How White Supremacists Have “Dogged” Trump Ever Since The Campaign
President Trump pauses as he speaks to the media regarding the situation in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Facing criticism for his initial response to this weekend’s clashes in Charlottesville, Va., President Trump on Monday directly condemned the K.K.K., neo-Nazis and white nationalists for their role in the violence, declaring such hate groups “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs,” Trump said from the White House. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America.”
The remarks came after a tumultuous 48 hours in which Trump faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for failing to unambiguously denounce the white supremacists who converged on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Clashes with counter-demonstrators left one person dead and more than 30 injured. Two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter accident while conducting surveillance of Saturday’s events.
Speaking from his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J. on Saturday, Trump failed to specifically single out white supremacists.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said.
That initial response garnered criticism from Democrats and many in Trump’s own party.
“Mr. President – we must call evil by its name,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) tweeted on Saturday. “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter that it was “very important” for the nation to hear the president describe the events in Charlottesville “for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.”
Those who supported the rally of white supremacists underscored that Trump did not single them out in his response to the clashes on Saturday.
“Trump comments were good,” wrote Andrew Anglin, the founder of The Daily Stormer, a website that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as dedicated to spreading anti-Semitism, white nationalism and neo-Nazism. “He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.”
The White House released a statement about Trump’s remarks on Sunday, saying, “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, K.K.K., neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has come under fire for appearing reluctant to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis. As FRONTLINE explored in the above scene from the documentary Trump’s Road to the White House, the president’s 2016 campaign rallies were often criticized for attracting supporters who openly espoused racist and bigoted views.
In interviews for the documentary, Trump insiders downplayed the presence of white supremacists at the candidate’s rallies. While white nationalists may have been drawn to Trump, they said, he never courted their support.
“The campaign is continually dogged by a small and vocal number of white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis,” said Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to Trump. “This isn’t a very large group of people, but they are very vocal. And they attach themselves to Trump.”
Some who covered the campaign said Trump relied on these groups as supporters.
“Trump, whenever there was a moment to draw a line between himself and these extreme parts of the voting block, he refused,” Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine observed. “And I think without question, the only way you can interpret that is that he was going to use these groups to try to build this coalition.”
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, said that the issue was overblown by the media throughout the election.
“You know, the disappointing part was time and time again Donald Trump said, ‘I don’t want support from these people,’ from the white nationalists. He said it very publicly, on multiple occasions. But that’s not the narrative that the media wanted to report on. The media wanted to report on a room with 15,000 people, there’s two people that are white nationalists, so that’s what they want to talk about.”