Trump names hate groups, denouncing Charlottesville violence

By  | 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, V.A. (AP) — Under relentless pressure, President Donald Trump on Monday named and condemned “repugnant” hate groups and declared that “racism is evil” in a far more forceful statement than he’d made earlier after deadly, race-fueled weekend clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump’s initial failure on Saturday to denounce the groups by name — instead he bemoaned violence on “many sides” — prompted criticism from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats. This time, the president described members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs” in a prepared statement he read during an unscheduled address from the White House.

“Racism is evil,” he said, singling out the hate groups as “repugnant to everything that we hold dear as Americans.”

“Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” he said.

In his remarks he also called for unity.

“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans,” he said.

Trump also, for the first time, mentioned Heather Heyer by name, as he paid tribute to the woman killed when a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville.

The president left the White House room after his statement without acknowledging reporters’ shouted questions.

Trump noted that the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the car crash that killed Heyer.

“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered,” he said.

His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said earlier Monday that the violence “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute.”

Sessions told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” ″You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America.”

Trump gave his statement after meeting with Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

In the hours after the incident on Saturday, Trump addressed the violence in broad strokes, saying that he condemns “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

That was met with swift bipartisan criticism.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he spoke to Trump in the hours after the clashes and twice told the president “we have to stop this hateful speech, this rhetoric.” He said he urged Trump “to come out stronger” against the actions of white supremacists.

Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing the president for not specifically calling out white nationalists. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said Sunday on NBC, “This isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame.”

The White House scrambled to stem the tide of criticism, dispatching aides to the Sunday talk shows and sending out a statement that more forcefully denounced the hate groups.

But the White House did not attach a name to the statement. Usually, a statement would be signed by the press secretary or another staffer; not putting a name to one eliminates an individual’s responsibility and often undercuts the significance.

White nationalists had assembled in Charlottesville to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters massed in opposition.

Alt-right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke attended the demonstrations. Duke told reporters that the white nationalists were working to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

Trump’s initial comments drew praise from the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, which wrote: “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.” The website had been promoting the Charlottesville demonstration as part of its “Summer of Hate” edition.

Trump, as a presidential candidate, frequently came under scrutiny for being slow to offer his condemnation of white supremacists. His strongest denunciations of the movement have not come voluntarily, only when asked, and he occasionally has trafficked in retweets of racist social media posts during his campaign. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, once declared that his former news site, Breitbart, was “the platform for the alt-right.”

Early Monday, the CEO of the nation’s third largest pharmaceutical company said he was resigning from the President’s American Manufacturing Council, citing “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Trump lashed back almost immediately at Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Twitter, saying Frazier “will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

A judge has denied bond for an Ohio man accused of plowing his car into a crowd at a white nationalist rally.

Judge Robert Downer said during a bond hearing Monday he would appoint a lawyer for James Alex Fields Jr.

Fields is charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he drove into the crowd, fatally injuring one woman and hurting 19 others.

The rally was held by white nationalists and others who oppose a plan to remove from a Charlottesville park of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Fields has been in custody since Saturday.

A high school teacher said Fields was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler and had been singled out by school officials in the 9th grade for his "deeply held, radical" convictions on race.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

After the violence in Charlottesville, and a number of rallies across the country denouncing white supremacy groups, the man accused of ramming his car into a crowd of protesters on Saturday will have his first court appearance Monday.

People gathered Sunday in Charlottesville to remember Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed when James Alex Fields, Jr. allegedly plowed his car into protesters just one day prior.

A motive isn't yet clear but according to a Justice Department official close to the investigation, federal investigators may have gathered enough evidence to suspect the accused driver wanted to send a message.

The victim's mother described Heyer as someone standing up for people who needed help, "it was important for her to speak up for people she felt were not being heard," said Susan Bro.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe stopped at various churches in the area Sunday to talk to congregants about the violence on Saturday.

"They were Nazis. They don't stand for us. They call themselves Patriots. Ladies and gentlemen, they were not Patriots. as I said yesterday, go home. Leave our beautiful city," McAuliffe said.

Vice President Mike Pence echoed those statements, saying "we have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK."



PREVIOUS STORY:
A car rammed into a crowd of protesters and a state police helicopter crashed into the woods Saturday as tension boiled over at a white supremacist rally. The violent day left three dead, dozens injured and this usually quiet college town a bloodied symbol of the nation’s roiling racial and political divisions.

