WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump condemned hate “on many sides” in response to violent white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that have played out on national television Saturday.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said during a short statement. “It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
He did not mention white nationalists and the alt-right movement in his remarks.
Earlier Saturday, Trump, who is on his 17-day vacation in New Jersey, urged people to “come together as one” in response to the protests but did not explicitly mention the white nationalist origins of the conflict.
“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
Trump, who also signed a Veterans Affairs health care bill Saturday afternoon, later tweeted: “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”
Demonstrators clashed on the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday morning ahead of a white nationalist rally, with counter-protesters and right-wing nationalist groups converging on the college town in the latest chapter in the United States’ debate over race and identity.
The protests were precipitated by the city’s government deciding to remove symbols of its confederate past, including a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Similar protests happened in May when New Orleans officials decided to remove confederate statues.
The White House said Saturday that it was in touch with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office and that White House homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert’s team has been in touch with local authorities.
Vice President Mike Pence joined Trump in strongly condemning the protests.
“I stand with @POTUS against hate & violence,” he tweeted. “U.S is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us. #Charlottesville.”
First lady Melania Trump also tweeted 45 minutes before her husband that “our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence.”
Trump is in the midst of a working vacation at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, a trip that has so far been consumed by roiling tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Trump’s time away from the White House has been anything but calm, with the President consistently responding to threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has threatened to launch missiles near the US territory of Guam.
Bossert, who is with the President in New Jersey, tweeted Saturday that “the violence and hate in Charlotte (sic) are unacceptable.”
“Protests must not undermine law and order,” he said. “Confidence in state/local law enforcement.”
White nationalist groups who have come to be known at the “alt-right” drafted off Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and rose to national prominence by tying themselves to Trump’s message.
On Saturday in Virginia, according to a video posted on Twitter by a photojournalist from The Indianapolis Star, David Duke — a prominent former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran for Senate in Louisiana in 2016 — tied the protests in Virginia to Trump.
“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,” Duke said. “We are determined to take this country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. 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.”
Duke slammed Trump’s response to the protests on Saturday, tweeting that Trump should “take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
“So, after decades of White Americans being targeted for discriminated & anti-White hatred, we come together as a people, and you attack us,” Duke wrote.
Trump drew flack from critics and Democrats during the campaign for not fulsomely disavowing the alt-right and white supremacists.
After the election, in a November 2016 interview with The New York Times, Trump disavowed the movement and said he did not intend to energize the group.
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump told a group of Times reporters and columnists during a meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters in New York.
He added: “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”