Donald Trump Continues To Defend The Racist Protesters In Charlottesville

Taking Joe Biden's bait, President Trump once again defended his response to the racist rally in Charlottesville two years ago..

Donald Trump continues to believe that his initial response to the violence that was displayed at the July 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was correct:

President Trump on Friday defended his comments after the 2017 “Unite the Right” protests in which an avowed neo-Nazi killed a woman and injured dozens of others in Charlottesville, arguing that his focus was on the protesters defending the monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Trump, pressed on whether he stood by his comments that there were “very fine people on both sides,” told reporters, “If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.”

Former vice president Joe Biden resurrected Trump’s response to the deadly rally by self-professed white supremacists in a video to launch his presidential campaign on Thursday. In it, Biden said Trump’s remarks “shocked the conscience of this nation.”

“With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden says in the video. “And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”
Trump, who spoke to reporters en route to a speech to the National Rifle Association in Indiana, said, “People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”

Trump and others have tried to distinguish between the self-proclaimed white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and the other supporters of Confederate monuments, who were all marching in Charlottesville that weekend.

But the events that weekend were organized by a self-proclaimed white nationalist, Richard Spencer, and those in attendance wore swastikas and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.

James Alex Fields Jr., who killed Heather Heyer and injured 35 other people when he plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters at the rally by self-proclaimed white supremacists, pleaded guilty to hate crimes in federal court earlier this month.

Fields, 21, of Ohio admitted guilt to 29 of 30 counts in a federal indictment as part of a deal with prosecutors, who agreed they would not seek the death penalty in the case. Fields is set to be sentenced July 3.

As Eli Stokes at The Los Angeles Times notes, in responding like this Trump effectively took the bait that had been laid for him by former Vice-President Joe Biden, who used Charlottesville as a symbol of Trump’s America in his campaign’s opening message yesterday:

It took one day for President Trump to take Joe Biden’s bait.

Departing the White House on Friday morning, Trump defended the comments he made in the aftermath of the violent 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va. when he claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Biden had focused on those comments Thursday as he announced his presidential candidacy. The former vice president cited Trump’s comments as evidence of the president’s corrosive impact on what he called “the soul of the nation.”

Trump did not back away from what he said nearly two years earlier, despite the criticism he has gotten from lawmakers in both parties.

“If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly,” Trump said Friday, after being asked about Biden’s reference to his Charlottesville response.

“I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general — whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.”

“I’ve spoken to many generals here right at the White House, and many people thought, of the generals, they think that he was maybe their favorite general. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”

The August 2017 violence in Charlottesville began with a “Unite the Right” march organized by white nationalist groups upset over plans to remove a statue of the Confederate general from a local park. The march drew several hundred torch-bearing men and women to the University of Virginia campus, where many took part in an evening march across the quadrangle at which they shouted, among other things,

“You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Several fights broke out between anti-racism activists and far-right attendees, many of whom carried shields, weapons and Nazi and Confederate battle flags. One woman was killed when a driver plowed a car into a crowd of protesters.

As much as the president relishes engaging directly with his adversaries, his controversial response to Charlottesville and his hesitation in forcefully repudiating white nationalist groups appears to be a part of his record that won’t help him with swing voters heading into next year’s campaign.

Biden, seeking to separate himself from a sprawling 20-candidate primary field by presenting himself as Democrats’ strongest general-election candidate, sought in his announcement video to frame the 2020 race as a “battle for the soul of the nation.”

Recalling Trump’s response to Charlottesville in his three-and-a-half minute video, Biden said: “In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen,” Biden said.

