There is a claim by Democrats and anti-Trumpers, that during the Charlottesville Riots, President Trump was expressing support and approval of white supremacists and neo-nazis. I’ve heard this mentioned by some prominent Objectivists in their condemnation of Trump, and I assumed it was true. But I wanted to know first-hand (or at least not fifth and sixth-hand) and here is what I found so far: Trump did bungle this, but he does not support white-supremacists.
Here is Trump’s statement that is a point of contention:
“Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
The Democrats — and their allies — claim that the entire side of the pro-statue group in Charlottesville consisted of Nazis and White Supremacists, so by Trump saying there were “fine people on both sides,” Trump was defending the White Supremacists.
Here are some of the statements repeated in the press (quoting from a National Review article):
In a back-and-forth with Joel Pollak of Breitbart, Biden defended his attack on the Charlottesville statement: “let’s get this straight — he said there were very fine people in both groups. They were chanting anti-Semitic slogans, carrying flags.”
Kamala Harris tweeted in June that Trump “called neo-Nazis ‘fine people.’” Other Democrats have piled on, following the El Paso shooting. Elizabeth Warren: “He has given aid and comfort to white supremacists. He’s done the wink and a nod. He has talked about white supremacists as fine people.” Cory Booker: “He is responsible and sowing these kinds of divisions to hate-mongers, in fact failing to even condemn them where we saw in Charlottesville where he talks about there being good people on both sides.” Julian Castro: “He didn’t step up right away and condemn the neo-Nazis after Charlottesville.”
Are these claims true?
I think the last point by Julian Castro that Trump “didn’t step up right away and condemn the neo-Nazis after Charlottesville” has some merit (he took 48 hours to release a statement), but I now believe that the other positions do not.
Here is the statement Trump made two hours after the Saturday car attack (before all the information about the event was released), while rioting I assume was still going on:
[W]e’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Va. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. 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. It has no place in America . . . I just got off the phone with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and we agree that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now . . . Above all else, we must remember this truth, no matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are. So, we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen. . . . We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally we have to love each other.
Two days later (approx. 48 hours), on Monday, he issued a statement via the White House:
[B]ased on the events that took place over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I would like to provide the nation with an update on the ongoing federal response to the horrific attack and violence that was witnessed by everyone. I just met with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack that killed one innocent American and wounded 20 others. To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.
As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before: No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.
Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.
Two days ago, a young American woman, Heather Heyer, was tragically killed. Her death fills us with grief, and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers, and our love.
It would have been better if Trump got out his statement against the KKK faster than 48 hours, but he said as President, he needed time to get all the facts correct (yes, Virginia, he said this!):
THE PRESIDENT: When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts.
(If only he followed this policy all the time before he tweets!!!!)
After the statement, Trump was grilled by reporters (full transcript here).
Q Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he’s talking about. But when you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.
Q Well, I’m saying, as Senator —
THE PRESIDENT: No, define it for me. Come on, let’s go. Define it for me.
Q Senator McCain defined them as the same group —
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at …the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this: What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.
Q You’re not putting these —
THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day —
Q Sir, you’re not putting these protestors on the same level as neo-Nazis — Is the alt-left as bad as white supremacy?
THE PRESIDENT: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely — much more closely than you people watched it. And you have — you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group — you had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.
THE PRESIDENT: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Q Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs — and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.
But there is another side. There was a group on this side. You can call them the left — you just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
Q (Inaudible) both sides, sir. You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are the —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. If you look at both sides — I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say.
Q The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest —
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves — and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group.
THE PRESIDENT: And you had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists — because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group.
Q Who are the good people? Sir, I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don’t understand what you were saying.
THE PRESIDENT: No, no. There were people in that rally — and I looked the night before — if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people — neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest — because I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country — a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.
According to Trump’s questioner, the entire side of those on the right present consisted of white nationalists. (Also note that Trump is incorrect here, as it is reported, that the only group that had a permit were the white nationalists.)
According to Trump, both sides were mixed:
(1) On the ‘keep the statue up’ (right) side (which I believe is the wrong position), you had violent Nazis and peaceful, non-white supremacists.
