Donald Trump under fire for white supremacist violence response

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press about protests in Charlottesville. Picture: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press about protests in Charlottesville. Picture: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
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Donald Trump has come under fire for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists in the aftermath of violent clashes in Virginia, with the president being urged to take a public stand against groups that espouse racism and hate.

READ MORE - 1 dead, 19 hurt as car ploughs into anti-white-supremacist protesters

Mr Trump, while on a working holiday at his New Jersey golf club, addressed the nation on Saturday soon after a car ploughed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis and white nationalists had assembled for a march.

The president did not single out any group, instead blaming “many sides” for the violence.

“Hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now,” he said. “We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and... true affection for each other.”

He condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”.

He added: “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”

On Sunday, the White House issued a statement seeking to expand on the president’s remarks. It said: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.

“He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

During his address on Saturday, Mr Trump did not answer questions from reporters about whether he rejects the support of white nationalists or whether he believes the car crash was an example of domestic terrorism.

Aides who appeared on the Sunday news shows said the White House does believe those things, but many fellow Republicans have demanded Mr Trump personally denounces the white supremacists.

Senator Cory Gardner tweeted: “Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

Senator Marco Rubio added: “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists. It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.”

Republican Chris Christie, a staunch Trump supporter, wrote: “We reject the racism and violence of white nationalists like the ones acting out in Charlottesville. Everyone in leadership must speak out.”

On the Democrat side, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer said: “Of course we condemn ALL that hate stands for. Until @POTUS specifically condemns alt-right action in Charlottesville, he hasn’t done his job.”

Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe, who spoke to Mr Trump in the hours after the clashes, said he twice “said to him we have to stop this hateful speech, this rhetoric”, and he urged the president to “come out stronger” against the actions of white supremacists.

READ MORE - Murder charge after car hits anti-white-supremacist protesters

Mr Trump’s national security adviser HR McMaster said on Sunday that he considered the attack in Charlottesville to be terrorism:

“I certainly think anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism,” he told ABC’s This Week.

“It meets the definition of terrorism. But what this is, what you see here, is you see someone who is a criminal, who is committing a criminal act against fellow Americans.”

The president’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert defended the president’s statement by suggesting that some of the counter-protesters were violent too.

When pressed, he specifically condemned the racist groups.

The president’s daughter and White House aide Ivanka Trump tweeted on Sunday morning: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”

White nationalists had assembled in Charlottesville to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederal general Robert E Lee.

Counter-protesters massed in opposition. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car drove into a crowd of people peacefully protesting against the rally, and the driver was later taken into custody.

Alt-right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke attended the demonstrations, and Mr Duke told reporters the white nationalists were working to “fulfil the promises of Donald Trump”.