backlash from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, who criticized Trump for blaming both neo-Nazis and counterprotesters for the violence.
Blaming "both sides" for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.
— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) August 15, 2017
As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) August 15, 2017