WASHINGTON – President Trump unequivocally condemned the ugly rally by neo-Nazis, Klan members and other white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent when a man rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters.
“The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups,” the White House reported in an official release Sunday. “He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
Virginia police have not yet provided a motive for a man plowing a car into a crowd of people objecting to the white nationalists, but U.S. attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil-rights investigation into the crash, an FBI field office said.
Four people have been arrested, including James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old white man from Ohio who is being held in jail on suspicion of crashing the Dodge Challenger. The vehicle killed a 32-year-old woman, identified as Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, and injured 19 people, five of them critically.
The horrific, albeit brief, attack can be seen from multiple angles via video captured by journalists and marchers and shared on social media.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called late Saturday for a federal investigation into the day’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville.
“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Sessions said.
Charlottesville’s Democratic Mayor Michael Signer blamed President Trump for the violence in his own city.
“Look at the campaign he ran,” Signer said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Signer accused Trump of running a campaign that attracted racist groups and said he had personally opted not to push back forcefully against them.
“Look at the intentional courting both, on the one hand, of all these white supremacists, white nationalist groups like that, anti-Semitic groups,” Signer said. “And then look on the other hand, the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence, you know, put to bed all those different efforts.”
Federal authorities were also looking into a helicopter crash on Saturday that killed two Virginia state policemen aiding efforts to quell the clashes.
On Sunday morning, before the White House statement, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, appealed on Twitter for Americans to “be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville.” She also posted: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”
An organizer of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of Confederate war hero Robert E. Lee’s statue from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down.
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About 15 people were injured after rival groups fought pitched battles using fists, rocks and pepper spray.
The rally stemmed from a long debate in the U.S. South over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over slavery.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster said on ABC News that the president was “very clear” in his statement and “called out anyone, anyone who is responsible for fomenting this kind of bigotry, hatred, racism and violence.” Later in the morning, McMaster added on NBC News that it “ought to be clear to all Americans” that Trump’s comments about bigotry and hatred included white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He also said that he considers the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville on Saturday an act of terrorism.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said on CBS News that the president was “specific,” “very clear” and, “frankly, pretty unambiguous” in responding to the violence. He added: “When someone marches with a Nazi flag, that is unacceptable, but I think that’s what the president’s saying.”
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides,” said Trump in his statement Saturday. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”
He continued: “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 are 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. My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens – but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. 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.”
While Trump’s denunciation of the rally was unambiguous, much of the media reporting is attempting to link him to the racists and by claiming he didn’t blame only white supremacists.
A state of emergency has been declared around Charlottesville, Virginia, amid clashes between white nationalist demonstrators and counter-protesters.
Gov. Terry McAullife declared a state of emergency shortly before 11 a.m. ET, moments before the rally was scheduled to begin at noon at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville.
Using megaphones, police declared an unlawful assembly at about 11:40 a.m., and gave a five-minute warning to leave Emancipation Park, where hundreds of neoNazis, Ku Klux Klans members and other white nationalists had gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.
They were met by equal numbers of counter-protesters, including clergy, Black Lives Matter activists and Princeton professor Cornel West.
Both the city of Charlottesville and the Albemarle County have declared a local state of emergency, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.