President Donald Trump, after days of pressure and ridicule from both the left and right, on Monday afternoon finally condemned white supremacy by name, saying “racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists … that are repugnant to everything we hold dear.”
But that was today. Over the past couple of days, these groups felt Trump had their back. Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke over the weekend said the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville “represents a turning point for the people of this country … determined to take our country back … to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “That’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”
The demonstrations started Friday night with various factions of hate represented by neo-Nazis waving Nazi flags, Klansman and Confederates waving theirs and an assemblage of others with their hateful symbols marching with torches reminiscent of mob lynchings. A number of the marchers that evening and participating in the demonstrations on Saturday also wore another symbol for which they share a common cause: a red hat with the words “Make America Great Again.” And to eliminate any doubt, some shouted, “Heil Trump!” as their arms extended in a Nazi salute.
After being criticized all morning for not making a public statement surrounding the violent demonstrations that ultimately led to the killing of one counter-protester by a 20-year-old white supremacist, Trump finally made his first comments at 1:19 p.m., tweeting:
Trump’s tweet received a reply from Duke, who tweeted back at the president:
Trump was immediately criticized by the media and politicians on both the left and right for his vague comment and not specifically calling out white supremacy.
During a press conference later in the afternoon for a bill-signing over veterans benefits, Trump again gave a tepid statement; did not call out white supremacy; and, in fact, condemned all of the protesters — including those protesting Fascism, Nazism and hate. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides,” he said.
Trump’s dog-whistle was received loud and clear by those whom he did not want to offend.
“He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us,” wrote Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer. “No condemnation at all,” Anglin continued. “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
The acts of domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., on Friday and Saturday were fueled by confidence that President Trump had their backs. At a pivotal moment when Trump could have definitively condemned their racist ideologies, he shamefully did not.
Trump is always quick to blatantly criticize everything and everyone who makes him angry and doesn’t hold back. He more angrily went after Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line than he did against hate.
Even members of his own party used strong language to condemn those rallying in support of white supremacy and denouncing the lack of strong language by the president.
Longtime GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah came out of the woodwork with his tweet: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. –OGH” Hatch added later: “Their tiki torches may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also tweeted his thoughts, but he was quickly rebuked by musician John Legend for his complicity with Trump.
“Our hearts are with today’s victims. White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated,” Ryan tweeted.
“Impeach the white supremacist in the White House or STFU,” Legend retorted.
Courting White Supremacists
Trump mocked Obama for not calling Islamic terrorism by its name — but didn’t call white supremacy terrorism by its name. As a matter of fact, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities in the U.S., according to a study. Meanwhile, in the first 13-and-a-half years after 9/11, Muslim extremists were responsible for 50 deaths.
Trump’s words, most likely crafted by his white nationalist advisers like Steve Bannon, did not take a hard stance against white supremacy. Instead, in essence, he said neo-Nazis and KKK members on Saturday trying to incite a race war was equivalent to those who protested their hate, like 32-year-old Heather Heyer — who was killed by a 20-year-old white supremacist who ran her over with his vehicle.
A Trump aide said the president didn’t call out white supremacists because he didn’t want to dignify them. But, on July 28, he held an entire event in Brentwood, N.Y., regarding La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a Central American gang.
“I’m a cop. I do not agree with or condone the POTUS’ remarks on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed,” tweeted Gainesville Police Department’s Ben Tobias.
Duke, who founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1975, endorsed Trump early on in his bid for the presidency. In an interview, Trump hesitated to disavow his support, and that of the KKK. He blamed his hesitation on a faulty earpiece.
Initially refused to denounce KKK and disavow David Duke claiming not to know about either. Under pressure he later distanced himself in a tweet.
On Saturday at the rally, where white supremacists chanted phrases like “Jew will not replace us,” Duke was asked the question, “What does this day represent for you?” That’s when he responded with his rant about fulfilling “the promises of Donald Trump.”
In August 2016, Bannon joined Trump’s presidential bid, taking the position of chief executive officer. The former film producer with ties to the white nationalist movement led Trump’s campaign by courting the ideals of white supremacists. Trump’s agenda on the campaign trail was to create cultural anxiety.
He used racist rhetoric against Mexican immigrants, blaming them for the lack of jobs and crime, and talked about “building a wall” between the U.S. and Mexico, fanning the flames of hatred. Trump even condoned violence against people of color who protested at his rallies.
His rhetoric hit home for rural white communities, which make up Trump’s most loyal base, according to a Pew Research Center Survey.
After Trump was elected, there was a spike in hate crimes across the country. Duke said on Twitter in November that Trump’s election to presidency and cabinet picks are the first steps toward “taking America back.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its newest report, revealing nearly 900 incidents of harassment and hate in the 10 days following Donald Trump’s election.
Bannon, former chairman of the alt-right website Breibart, is Trump’s chief strategist. Trump’s cabinet also includes Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and Sebastian Gorka, who a Nazi-allied Hungarian nationalist group claims as a sworn member. And Trump also appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who consistently works on dismantling established civil rights.
Trump’s administration has laid the groundwork for the KKK and neo-Nazis to perpetuate their racist ethos.
In June, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) restarted a stalled $10 million grant program for “Countering Violent Extremism. ” DHS decided to cancel planned spending on deradicalizing violent white nationalists.
According to Politico, “Life After Hate, a group dedicated to deradicalizing neo-Nazis and stopping white extremism, was slated to get $400,000 in the final days of the Obama administration before the program was halted for review, but the Trump administration dropped them from the new grant list.”
Christian Picciolini, who renounced his ties to the neo-Nazi movement in 1996 when he was 22 years old, co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit that advocates for peace.
In an interview with NPR on Sunday, Picciolini said that his organization has witnessed a shift in the neo-Nazi movement to include “people who look like our neighbors.”
“It’s gone from what we would have considered very open neo-Nazis and skinheads and KKK marching, to now people that look like our neighbors, our doctors, our teachers, our mechanics,” he said. “And it’s certainly starting to embolden them because a lot of the rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House today is so similar to what we preached … but in a slightly more palatable way.”
Despite Trump’s limited response on Twitter regarding Charlottesville, Ivanka Trump tweeted the following on Sunday:
Trump did not retweet his daughters sentiments. But he did retweet several neo-Nazi tweets during the presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier on Monday resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council, saying he was taking a stand against “intolerance and extremism.”
“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier said in a statement. “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
Trump was quick to respond in this situation, however, tweeting within minutes: “Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”