The chaos erupted around what is believed to be the largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade — including neo-Nazis, skinheads, members of the Ku Klux Klan — who descended on the city to “take America back” by rallying against plans to remove a Confederate statue. Hundreds came to protest against the racism. There were street brawls and violent clashes; the governor declared a state of emergency, police in riot gear ordered people out and helicopters circled overhead.

Peaceful protesters were marching downtown, carrying signs that read “black lives matter” and “love.” A silver Dodge Challenger suddenly came barreling through “a sea of people” and smashed into another car, said Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student.

The impact hurled people into the air and blew off their shoes. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed as she crossed the street.

“It was a wave of people flying at me,” said Sam Becker, 24, sitting in the emergency room to be treated for leg and hand injuries.

Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety. Video caught the car reversing, hitting more people, its windshield splintered from the collision and bumper dragging on the pavement. Medics carried the injured, bloodied and crying, away as a police tank rolled down the street.

The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old who recently moved to Ohio from where he grew up in Kentucky, was charged with second-degree murder and other counts. Field’s mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn’t know it was a white supremacist rally.

“I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” said Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally.

“He had an African-American friend so ...,” she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she’d be surprised if her son’s views were that far right.

His arrest capped off hours of unrest. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. Some came prepared for a fight, with body armor and helmets. Videos that ricocheted around the world on social media showed people beating each other with sticks and shields.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, both Democrats, lumped the blame squarely on the rancor that has seeped into American politics and the white supremacists who came from out of town into their city, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, home to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation.

“There is a very sad and regrettable coarseness in our politics that we’ve all seen too much of today,” Signer said at a press conference. “Our opponents have become our enemies, debate has become intimidation.”

Some of the white nationalists at Saturday’s rally cited President Donald Trump’s victory after a campaign of racially-charged rhetoric as validation for their beliefs.

Trump criticized the violence in a tweet Saturday, followed by a press conference and a call for “a swift restoration of law and order.”

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

The “on many sides” ending of his statement drew the ire of his critics, who said he failed to specifically denounce white supremacy and equated those who came to protest racism with the white supremacists. The Rev. Jesse Jackson noted that Trump for years questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship and his legitimacy as the first black president, and has fanned the flames of white resentment.

“We are in a very dangerous place right now,” Jackson said. McAuliffe said at Saturday’s press conference that he spoke to Trump on the phone, and insisted that the president must work to combat hate.

Trump said he agreed with McAuliffe “that the hate and the division must stop and must stop right now.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that federal authorities will pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.

The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Sessions wrote. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said multiple white power groups gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organizations, racist skinheads and KKK factions. The white nationalist organizations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa; the Southern nationalist League of the South; the National Socialist Movement; the Traditionalist Workers Party; and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights also were on hand, he said.

“We anticipated this event being the largest white supremacist gathering in over a decade,” Segal said. “Unfortunately, it appears to have become the most violent as well.”

On the other side, anti-fascist demonstrators also gathered, but they generally aren’t organized like white nationalist factions, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In addition to Fields, at least three more men were arrested in connection to the protests.

The Virginia State Police announced late Saturday that Troy Dunigan, a 21-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, a 21-year-old from Louisa, Virginia, was charged with assault and battery; and James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

Just as the city seemed like to be quieting down, black smoke billowed out from the tree tops just outside of town as a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed into the woods.

Robby E. Noll, who lives in the county just outside Charlottesville, heard the helicopter sputtering.

“I turned my head to the sky. You could tell he was struggling to try to get control of it,” he said.

He said pieces of the helicopter started to break off as it fell from the sky.

Both troopers onboard, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, one day shy of his 41st birthday, were killed. Police said the helicopter had been deployed to the violent protests in the city, which has been caught in the middle of the nation’s culture wars since it decided earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, enshrined in bronze on horseback in the city’s Emancipation Park.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled there for a rally. Spencer returned for Saturday’s protest, and denied all responsibility for the violence. He blamed the police.

Signer said the white supremacist groups who came into his city to spread hate “are on the losing side of history.”

“Tomorrow will come and we will emerge,” he said, “I can promise you, stronger than ever.”

Four-hundred miles away, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, hinted that the white supremacists might get the opposite of what they’d hoped for.

