BY HAZEL TRICE EDNEY
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Editor’s Note: Since the posting of this story, President Donald Trump has again reversed his position on the White supremacist violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12. In a Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday, August 15, he stunned Republicans, Democrats and people across the nation by leaning back toward his original stance, also blaming anti-hate protestors for the violence during the march in which White supremacists chanted slogans against Black and Jewish people. His reversal has gained a note of thanks from former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke who earlier warned that the hate marchers represented Trump’s base.
President Donald Trump, under pressure from civil rights leaders and his Republican colleagues, finally denounced racist White supremacists after a Neo Nazi march that resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman in Charlottesville, Va. Aug. 12.
Chanting hateful slogans and attempting to converge on Black neighborhoods in the hometown of the University of Virginia, race hate groups claim to be riled over the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city’s Downtown. The Aug. 12 rally followed a July 8 Ku Klux Klan rally, also in Charlottesville. Observers say the hate groups are only using the statue removal as an opportunity to spread their White supremacist messages and recruit.
Heather Heyer, known for her activism and standing for issues of social, economic, gender and racial equality, was among hundreds of anti-hate protestors when a speeding car, driven by alleged Neo-Nazi enthusiast James Alex Fields Jr., 20, plummeted through the crowd. More than 19 people were injured. Heyer was killed. Two Virginia state troopers, H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke Bates, who would have turned 41 on Sunday, were also killed when their helicopter crashed as they did surveillance work during the rally.
“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,” Trump told reporters at a White House Press Conference Aug. 14. “We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”
As strong as that statement may sound, it came two days after the terrorist attack – far too long for a President who tweets daily attacks against political foes. Trump had issued an earlier, far weaker statement:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said during a short statement from his private golf club in New Jersey on August 12, the day of the attack. “It has been going on for a long time in our country – not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
Trump’s second statement – calling out the names of the groups – came only after pressures and demands from civil rights leaders, his family and fellow Republicans who – either by example or direct urging – told him his first statement was not nearly enough.
Among the strongest Republican statements, Sen. John McCain tweeted: “The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism. These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail. America is far better than this.”
Others appealed directly to Trump: “Mr. President — we must call evil by its name,” tweeted Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), overseer of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News: “He missed an opportunity to be very explicit here…These groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House. I don’t know why they believe that, but they don’t see me as a friend in the Senate and I would urge the president to dissuade these groups that he’s their friend.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists”.
The responses amounted to one of the few times that leading Republicans and civil rights leaders and Democrats appeared to agree.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was clear: “I have a message for all the White supremists and all the Nazis that came into Charlottesville today. That message is plain and simple. Go home. You are not wanted in this great Commonwealth. Shame on you,” he said. “You came here today to hurt people, and you did hurt people,” McAuliffe said, adding. “But my message is clear. We are stronger than you.”
The President appeared to be hit from all sides as Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier took a stand, resigning from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in protest of Trump’s earlier remarks that did not go far enough. Two other executives followed suit, also resigning in protest.
Civil rights groups chimed in one after another.
“It is a sad state of affairs when it’s a news story that the President of the United States condemns racism and white supremacy,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which held a phone conference to criticize the President’s first response. “Two days after the fact, President Trump has at long last, directly and personally, condemned the white supremacist rallies and violent extremism that occurred in Charlottesville. While today’s delayed words are welcome, they should have been spoken on Saturday. This unconscionable delay has undermined his moral credibility as our nation’s leader.”
The Congressional Black Caucus was quick to point out the so-called “alt-right” (White Supremacist) connections in the Trump White House that may have influenced his tepid response.
“This is a president after all who has two white supremacists working for him in the White House – Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller,” wrote CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.). “Since the campaign, President Trump has encouraged and emboldened the type of racism and violence we saw today in Charlottesville, Va. This is a president after all who has two white supremacists working for him in the White House – Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. For these reasons, we weren’t surprised President Trump couldn’t bring himself to say the words “white supremacy,” “white supremacists,” and “domestic terrorism” when he addressed the nation this afternoon, and that he instead chose to use racially coded dog whistles like ‘law and order’ and false equivalencies like ‘many sides.’”
Trump’s second statement came after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he had opened a civil rights investigation into the killing of Heather Heyer. James Alex Fields Jr. will remain incarcerated without bond unless his court-appointed lawyer is able to convince the court otherwise.
Anti-hate rallies in support of Charlottesville popped up around the nation as news of the tragedy spread. More hate rallies are likely to occur as Confederate monuments to the cause of slavery and race hatred are being removed around the country.
Meanwhile, the National Urban League and NAACP both concluded that the key answer is unified, non-violent action against hate.
“We in the Urban League Movement call upon everyone with a voice on our national stage to condemn these demonstrations and these racist sentiments in the strongest possible terms. This is not who we are as a society and as a nation,” said NUL President/CEO Marc Morial in a statement.
NAACP Interim President Derrick Johnson concluded, “This weekend, we once again saw the familiar faces of hate and bigotry. We saw white supremacists – brandishing torches, Swastikas, and Confederate flags – march through Charlottesville, one of our great American cities. And we felt a familiar frustration as those in our nation’s highest office chose not to acknowledge the pain that these hateful symbols bring, but rather chose to blame individuals on “many sides…I say, we must stand strong, arm-in-arm with our neighbors, to speak out in one unified voice. We must use our time, our talents and our resources to assist and to caution against the repeated rhetoric that helps to fuel this climate of division and derision.”