White supremacists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Photo: Rodney Dunning

President Trump defends groups 'innocently' protesting removal of Confederate statue in Virginia

President Donald Trump is again facing widespread condemnation for his response to racial violence in Virginia but there's little evidence that he will face consequences within his own Republican party.

During a combative press conference that was supposed to focus on infrastructure, Trump repeatedly blamed "both sides" for the violence that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, on Saturday. But rather than condemn the White supremacists whose Unite the Right rally appealed to neo-Nazis, followers of the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Semitic groups, he insisted the weekend's events were centered around the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville.

"If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee," Trump said at one of his properties in New York City on Tuesday, according to a transcript posted by McClatchy DC. Robert E. Lee was a general for the Confederacy, the losing side of the Civil War.

"I'm sure in that group there were some bad ones," Trump added. Photos, videos and news reports from the Friday event showed a crowd of White males, mostly young, carrying torches in a scene reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan rallies.

"The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people – neo-Nazis, White nationalists, whatever you want to call them," Trump continued, referring to the deadly violence on Saturday.

"But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest," Trump added, before arguing that the people,, who showed up to counter the racist displays -- like victim Heyer -- were also at fault for the resulting violence.

"I don't know if you know, they had a permit," Trump said in an apparent reference to the organizers of the Unite the Right rally. "The other group didn't have a permit," Trump said. During another part of the press conference, he referred to counter-protesters as the "alt-left."

The White House on YouTube: President Trump Gives a Statement on the Infrastructure Discussion

The remarks drew outrage from Republican politicians but few have condemned Trump himself. Most are instead focusing on the White supremacist groups and not the words and actions of the president.

“We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican majority leader in the Senate, said in a statement on Thursday that focused on an potential White supremacist rally in his home state of Kentucky rather than Trump. "We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”

"We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the Speaker of the House, said in a post on Twitter that did not mention the president. Ryan's wife, who hails from Oklahoma, is a descendant of the Chickasaw Nation, according to a family member, although she is not a citizen of the tribe.

Congress is not in session, with lawmakers due to return after the Labor Day holiday in September. Trump has voiced frustration with Republican leaders, particularly McConnell, for failing to approve bills that would bolster his agenda.

Trump was at one of his properties in New Jersey when the violence occurred on Saturday. Although the Department of Justice quickly announced a "civil rights investigation" into Heyer's death, the president said on Tuesday that he did not condemn White supremacist groups that same day because he wanted to "get the facts."

He returned to the White House on Monday and offered a late rebuke to those groups. He went to another one of his properties in New York later in the day with the intent on focusing on his infrastructure agenda, major portions of which need Congressional approval.

Read More on the Story:
Trump again blames ‘both sides’ for violence at white supremacist rally in Charlottesville (The Washington Post August 15, 2017)
Trump again blamed ‘both sides’ in Charlottesville. Here’s how politicians are reacting. (The Washington Post August 15, 2017)
Trump puts a fine point on it: He sides with the alt-right in Charlottesville (The Washington Post August 15, 2017)
Trump goes off script, and white supremacists cheer (Politico August 15, 2017)
White House aides wrestle with their own futures after Trump’s race comments (Politico August 15, 2017)
GOP chairmen resist hearings on white supremacy (Politico August 15, 2017)
Trump Defends Initial Remarks on Charlottesville; Again Blames ‘Both Sides’ (The New York Times August 15, 2017)
Trump Gives White Supremacists an Unequivocal Boost (The New York Times August 15, 2017)
Rift Widens Between Trump and Business Leaders (The New York Times August 15, 2017)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Mark Trahant: Learning from history to see why the Trump presidency is over (August 16, 2017)
Harold Monteau: Donald Trump needs White supremacists to remain in office (August 16, 2017)
Trump offers late rebuke to 'White supremacists' as industry leaders quit council (August 15, 2017)
Zenobia Jeffries: Media must be honest about planned race riot in Charlottesville (August 14, 2017)
Department of Justice opens civil rights investigation into Charlottesville death (August 14, 2017)