Mayor Jim Gray announced on Twitter that he would work to remove the confederate monument at his county’s courthouse.

“Today’s events in Virginia remind us that we must bring our country together by condemning violence, white supremacists and Nazi hate groups,” he wrote. “We cannot let them define our future.”


Previous Story

Authorities say a 20-year-old Ohio man accused of driving a car into a group of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally has been charged with second-degree murder and other counts.

The Charlottesville Police Department said in a statement Saturday night that James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio also faces three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene.

Col. Martin Kumer, superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, said Fields was in custody there Saturday night. Kumer says he doesn't believe Fields has obtained an attorney yet.

He says a bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Also a helicopter helping monitor the white nationalist rally crashed Saturday outside of Charlottesville, killing two troopers.

Police said Lt. H. Jay Cullen of Midlothian and Trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton were killed in the crash.

This crash happened just a few hours after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting against the white nationalist rally. One person was killed and at least two dozen were hurt.


Previous Story

Officials say the deaths of two people in a helicopter crash near Charlottesville, Virginia, have been linked to a violent white nationalist rally earlier in the day.

It was not immediately clear how the crash was connected to the rally. Corinne Geller, a Virignia State Police spokeswoman, says the pilot and a passenger were killed in the crash Saturday afternoon.

The crash happened just a few hours after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting against the white nationalist rally. One person was killed and at least two dozen were hurt.


Previous Story

A car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white supremacist rally in downtown Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, ratcheting up the tension in an increasingly chaotic confrontation in this usually quiet college town.

It is unclear how many were injured; an Associated Press reporter saw at least one person on the ground receiving medical treatment immediately after the car careened into the line of several hundred people.

Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound.” A silver sedan smashed into another car, then backed up, plowing through “a sea of people.”

People scattered, running for safety in different directions, he said.

It happened about two hours after violent clashes broke out between white nationalists, who descended on the town to rally against the city’s plans to remove a statue of the Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee, and others who arrived to protest the racism.

Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. At least eight were injured and one arrested in connection to the earlier violence. It remains unclear if the driver of the car has been apprehended.

Authorities are on the scene after a vehicle plowed into a group of people marching through downtown Charlottesville. White nationalists have been protesting plans by Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (Aug. 12)

Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, and police dressed in riot gear ordered people out.

Small bands of protesters who showed up to express their opposition to the rally were seen marching around the city peacefully by midafternoon, chanting and waving flags. Helicopters circled overhead.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally to protest the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove the confederate statue from a downtown park.

Colleen Cook, 26, stood on a curb shouting at the rally attendees to go home.

Cook, a teacher who attended the University of Virginia, said she sent her son, who is black, out of town for the weekend.

“This isn’t how he should have to grow up,” she said.

Cliff Erickson leaned against a fence and took in the scene. He said he thinks removing the statue amounts to erasing history and said the “counter-protesters are crazier than the alt-right.”

“Both sides are hoping for a confrontation,” he said.

It’s the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city about 100 miles outside of Washington, D.C., voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Lee.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.

Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and “advocating for white people.”

“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.

Between rally attendees and counter-protesters, authorities were expecting as many as 6,000 people, Charlottesville police said this week.

Among those expected to attend are Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and “alt-right” activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which track extremist groups, said the event has the potential to be the largest of its kind in at least a decade.

Officials have been preparing for the rally for months. Virginia State Police will be assisting local authorities, and a spokesman said the Virginia National Guard “will closely monitor the situation and will be able to rapidly respond and provide additional assistance if needed.”

Police instituted road closures around downtown, and many businesses in the popular open-air shopping mall opted to close for the day.

Both local hospitals said they had taken precautions to prepare for an influx of patients and had extra staff on call.

There were also fights Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches.

A university spokesman said one person was arrested and several people were injured.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed President Donald Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”

Charlottesville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a liberal-leaning city that’s home to the flagship University of Virginia and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

The statue’s removal is part of a broader city effort to change the way Charlottesville’s history of race is told in public spaces. The city has also renamed Lee Park, where the statue stands, and Jackson Park, named for Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. They’re now called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively.

For now, the Lee statue remains. A group called the Monument Fund filed a lawsuit arguing that removing the statue would violate a state law governing war memorials. A judge has agreed to a temporary injunction that blocks the city from removing the statue for six months.