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Charlottesville: Why was Donald Trump's response to the white supremacy rally so controversial?

13 August 2017 3:14 AM
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US President Donald Trump has come under fire for comments he made about a deadly clash between white nationalists and anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mr Trump has been criticised for not explicitly condemning the white supremacists — described as "Nazis" by Virginia's governor — behind the original rally.

The rally was organised by right-wing Charlottesville blogger Jason Kessler to protest against the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee.

The white supremacists were met by a nearly equal number of counter-protesters.

Mr Kessler had described the event as "pro-white" and said it was "about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do".

A video posted on Twitter showed white supremacist marchers shouting "Heil Trump" and giving Nazi salutes as they walked past a counter-demonstration, while demonstrators opposed to the rally were seen burning Confederate flags. Another video showed far-right demonstrators shouting "blood and soil" , a slogan used by the Nazis.

"I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today," Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

At the end of his press conference, Mr Trump left the podium, ignoring reporters' questions about whether he wanted the support of white nationalists who say they back him, or if the apparent car attack constituted an act of terrorism.

Prominent Republicans were among those calling on Mr Trump to make a stronger statement.

Colorado senator Cory Gardner tweeted: "Mr President — we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."

And former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the father of Mr Trump's press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, posted: "'White supremacy' crap is worst kind of racism — it's EVIL and perversion of God's truth to ever think our Creator values some above others."

Utah senator Orrin Hatch, who has been in office since 1977 and is the longest-serving Republican senator in US history, tweeted a video of white supremacists, saying "their ideas are fuelled by hate and have no place in civil society".

The President's comments were praised by a writer on the white supremacist website, the Daily Stormer, who even specifically pointed out that Mr Trump had ignored the reporters' questions.

"Trump comments were good. He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us … no condemnation at all," an update on the website read.

Speaking to journalists at the rally, former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard and white nationalist figure David Duke said protesters were "going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump".

"That's why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he's going to take our country back," Mr Duke said.

But Mr Duke seemed less pleased after the President appealed for America to "come together as one".

"As POTUS Trump said, 'We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation'," Mr Pence tweeted.

In the lead-up to last year's election, Mr Trump came under scrutiny for being slow to condemnation white nationalists — the so-called 'alt-right'.

He was eventually forced to disavow Mr Duke after the latter said he supported the New York businessman's presidential bid.

Mr Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon once declared that his former news site Breitbart was "the platform for the alt-right".

While the President is apparently reluctant to single out the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville for criticism, he has previously made a point of calling out "radical Islamic terrorism" by name.

"Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name," Trump said in a general election debate.

He's now facing pressure to apply the same logic to white supremacists.


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