US President Donald Trump has come under fire for his “weak” response to the deadly clashes between white supremacists and counter-protest groups in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A woman was killed and at least 26 others were injured when a car ploughed into anti-racism protesters confronting a white nationalist rally on Saturday (local time).
Mr Trump has been criticised for failing to denounce the actions of white supremacists. Instead he blamed “many sides” for the “hatred, bigotry and violence”.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides,” he said from his New Jersey golf club.
“It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”
He ignored questions from reporters on whether he repudiated the political support of white nationalist groups, and whether he thought the alleged car attack amounted to an act of terrorism.
The White House on Monday morning (AEST) condemned “white supremacists” for inciting the violence.
A statement, attributed to an unnamed spokesperson, said that the President “said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred”.
“Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together,” the White House statement said.
Mr Trump’s reluctance to scrutinise the so-called ‘alt right’ angered many US politicians, including those in his own party.
“Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” Republican senator Cory Gardner tweeted.
Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism. https://t.co/PaPNiPPAoW
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) August 12, 2017
Senator Marco Rubio, who ran against Mr Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, called on the President to condemn the incident for what it was: a terror attack.
“Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists,” he said on Twitter.
Former vice-president Joe Biden expressed his dismay with Mr Trump’s lacklustre response, saying “only one side” was to blame.
There is only one side. #charlottesville
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 12, 2017
“Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy,” former president Bill Clinton tweeted.
“The violence, chaos, and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides’. It is racists and white supremacists,” Virginian Attorney-General Mark Herring said.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, called the rally “reprehensible”.
No, Mr. President. This is a provocative effort by Neo-Nazis to foment racism and hatred and create violence. Call it out for what it is. https://t.co/WibPqkLsLa
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 12, 2017
Mr Trump’s comments were in stark contrast to those from Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who addressed the white nationalist protesters as “Nazis”.
“I have a message to the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today,” Mr McAuliffe said at a press conference.
“Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but patriots.”
Trump statement praised by white supremacists
The President’s decision not to single out white nationalist groups for criticism was praised by Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website.
“Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us … no condemnation at all,” the website said.
“When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Klu Klux Klan leader and white nationalist figure David Duke said the protesters at the rally were “going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump”.
“That’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back,” Mr Duke told reporters at the event.