President Donald Trump defended the group of white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, telling reporters they were largely justified and have been unfairly vilified by the media. The protests ended Saturday when one of the white supremacists drove his car into a crowd of people, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
“What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch,” he said at a Tuesday press conference in New York. “But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”
The press conference, which took place in the gold-plated lobby of Trump Tower, was to focus on infrastructure. But Trump quickly veered off-script into defending the white supremacists, pointing out that they had a permit to “innocently” protest, while the people who came to protest against them did not.
“The night before people innocently protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said, in reference to the group of white supremacists who spent the evening carrying torches, shouting Nazi slogans, and delivering Nazi salutes. “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. You had a group on the other side that came charging in — without a permit — and they were very, very violent.”
Trump seemed to indicate he agreed with the protesters that the statue of the Confederate slave owner should not have been removed.
“You’re changing history. You’re changing culture,” Trump said, comparing George Washington to Lee because “he was a slave owner,” and asking rhetorically if his statue should be removed next.
Trump also defended his decision to wait more than 48 hours to explicitly condemn Nazis and white supremacists because he “wanted to make sure that, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct.”
“When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts,” Trump — who incorrectly labeled a murder in Manila as a terrorism attack last month — said.
But Trump seemed unclear on many of the facts surrounding the Charlottesville attack, at one point suggesting the white supremacists were justified because the statue removal was somehow unsanctioned by the appropriate authorities.
“I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located,” Trump said. The decision to remove the statue was made by the city of Charlottesville.