In a heated press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday, the president challenged a reporter to “define the alt-right” when she asked about a statement released by Sen. John McCain in which he connected attacks on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to the white nationalist movement.
Trump told reporters during the press conference that he thinks “there is blame on both sides” for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, doubling down on controversial comments he made in the hours after a 32-year-old counterprotester was run over by an alleged neo-Nazi.
“Sen. McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks,” the reporter said. “He linked that same group to those that participated in that [car] attack in Charlottesville.”
“Define alt-right to me,” Trump replied, pointing to the reporter. “You define it. Define it for me. Come on. Let’s go.”
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” Trump continued, talking over the reporter. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
Trump said the “alt-left” came “charging” at the white nationalist protesters “with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs.”
“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.
The majority of counterprotesters, however, were members of the local community, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told CNN on Tuesday. And antifascist activists wouldn’t have been there at all had white nationalists – many of whom were photographed making Nazi salutes – not descended on Charlottesville on Friday night.
Trump’s comments came one day after he explicitly condemned “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans” – a statement alt-right leader Richard Spencer described as “more Kumbaya nonsense.”
“Only a dumb person would take those lines seriously,” Spencer told reporters on Monday. He insisted that the president had not denounced white nationalists or the “alt-right” movement he founded several years ago.
“I don’t think he condemned it, no,” Spencer said. “Did he say ‘white nationalist?’ ‘Racist’ means an irrational hatred of people. I don’t think he meant any of us.'”
Asked on Monday whether he considers Trump an ally, Spencer replied that while he didn’t think of Trump as “alt-right,” he considers the president to be “the first true authentic nationalist in my lifetime.”
“Obviously the alt-right has come very far in the past two years in terms of public exposure,” Spencer said. “Is Donald Trump one of the major causes of that? Of course. He never talked about this conservative garbage we’ve been hearing for years… he was a nationalist.”
Spencer has yet to weigh in on the president’s press conference. But several far-right, pro-Trump figures were quick to praise his comments.
“Declare #AltLeft AntiFa a domestic terrorist organization!” tweeted Jack Posobiec, a prominent conspiracy theorist and alt-right agitator. Posobiec praised Trump’s remarks, saying the president was “making it rain red pills” – a prolific alt-right symbol of knowledge and wisdom that stems from the plot of The Matrix.
“We are in an ideological civil war with occasional real world attacks by leftist radicals,” tweeted John Cardillo, a right-wing radio host with anti-globalist and anti-immigrant views. “Americans must wake up to that reality.”
“I have never ever been so pleased with a politician,” tweeted Cassandra Fairbanks, an alt-right Trump supporter who writes for the Russian news outlet Sputnik. “He just verbally beat their asses while telling the truth.”
“‘Define alt right. Define it for me. What about the alt-left?’ I can’t handle how much I adore him,” Fairbanks said.