In a rocky press conference at Trump Tower Tuesday, a defiant President Trump switched course and returned to castigating “both sides” for the weekend violence in Charlottesville that rocked the country. He said not everyone who had shown up at the white supremacist-organized rally against the removal of a Confederate statue was worthy of condemnation.
“I have condemned neo-Nazis,” he said. “I have condemned many different groups. 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.”
“You had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned, totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay?” he added separately. “And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
He said the statue of Lee was “to them, a very, very important statue,” referring to the protesters. He also blamed the counter-protesters, who objected to the white supremacist groups’ rally, for the turmoil.
“Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had trouble-makers, and you see them come with the black outfits, and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats,” he said. “You had a lot of bad people in the other group, too.”
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said separately.
Trump said he thought the man who allegedly rammed his car into a crowded group of counter-protesters, killing one, was “a disgrace.” The man had earlier been photographed with a white supremacist group.
“I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country,” he said. “You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict, that’s what I would call it, because there is a question, is it murder, is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. What he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.
The President rejected the criticism that he had waited too long to denounce white supremacist groups explicitly after the rally, saying he needed to get all the facts first. He rejected the groups by name on Monday, fully two days after the rally occurred, and after he blamed “many sides” for the violence that occurred.
“I didn’t wait long, I didn’t wait long,” Trump said, responding to reporters’ questions after announcing an executive order in the lobby of Trump Tower. “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 said. “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.”
He pulled the statement he had made Saturday out of his pocket and re-read it, but left out the part when he said “many sides” were responsible for the weekend’s violence.
Trump also said localities should determine whether or not to tear down monuments to Confederate military and political figures, but implied he thought the movement to remove the monuments had gone too far.
“This week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “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?”
Watch below via NBC News:
President Trump: "What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right?… Do they have any problem? I think they do." pic.twitter.com/sL3kfy4L67
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 15, 2017
This post has been updated.