Trump acknowledged the grim anniversary of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. that turned deadly last year and is regarded as one of the worst weeks in his presidency.
“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” Trump posted on Twitter Saturday morning. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
The remarks swayed from his comments after last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in the city, which led to violence and several deaths, when Neo-Nazi sympathizers and counterprotesters clashed during demonstrations. But some critics jumped on the president’s wording of “all types of racism,” saying this was just another version of Trump’s claim last year that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, was struck and killed when a white supremacist slammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. And two Virginia state troopers died when their surveillance helicopter crashed near the protests.
At that time, Trump argued there was blame on both sides and equated the actions of white nationalists, who carried Nazi flags and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” to that of counterprotesters.
“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” Trump said.
He continued: “What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt?,” he said. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Trump’s comments were met with a firestorm of criticism on “both sides” of the aisle. He tried to clarify his comments later, specifically calling out Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan in a prepared statement.
Later, he again blamed “both sides.” The back and forth comments and criticism that followed led to what is regarded as one of the worst weeks for Trump since he took office.
Some of Trump’s critics argued Saturday that his comment to “condemn all types of racism” was just an offshoot of blaming “both sides.”
“‘All types.’ ‘Both sides.’ Continuing to advance a narrative of moral equivalency between racists and those opposed to racism, so as not to tick of his white supremacist supporters,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, posted on Twitter.
Others, including some reporters, also said Trump’s words had a double meaning.
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told USA TODAY that Trump’s comments on Saturday seemed to be forced and noted the wording was suspicious.
“The problem is context,” Cohen said. “White people think they’re the ones being targeted for racism and a lot of these people are Trump supporters so when the president makes a comment like this with ‘all types’ it’s hard to not be suspicious.”
He said the president’s call for peace and rhetoric condemning racism was “hollow.”
White nationalists are again planning to rally – this year outside the president’s home in Washington, D.C.
The “Unite the Right” rally is scheduled for Sunday in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. A large counterprotest is also scheduled.