President Donald Trump lashed out today over criticism of his initial statement about the Charlottesville, Virginia, violence over the weekend in a confrontational press conference at Trump Tower.
Asked about his immediate response Saturday, Trump quickly went on to blame both sides of protestors for the conflict, adding that there were “very fine people” in both the group of white supremacists and white nationalists as well as among the counter-protesters.
“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame object on both sides,” Trump said during his remarks today.
“You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he added.
Trump also defended his initial statement that he made about the violence on Saturday, saying it "was a fine statement" and that he wanted to make sure that he had the facts before speaking again on the issue. Trump made a second statement on Monday from the White House, in which he condemned hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
"Before I make a statement, I need the facts, so I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent," he said today.
Trump took issue with a reporter's characterization of part of the crowd Saturday being part of the so-called alt-right, which is shorthand for the "alternative right" and composed of many far-right ideologies.
"When you say the alt-right, you define it. Go ahead. Define it for me," he said.
"What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right? Do they have any assemblage of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do," he said. It's unclear what Trump meant by the "alt-left."
Trump said that he "looked" at images of the protests that were held "the night before" the violence Saturday. Photos and footage from the event on Friday, Aug. 11, showed groups of people carrying lit tiki torches on a march through the University of Virginia campus.
He went on to question why the statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee, which prompted the protest in the first place, was being removed.
"You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name,” he said.
"George Washington as a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me," Trump said, cutting off a reporter who tried to interject, "Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner.”
When asked about whether or not he thinks the Robert E. Lee statue should remain standing, he said that he thinks it's a local issue.
Trump was also asked about his view of the driver of the car that plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring others.
"I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country. You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics," Trump said.
At one point during the press conference, Trump said that he "didn't know David Duke was there [in Charlottesville]," but Trump's remarks today appeared to please Duke, the former Louisiana lawmaker who was once imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Shortly after the press conference finished, Duke tweeted: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa," he wrote, appearing to reference Black Lives Matter and the anti-fascist counter-protest movement.
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