(2) On the ‘remove statue’ (left) side, you had violent Antifa thugs, and you had peaceful remove the statute/anti-white supremacists (similar to the BLM protests today).
(For the record, I think Lee’s statue belongs in a history museum, or on private property, and not in a public – government – setting.)
Writing on August 16, 2017, Robert Tracinski writes:
The important thing about this is that there is not a scrap of evidence that any of it is true. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. The rally in Charlottesville was called “Unite the Right,” which despite its name made no real attempt to bring together any recognizable strains from the mainstream American political right. Instead, it drew from a spectrum ranging from the Neo-Confederates to the Neo-Nazis to the White Nationalists to the White Supremacists—various ideological shades so indistinguishable from each other that you don’t need a special dispensation from Mike Godwin to just call them all Nazis.
Two years later in 2019, Robert Tracinski, writing in the Bulwark, further writes:
What if there really was another group of protesters there that day, and that’s who Trump was referring to? Well, there’s the problem. No such group exists. This mythical second group of protesters is like the “second shooter” in conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. I’ve found people who insist to me that such a group was there because the “Charlottesville Hoax” mythology requires it to exist—but I haven’t found a single shred of actual confirmation. It’s almost as if they have adopted a false memory.
That’s what originally set me off about this Trump claim. I live in the Charlottesville area, and I know very fine people who oppose the removal of the monuments based on high-minded notions about preserving history. I’m one of them. So I know that we weren’t there that night. Only the white nationalists were there.
The New York Times, to their credit, reported on August 16, 2017:
“Good people can go to Charlottesville,” said Michelle Piercy, a night shift worker at a Wichita, Kan., retirement home, who drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
After listening to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, she said it was as if he had channeled her and her friends — all gun-loving defenders of free speech, she said, who had no interest in standing with Nazis or white supremacists: “It’s almost like he talked to one of our people.”
Conservatives like Ms. Piercy, who have grown only more emboldened after Charlottesville, believe that the political and media elite hold them and Mr. Trump to a harsh double standard that demands they answer for the sins of a radical, racist fringe. They largely accept Mr. Trump’s contention that these same forces are using Charlottesville as an excuse to undermine his presidency, and by extension, their vote.
In fairness to Tracinski and others who hold his view, it is unclear if the peaceful pro-statue side was at Charlottesville on Friday (Saturday was the day of the car attack). Trump tends to mumble and misspeak at times so he can be interpreted to be mixing the Friday and Saturday events together.
Also, a lawsuit was filed against American Warrior Revolution and similar groups to keep them and other “paramilitary groups” out of Charlottesville.
Melanie Morgan at Media Equalizer profiled Piercy at the time:
Michelle Piercy, who travelled to Charlottesville to participate as a neutral peacekeeper for American Warrior Revolution, a group that stands up for individual free speech rights and acts as a buffer between competing voices, knew there was going to be violence, but went anyway.
“We were made aware that the situation could be dangerous, and we were prepared.” Piercy says. The Wichita night-worker for a Kansas retirement home said that “the situation was completely disorganized, the police were responsible for herding white supremacists on the street where Antifa and BLM were located. All chaos broke out. I witnessed police officers say, ‘that’s not our problem’ and ‘you shouldn’t have come’ and refused to help the injured.”
Piercy says that she doesn’t support white supremacy, Naziism, or alt-right causes. Nor does she believe the president has that in his heart.
“My partner is a black man who travelled to Charlottesville for the same reason I did [to protect free speech]. We were in groups and he’s a very good man. What we were trying to do is talk to Antifa and Black Lives Matter and let them know that the way they were protesting is the wrong way to go about it.”*
* Note: I’m not sure why “[to protect free speech]” in the original quote is in square brackets which is unfortunate.
In regards to waiting for all the facts, I wish Obama did the same in regards to George Zimmerman and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. If Obama did his homework he would have learned that the “racist” George Zimmerman had black ancestry through his grandmother’s side and that he volunteered to help black people in his free time.