Donald Trump condemned “violence on many sides” in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in at least one fatality after a car ran into a crowd of counter-protesters.
The clashes in Charlottesville started after white nationalists planned a rally around a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee that is slated to be removed.
Speaking at a previously scheduled event in Bedminster, New Jersey, to discuss healthcare for veterans, Trump said: “I should put out a comment as to what’s going on in Charlottesville.”
After stopping to shake the hands of the assembled veterans, the president said: “We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Trump added that this had been “going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. A long, long time.” Trump added: “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order.”
The president also bemoaned that the clashes were happening when “our country is doing so well in so many ways”, citing low unemployment and the renegotiation of trade deals.
The initial White House response came from the Twitter account of the first lady, Melania Trump: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville” at 12:36 on Saturday.
The president did not issue a statement until 40 minutes later, when he said on Twitter: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
Trump did not specifically mention Charlottesville until a following statement on Twitter, in which he described the clashes as “Sad!” Trump tweeted: “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”
The White House response also included a since deleted tweet from the homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, in which he condemned “the violence and hate in Charlotte”. The city of Charlotte is in North Carolina.
In contrast, other politicians from both parties issued far harsher denunciations of the events in Charlottesville. Among Republicans, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, tweeted: “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.” The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, tweeted: “The hate and bigotry witnessed in #Charlottesville does not reflect American values. I wholeheartedly oppose their actions.”
Democrats shared these condemnations and called on Trump to make them as well. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement: “The march and rally in Charlottesville goes against everything the American flag stands for. President Trump must condemn this in the strongest terms immediately.” The Hawaii senator Brian Schatz offered a pointed comment on Twitter: “It is not too much to ask to have a President who explicitly condemns nazis.”