BY KAREN OCAMB, WASHINGTON BLADE
President Trump surprised both sides of the political aisle during his Tuesday press conference in Trump Tower. Trump essentially equated the alt-right with a made-up term, the “alt-left,” saying both groups were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend that killed a young woman and injured 20 others protesting white supremacy.
Often with the assembled reporters who questioned why it took so long for the president to condemn the racism evident at the Charlottesville rally, Trump said, that “before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”
He claimed he watched the events unfold and felt the “alt-left” groups were “very, very violent,” charging at the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups gathered to protest the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee monument from a park. There is “blame on both sides.”
Trump then equated the Confederate General who lead the South during the Civil War to America’s Founding Fathers. “Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
“How about Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? Okay. Good. Are we going to take down the statue? He was a major slave owner,” Trump said. “You’re changing history, you’re changing culture.”
Trump defended the white national groups angry over the Lee statue removal. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” he said, noting that his first statement about the events was “very nice.”
Trump doubled down on the off-script remark he made Saturday, saying “many sides” were to blame for the violence. “You had a group on one side and the other, and they came at each other with clubs, and it was vicious and horrible. It was a horrible thing to watch,” he said. “There is another side. There was a group on this side–you can call them the left. You have just called them the left–that came violently attacking the other group. You can say what you want. That’s the way it is.”
Trump insisted that there are “two sides to a story. I thought what took place was horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.”
And, even though images and statements were broadcast all day Saturday, including statements by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke that they were following through with the promise of Trump’s presidency–and he insisted that he watched the protests “much more closely than you people watched it,”–nonetheless, he said, “There was no way of making a correct statement that early,” about the violence. “I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts.”
Trump insisted that people were “bad” on both sides. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said. “Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
Trump seemed to equate what he called the “alt left” with the KKK and neo-Nazis. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups,” he said.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017
David Duke instantly tweeted this thanks. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.”
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman also tweeted: “Trump says the mother of the woman killed said ‘the nicest things about me.'” Apparently Trump has not yet called the mother of Heather Heyer, a 32 year old paralegal who was mowed down by a car allegedly driving by 20-year old white supremacist James Field Jr.. Field is being held without bail on charges of murder and malicious wounding in Heyer’s death.
Trump cares about the truth. https://t.co/Dv0gGmysPc
— Richard [?] Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) August 15, 2017
White Supremacist Richard Spencer and conservative commentator Anne Coulter were pleased with Trump’s news conference–which was supposed to be about infrastructure:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted right after the news conference:
Apparently, white supremacists are claiming victory for the bloody demonstrations in Charlottesville and now, with bluster from alt-right friend President Trump safety-pinned to their Nazi and Confederate flags, they’re ready for more.
“We’re going to be more active than ever before,” Matthew Heimbach, a white nationalist leader, told the Associated Press on Monday. The large turnout of alt-right white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and others supporters yielded “an absolute stunning victory.”
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) August 15, 2017
Emboldened white provocateurs such as Richard Spencer are targeting universities for speaking gigs and a neo-Confederate group wants to rally around Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee again, this time in Richmond, Virginia.
Coupled with the alt-right’s co-opting of the 1960s Berkeley “Free Speech” movement (of which out former California Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg was a leader) – the fight to protect Old Southern Confederate memorials from destruction has become a rallying point for whites who feel victimized.
“It’s an assault on American freedoms. Today it’s Confederate monuments. Tomorrow it may be the Constitution or the American flag,” National Socialist Movement head Jeff Schoep said, sounding much like Trump at his Trump Tower news conference.
One of the many places the white supremacy groups plan to hold rallies is San Francisco. “A permit has been issued for a Patriot Prayer group to gather Aug. 26 at Crissy Field in San Francisco, according to Sonja Hanson, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
“The group is ostensibly religious, but its purpose is really ‘an attempt to provoke black-clad ideologues on the left into acts of violence,’ according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.”
Not much has been made in the media of the “Fuck You Faggots” chant bolstered the neo-Nazi crowd before the violence in Charlottesville. Holding a rally specifically in San Francisco surely sends a message to the LGBT community that the alt-right crowd doesn’t care about Trump’s now discredited comments about protecting gays.
The nation waits for the Republican response to Trump’s news conference and what some think might be a turning point in the president’s command of the office.
Here’s the full transcript of the news conference.