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Trump now says ‘both sides’ to be blamed for Charlottesville race clashes

he insisted there were some “fine people” in both groups — the white hate-groups that were protesting the removal of a statue of a Confederate general, and the counter-protestors.

world Updated: Aug 16, 2017 20:33 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,Charlottesville,neo-Nazi
Donald Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the Charlottesville rally as he talks to the media at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York on August 15, 2017.(Reuters)

In a stunning reversal, US President Donald Trump said “both sides” were to be blamed for the race clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia — the white hate-groups that were protesting the removal of a statue of a Confederate general, and the counter-protestors.

It took Trump a few hours to tweet his first response to the clashes, calling for peace on Saturday. After a few more hours, he proceeded to blame “many sides” for the violence that claimed three lives. Two days later, he issued a full-throated denunciation of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

It was a full-blown defence of the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan on Tuesday, shielding them from full blame. “There’s blame on both sides,” Trump told reporters at a news briefing that turned combative. “If you look at both sides -- I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.”

Trump insisted that while “you had a group on one side that was bad” — KKK and white supremacists — but “you had a group on the other side — (alt-left, he called them) — that was also very violent … that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is”.

And, he insisted there were some “fine people” in both groups, even among the protestors. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. There were some “very fine people” among them who had turned up simply to protest the removal of the statue, of Robert E Lee.

Asked if Trump was putting the white supremacists and the so-called alt-left on the same “moral plane,” he said, “What I’m saying is this — you had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs — and it was vicious and it was horrible.”

Speaking at Trump Tower in New York, Trump was combative — skirmishing with reporters by calling them “fake news” — and unscripted, to the apparent discomfiture of his newly appointed chief of staff John Kelly who stood to the side, head bowed and arms folded across the chest.

Trump had cast aside the measured tone of his Monday denunciation of the white hate-groups using words and expressions his critics and allies had wanted to hear from him. It was back to being Trump, cynically political, seeking refuge in his base from persistently low approval ratings.

His defence of the protestors did not stop at the “nice people” among them or the sharing of blame for the clashes, but also to their cause. “This week it’s Robert E Lee,” he started. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson (Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, another confederate general) is coming down.”

“I wonder, is it George Washington (the first US president) next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson (the third US president) the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

His point was that both Washington and Jefferson were slave-owners, so should they, as he put it, “lose their status” as well.

Trump’s briefing sent Republicans right back to where they were the last few day — urging him to do the right thing.

“The President needs to clearly and categorically reject white supremacists. No excuses. No ambiguity,” Ed Royce, a Republican lawmaker, tweeted.

“Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain,” senator Marco Rubio tweeted. “The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win. We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected.”

First Published: Aug 16, 2017 20:33 IST