Pence condemns neo-Nazis as White House scrambles to defend Trump
search

Pence condemns neo-Nazis as White House scrambles to defend Trump

US vice president says no tolerance for hate groups, calling them out by name, as anger grows over president's statements on deadly Virginia violence

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Presidential guest house in Cartagena, Colombia on August 13, 2017. (AFP/ STR)
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Presidential guest house in Cartagena, Colombia on August 13, 2017. (AFP/ STR)

US Vice President Mike Pence condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis by name late Sunday as the White House scrambled to elaborate on President Donald Trump’s response to deadly, race-fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, a day earlier.

Trump came under bipartisan scolding for not clearly condemning white supremacists and other hate groups immediately after the altercations.

A woman died and 19 people were injured in the city of Charlottesville when a car plowed into a crowd of people after a rally by Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists turned violent. Two state police officers died in a helicopter crash near the area.

As the chorus of criticism grew, White Houses aides were dispatched to the morning news shows, yet they struggled at times to explain the president’s position. A new White House statement on Sunday explicitly denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, but it was attributed to an unnamed spokesperson and not the president himself.

Pence, traveling in South America, condemned “these dangerous fringe groups” when asked to respond to the events in Charlottesville, breaking from Trump by specifically naming them.

“We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK,” Pence said Sunday at a news conference in Cartagena, Colombia, where he was on the first leg of a Latin American tour.

Protesters listen during a "Peace and Sanity" rally Sunday Aug. 13, 2017, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, during a rally about white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)
Protesters listen during a “Peace and Sanity” rally Sunday Aug. 13, 2017, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, during a rally about white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

“These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

But Pence also defended Trump, saying the president “clearly and unambiguously condemned the bigotry, violence and hatred” on display in Charlottesville.

Pence chided the media for what he called its stronger focus on Trump’s words than on those who perpetrated the violence.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press about protests in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. (AFP/ JIM WATSON)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press about protests in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. (AFP/ JIM WATSON)

Trump, meanwhile, remained out of sight and silent, save for a few retweets. One was about two Virginia state policemen killed in a helicopter crash while monitoring the Charlottesville protests, another about a Justice Department probe into the violence.

In the hours after a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters 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.”

Speaking slowly from his New Jersey golf club while on a 17-day working vacation, Trump added: “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The White House statement Sunday went further. “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred and of course that includes white Supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.” It added: “He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

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 for its truthfulness and often undercuts its significance.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, issued a tweet early Sunday that included the sort of language some people said her father should have used on Saturday.

“There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis,” she tweeted.

This file photo taken on July 08, 2017, shows members of the Ku Klux Klan and others arriving for a rally calling for the protection of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia. (AFP Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
This file photo taken on July 08, 2017, shows members of the Ku Klux Klan and others arriving for a rally calling for the protection of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia. (AFP Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Sunday that he considered the attack to be terrorism. On Saturday, Trump had not responded to reporters’ shouted questions about terrorism.

“I certainly think anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism,” McMaster told ABC’s “This Week.” ”It meets the definition of terrorism. But what this is, what you see here, is you see someone who is a criminal, who is committing a criminal act against fellow Americans.”

The president’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, defended the president’s initial statement by suggesting that some of the counter-protesters were violent, too. When pressed during a contentious interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he specifically condemned the racist groups.

The Ku Klux Klan protests on July 8, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.(Chet Strange/Getty Images/AFP)
The Ku Klux Klan protests on July 8, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.(Chet Strange/Getty Images/AFP)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he spoke to Trump in the hours after the clashes and that he 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.

On Saturday, Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing the president for not specifically calling out white nationalists. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., tweeted: “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” Added Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.”

The president did not have any public events on Sunday. White House staff did not share any information on his activities except that he and his staff were monitoring the aftermath of the violence in Virginia.

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.

White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the 'Unite the Right' rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the ‘Unite the Right’ rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

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

Charlottesville remained tense on Sunday. Jason Kessler, a far-right blogger who had organized the “Unite the Right Rally,” attempted to hold a news conference in front of city hall, but was confronted by a hostile crowd, spat on and tackled by a protester, US media said. He left the scene under police escort.

Of the 19 people who were hurt Saturday in the car ramming, 10 remained hospitalized in good condition and nine had been released, the University of Virginia Health System said.

McAuliffe, who had declared a state of emergency even before the far-right rally officially got underway, attended a prayer event on Sunday and called on lawmakers to speak out forcefully against hate.

“We got to call it out for what it is. It is hatred, it is bigotry and our leaders got to be very frank, unequivocal. We will not tolerate that in our country,” he said.

Trump is expected to hold a news conference Monday in Washington at which he will almost certainly be questioned on his response.

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.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, a Democrat, slammed Trump’s stance toward hate groups, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he hopes Trump “looks himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with.”

“Old saying: when you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change, the devil changes you,” Signer said.

Trump, as a presidential candidate, frequently came under scrutiny for being slow to offer his condemnation of white supremacists. His strongest denunciation of the movement has not come voluntarily, only when asked, and he occasionally 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.”

read more:
comments