Donald Trump condemned on Tuesday a gathering of white supremacists in Washington DC that saw Nazi salutes and “hail” cries for the president-elect.
He also “disavowed” the broader alt-right movement of racist and so-called “white nationalist” groups that have rallied to support his candidacy during the 2016 race.
Speaking to New York Times staffers in the paper’s Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday, Trump said that “of course, I disavow and condemn them,” according to the paper’s White House correspondent Julie Davis, who attended the meeting with Trump.
Asked if he would condemn the alt-right movement generally, Trump reportedly said, “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” according to Mike Grynbaum, a media and politics reporter for the paper.
“It’s not a group I want to energize. And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why,” Maggie Haberman, presidential campaign correspondent, quoted Trump as saying.
The quotes from Trump were live-tweeted from the meeting by Times staffers.
Trump: “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group.” (1/2)
— Michael M. Grynbaum (@grynbaum) November 22, 2016
Trump on alt-right supporters: "It's not a group I want to energize. And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why."
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) November 22, 2016
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) November 22, 2016
The president-elect also rushed to defend Stephen Bannon, his recently announced chief strategist in the White House who has been accused by several Jewish and left-wing organizations of backing alt-right and racist causes.
“I think it’s very hard on him. I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him,” Trump said.
“I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time,” he went on. “If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right…I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.”
Bannon has been “treated very unfairly,” he concluded, according to the reporters in the room.
Grynbaum asked Trump if he would specifically condemn the white supremacist gathering in Washington over the weekend led by alt-right founder Richard Spencer.
“I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn,” Trump responded.
Trump has faced criticism over his failure to explicitly condemn these groups, ranging from the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan to a varied assortment of hate groups and online activists who have harassed Jewish reporters and social media users for months while claiming to back the GOP candidate.