While Trump is correct that the purported intent of the rally in Charlottesville was to protest against plans by the city to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a prominent location in the city, it quickly became obvious what the real intent of the rally was. Rather than being just a simple rally about a statue, though, the event clearly had overtones of a Nazi rally at Nuremberg in the 1930s with Nazi-era slogans like “Blood and Soil!” and “The Jews will not replace us!” were chanted by torch-bearing men, followed by a rally the following day that resulted in violence between participants and counter-protestors that led to the death of one woman and more than a dozen injuries. These events, of course, took on a national tone thanks to the President’s response to the tragic events of that Saturday. In his initial response, Trump blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence, referred to the participants in the rally as “very fine people,” and  refused to directly condemn groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which was present at the rally, or the broader so-called alt-right movement whose supporters made up the vast majority of the participants. The outrage over these comments was sufficiently broad, even from fellow Republicans in Washington, that the White House was compelled to have Trump deliver a follow-up comment the following Monday that was more measured and emphatic than what he had said before. Whatever damage had been repaired by that statement, though, was short-lived, though, because less than twenty-four hours later Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York and then repeated it again a month later in the wake of a meeting purportedly intended to discuss race with Republican Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate. Last year, near the one-year anniversary of the incident, the President doubled down on his assertion that his initial reaction was the correct one.

Additionally, Trump’s claims that he was merely speaking about the people who were at the protest because they were against removing the statue of Lee, his long history of racially divisive rhetoric defies the conclusion that there is an innocent explanation for the President’s intentions in siding with the protesters. In addition to the comments he made in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville last year, Trump has engaged in a number of other actions that demonstrate the extent to which he is willing to engage in racially divisive language in order to advance his personal and political interests. From the day he started his campaign three years ago, this President has attacked  Mexicans, Muslimsdisabled people, a Federal District Court Judge who happened to be Mexican-American and a Gold Star Family who happened to be Muslim.  In response to N.F.L. players who were peacefully kneeling to protest racially biased police violence, he responded by calling the largely African-American players “sons of bitches.” Both during the campaign and since becoming President, he has used campaign-style speeches to turn his crowds of supporters into raving lunatics by throwing them red meat on the most divisive issues facing the nation. More importantly, he has done so not only knowingly but with a rather obvious sense of glee at the chaos that he is causing.

In addition to this, Trump has succeeded as a politician largely by appealing to the worst aspects of the unhinged populism, xenophobia, and nativism that has made up the worst aspects of American politics. In doing so, he managed to not only win the Republican nomination for President but to win the Presidency itself. Since taking office, he has not only engaged in the same racially divisive rhetoric he did as a candidate, but he has implemented it into policy in the form of the travel ban that applies almost exclusively to majority Muslim nations, the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has primarily benefited the children of Latino immigrants, and he has implemented a so-called ‘zero tolerance’ programthat for a time resulted in the separation of parents and children arriving at the border. Finally, he reportedly referred to immigrants from Africa as coming to the United States from “shithole” countries. Through this rhetoric and action, the President has demonstrated where his sympathies lie, and his effort to paper over the truth about Charlottesville a year after the tragic death of Heather Heyer is revealed to be the same non-condemnation that he issued in the immediate aftermath of the events of July 2017.

The most important point, of course, is that Trump has proven Biden’s assertion that things such as his remarks in the wake of the Charlottesville attack make Trump unfit to lead the country. That won’t matter to the people who are rabid supporters of his President, of course, but it’s something that those of us who are are embarrassed by him on daily basis can point to as yet another reason why he does not belong in the White House.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Politicians, Race and Politics, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    At this point, I’m only surprised that he still acknowledges that there were fine people who were opposed to Confederate statues and Nazis.

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  2. Boyd says:

    Stop perpetuating the hoax, Doug.

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    The Lee statue served as a great backdrop for Nazi action, but Unite the Right was never even billed as in defense of a statue. That argument is used by white supremacists who are in court on charges related to the rally. The fliers mentioned whiteness, not Lee pic.twitter.com/FQYVEGmqgS— Andy Campbell (@AndyBCampbell) April 26, 2019

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  4. @Boyd:

    There is no hoax except for the one inside Scott Adams’s head.

    Trump said what he said and there’s no walking it back.

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As one who wishes Biden had stayed out of the DEM race I can only say, “Job well done Joe, well done indeed.”

