President Donald Trump on Tuesday erased any ground he had gained in denouncing white supremacist groups by reverting to his old habits: False equivalencies and equivocation that left white supremacists cheering.
In an angry press conference at Trump Tower, the President said that not everyone who rallied on the side of white supremacists was worthy of condemnation, and said that he needed the two full days before denouncingwhite white supremacist groups in order to “get the facts.”
These were Trump’s main claims during the impromptu press conference:
Though the rally was organized by white supremacist groups and ostensibly meant to protest the removal of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Trump claimed some protesters on the side of the white supremacists were innocently and justifiably exercising their rights.
“I have condemned many different groups,” he said. “But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”
“I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned, totally,” he added. “But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
Trump said some pro-Confederate protesters were “protesting, very quietly, the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee” on Friday night. “You had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest — and very legally protest. I don’t know if you know, they had a permit, the other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this, there are two sides to a story.”
Trump also criticized what he called the “alt-left.”
“What about the alt-left that came charging at them?” he asked separately. “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about this? What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
He added: “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.”
On Saturday, Trump condemned “many sides” for stirring the violence that had left one counter-protester dead at the time of his statement. A man who had earlier been photographed with white supremacists had allegedly rammed his car into a crowd.
“I didn’t wait long, I didn’t wait long, I didn’t wait long,” Trump said Tuesday, referring to his specific condemnation a day earlier of white supremacist groups. “I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement, but you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the fact.”
“It takes a little while to get the facts,” he continued. “You still don’t know the facts. And it’s a very, very important process to me. And it’s a very important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.”
Though the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who died in the car attack, only praised Trump after his Monday statement explicitly condemning white supremacists, the President appeared Tuesday to use it to bolster his argument for waiting two full days to make that condemnation.
“In fact, the young woman who I hear is a fantastic young woman … her mother wrote me and said, through, I guess, Twitter, social media, the nicest things,” Trump said. “And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really, actually, an incredible young woman. But her mother, on Twitter, thanked me for what I said. And honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”
Copping a common talking point from the far-right, Trump argued that tearing down monuments to Confederate leaders could lead to the removal of statues of America’s Founding Fathers.
“George Washington was a slave owner,” Trump said. “Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me. Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?”
He added: “It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture.”
Returning to the point later, Trump made the connection explicit: “This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
“I own a house in Charlottesville,” Trump bragged on the way out, amid reporters’ shouted questions.
“Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? It’s in Charlottesville. It is the winery. I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.”