US President Donald Trump — under pressure to explicitly condemn a weekend rally by white supremacists in Virginia that ended in bloodshed — on Monday denounced racism as “evil,” and singled out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as “repugnant.”
“Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” Trump said in nationally televised remarks from the White House, where he travelled early Monday to meet with his top law enforcement aides.
“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
The clear statement came after the White House and other senior administration officials had scrambled to elaborate on his previous response, which had only criticized hatred “on many sides.”
Trump came under bipartisan criticism for not clearly condemning white supremacists and other hate groups immediately after the altercations.
White nationalists assembled in Charlottesville on Friday to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Counter-protesters massed in opposition the next day. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car was driven into a crowd of people protesting the racist rally, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 26 others. The driver was later taken into custody.
Two Virginia state troopers were also killed when their police helicopter crashed and caught on fire while responding to clashes between white supremacist protesters and counterprotesters.
Trump came under fire, even from members of his own party, for blaming the violence on hatred and bigotry “on many sides,” and not explicitly condemning the white extremist groups at the rally.
As the chorus of criticism grew, White House 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 had explicitly denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, but it was attributed to an unnamed spokesperson and not to the president himself.