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  6. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I’ve no problem is Biden ends up damaging Trump by baiting him effectively, especially if he continues to do so regardless of who the Democratic candidate is.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Stop perpetuating the hoax, Doug.

    So who were these “very fine people” who weren’t neo-Nazis and white nationalists but still marched with them? I don’t think truly fine people would make common cause with such trash…

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  8. Boyd says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It doesn’t matter what Adams says. Did you watch the linked video? President Trump specifically excluded the Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists from his “both sides” statement. By name. It’s right there.
    .

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  9. mattbernius says:

    @Boyd:
    Honestly, then who was left in that tiki toting, you will not replace us, crowd defending a monument to the fight to preserve slavery?

    Where are all those good people on the right decrying their participation after showing up to what they realized was a white nationalist event?

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  10. @Boyd:

    No, he really didn’t but you do you dude. Trump’s been appealing to racists from the first day of his campaign and that’s just reality.

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  11. @mattbernius:

    Ahem it was actually “Jews will not replace us!”

    Just sayin’

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  12. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: These fine people are just a little economically anxious. They are probably worried that their jobs will be automated, and that they will be replaced. They are knowledgeable enough to know it won’t be by Jews though, but by robots.

  13. SenyorDave says:

    @Gustopher: Sure, but what type of robots will they be? I wouldn’t be shocked if they were only worried about being replaced by Jewish robots, or perhaps worse, ROC (robots of color). The next march they have will be to ensure that someone starts to manufacture aryan robots so they will be happy when they are replaced.

  14. Teve says:

    I have no idea who boyd is, but I would feel completely comfortable betting my entire bank balance on him being Caucasian.

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  15. Franklin says:

    @Boyd: I feel like I’ve got an open mind here, Boyd, and what it comes down to is whether there were actually very fine people there who were merely trying to present the case that maybe we shouldn’t tear down historical statues.

    And Scott Adams’ case appears to be rather weak in that regard. He links an article quoting one lady who claims to be for freedom of speech and apparently came with the intention of telling Antifa and BLM they were doing it all wrong (oh, and she has a black partner so she can’t be racist). Mmm, sorry if I’m unimpressed with this “evidence” of very fine people. The other is an NYT article that I can’t seem to access (even in incognito mode), so maybe that presents better evidence? Anybody?

    Of course, you may argue that Trump still believed that there were many very fine people who weren’t racists, regardless of the scant evidence. OK, well then he’s just kind of dumb for not perceiving what the rally was really about to the clear majority of its participants.

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  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Boyd:
    I think it’s long become crystal clear that the POTUS is a racist…and ipso facto, if you support the POTUS then you also support racism.
    Period.
    End of story.
    And BTW…you also support Russia’s attack on America’s Democracy.
    If you feel bad about that…Boyd…then maybe you should do some self-examination.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:
  18. mattbernius says:

    FWIW, the (conservative leaning) Bulwark published a pretty good debunking of the “hoax” argument:

    https://thebulwark.com/the-charlottesville-hoax-hoax/

    And Fox News’ White House reported notes that for an event with so many “good people” even his own network seemed to keep only finding white nationalists and white power folks to interview:

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/fox-news-reporter-rips-colleagues-over-charlottesville-you-sound-like-white-supremacist-chat-room/

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  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    I assume ‘Boyd’ is one of our usual racists using a pseudonym. We have lurkers who only pop up to defend racists and misogynists. By their choice of appearance shall ye know them. It’s as telling as what they actually write.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    Actually, Boyd has been in these parts for a long time…I remember him posting here many years ago…I think he got tired of the liberal bent of the commenters and some perceived hostility….of course, when one defends racists or links to others defending racists, one should expect some hostility on this blog and in its comment threads…this ain’t Lucianne.com…

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  21. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I assume ‘Boyd’ is one of our usual racists using a pseudonym.

    Boyd is… well, Boyd. Unless someone has stolen that Stetson picture, he’s been around OTB off an on for years. As I remember he’s a proud Texan, ex-military, and historically a moderate conservative on most topics.

