Trump was asked about his declaration that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’ of a series of increasingly violent protests initially sparked by a decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park.
The resulting clashes between white supremacists who organized a rally and counter-protesters ended with a woman’s death. Neo-Nazi James Fields was sentenced to life in prison in December for running over Heather Heyer with his car.
The debate over Trump’s remarks resurfaced after former Vice President
Trump praised Lee as ‘one of the great generals’ on Friday when a reporter asked him to revisit his 2017 views as he left the White House for a speech to the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis. ‘People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that,’ he said.
President Donald Trump defended his 2017 remarks about the deadly Charlottesville race riot, saying Friday that he was only praising as ‘fine people’ those who were trying to prevent the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
The statue of Generall Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked a movement to remove it and a backlash from some peaceful objectors but also a much larger group of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists
Former Vice President Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign by using President Trump’s remarks after the race riots – his claim that there were ‘fine people’ on both sides of hte controversy – were evidence of a moral failing
The ‘Unite the Right’ rally, organized by white supremacists, included a torch-light march that saw protesters chanting ‘Jews will not replace us!’
He mentioned the Lee statue in his remarks two years ago, but said there was ‘blame on both sides’ of the larger clash.
‘If you reported it accurately, you would say that the neo-Nazis started this thing,’ he told reporters at the time in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City, but also said the racists ‘didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis.’
‘You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides. … I saw the same pictures as 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 White House claimed then that Trump’s praise was limited to people who showed up in Charlottesville to argue for preserving the Lee statue.
Trump had said: ‘I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists. They should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.’
‘You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest. Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me.’
TRUMP’S AUGUST 2017 WORDS ON CHARLOTTESVILLE
Question: Mr. President, are you putting what you are calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
President Donald Trump: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane. You had a group on one side and the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. It was a horrible thing to watch. There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You can say what you want. That’s the way it is.
Question: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides?
Trump: I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame object both on both sides. I have no doubt about it. You don’t have doubt about it either. If you reported it accurately, you would say that the neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville. Excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis. You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as 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.
George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me. Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue. He was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? It is fine. You are changing history and culture.
You had people and i’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists. They should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. 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 too.
Question: You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?
Trump: No, no. There were people in that rally. I looked the night before. If you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I am sure 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. You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest. 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 horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides
President Trump has long insisted he’s not sympathetic to racists but his often askward approaches to expressing himselgf leave wide openings for his critics to pounce
It’s unclear how many people other than white supremacists protested against the removal of the Lee statue, but news reports at the time suggested there were benign demonstrators among them
JOE BIDEN’S VIDEO MESSAGE THURSDAY ON TRUMP’S TAKE
‘Charlotteville is also home to a defining moment for this nation in the last few years. It was there in August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open.
‘Their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and baring the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s. They were met by a courageous group of Americans, and a violent clash ensued. And a brave young woman lost her life.
‘That’s when we heard the words from the President of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were “some very find people on both sides.” Very fine people on both sides?
‘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. And in that moment I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.’
There is some evidence to support that claim. Four days after the riot, billed by racists as a ‘Unite the Right’ rally,
The paper’s reporters interviewed a Kansas woman who had driven through the night to Charlottesville with a group of people who hoped to make a public case for keeping the Lee statue.
James Alex Fields Jr. was sentenced to life in prison in December 2018 for first-degree murder; he drove his car into counterprotesters at the Charlottesville rally, killing a woman
‘Good people can go to Charlottesville,’ Michelle Piercy told the Times.
Piercy, a nursing home employee, said she and her friends were First and Second Amendment defenders who were not part of the neo-Nazi mob, and felt like Trump had been defending them.
‘It’s almost like he talked to one of our people,’ she said.
Accounts like Piercy’s are rare, however, and most of the demonstrations recorded by a horde of professional and amateur videographers in Charlottesville were aligned with white supremacy.
Biden said in Thursday’s campaign launch video that after the dust settled in Charlottesville, ‘we heard the words from the President of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation.’
TRUMP’S RESPONSE TO BIDEN AT THE WHITE HOUSE ON FRIDAY
Question: Mr. President, do you still think there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville?
President Donald Trump: Oh, I’ve answered that question. And 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. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.
I have 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.
Fields’ automobile rampage was captured on camera by news photographers on the scene of an otherwise largely nonviolent protest
‘He said there were some “very fine people” on both sides. Very fine people on both sides?’ Biden asked. ‘We’ve heard it so often it is almost a cliche.’
Biden went further Friday on ‘The View,’ insisting that Trump hadn’t condemned racists in the wake of the deadly Virginia violence.
‘The idea to compare these racists and not condemn them, neo-Nazis, I don’t ever remember that happening in an administration in well over 100 years,’ he said.
Trump said Friday morning at the White House that in 2017 he praised people who went to Charlottesville to protest ‘because they felt very strongly about the statue of Robert E. Lee,’ a famed Confederate army general who is still revered in parts of the American south.
‘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 … think he was maybe their favorite general,’ he said.