    He has been lurking more than anything for the last few years, but he’s OTB of old. I also don’t really remember him weighing in on too many racial issues. I honestly suspect that his reading of Trump is informed by a strong “War of Northern Aggression” streak.

    I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I suspect he’s of the “it was all about states rights and we should preserve our Civil War history” bent… (because there are no possibility they were put there to remind Black folks of their actual place).

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  22. Franklin says:

    It’s been awhile, but my memory of Boyd’s posts were that they were civilized, the kind of conservative commenter we would prefer around here.

    Again, I do realize that what he’s arguing here is that Trump was specifically excluding the racists, so that in this case at least Trump wasn’t clearly being racist. And it’s our contention, backed up by the majority of the evidence, that there wasn’t really anybody else there besides racists, so Trump was ignorant (willfully or not, you decide).

  23. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Boyd has been here before over the years. I remember that hat.

  24. Teve says:

    @Franklin: Trump said the good people there had a permit. The only group that had a permit was the group led by white supremacist Richard Spencer.

    I agree that Trump was just babbling ignorantly, but some of these revisionist nitwits want to act like right off-camera next to the Nazis with torches was a group of apolitical historically-minded citizens who were just concerned about proper statuary.

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  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Franklin:

    It’s been awhile, but my memory of Boyd’s posts were that they were civilized, the kind of conservative commenter we would prefer around here.

    My primary memory of Boyd is him arguing that if a Christian takes an immoral position on account of the Bible, it’s illegitimate to criticize them for it because “the Bible made me do it” absolves them of all personal responsibility for their own actions.

  26. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:

    Again, I do realize that what he’s arguing here is that Trump was specifically excluding the racists, so that in this case at least Trump wasn’t clearly being racist.

    I realize this is not your argument, but let’s review:

    If this be so, the Trump also wasn’t condemning the racists and neonazis. That’s hardly even third-rate political morality, much less what any civilized person ought to want to see in anyone.

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  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Teve:

    I have no idea who boyd is, but I would feel completely comfortable betting my entire bank balance on him being Caucasian.

    Not a sure bet. I have no idea what the ethnic makeup of the Internet Research Agency is.

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  28. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @Teve: Either caucasian or the King of the Trolls.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    If this be so, the Trump also wasn’t condemning the racists and neonazis. That’s hardly even third-rate political morality, much less what any civilized person ought to want to see in anyone.

    The bottom line is that it is extremely difficult, nay impossible, to defend this asshole without sounding like an idiot, a disingenuous/hypocritical toady, a delusional fool, or some combination of any of the three…

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  30. CSK says:

    @Kathy: Trump can’t afford to alienate the white supremacists. They’re some of his biggest, most vocal supporters.

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  31. CSK says:

    @Boyd:

    “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 gonna take our country back–and that’s what we gotta do.” — David Duke, former head of the KKK, on August 12, 2017

  32. Boyd is a long-time OTBer who has, as noted above, been far more a lurker than an active commenter for the last several years. He is, as was also noted above, a reasonable conservative, although a clear partisan. I think what we see here is pure partisan rationalization–which is not surprising as a general matter, but is nonetheless frustrating.

    It is not surprising insofar as the Charlottesville situation is a clear example of Trump not only not taking white nationalism seriously, but of him giving it clear solace. Since people like Boyd very likely don’t want to be associated with such an outcome, they have to rationalize the events and words in question.

    It is frustrating because not only was it clear at the time that Trump was putting white nationalists and neo-nazis in the “the very fine people” category (whether he understood that he was or not, and whether he tried to walk it back or not doesn’t change what he actually did). The Bulwark piece linked above does a great job of demonstrating this fact.

    As noted above, but worth repeating: the tiki-torch dudes spouted white nationalist slogans and the Unite the Right folks were the ones with the permit. Who, then, are the “fine people” who were simply there out of concern for the statue of poor General Lee?