Donald Trump has refused to condemn white supremacists after a car rammed into a group of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring 19 others. Police have arrested 20-year-old James Fields of Ohio and charged him with murder.
The US president criticised the “violence on many sides” but refused to single out the far-right protesters. He said in Bedminster, New Jersey: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
The car attack targeted those demonstrating against the “Unite the Right march”, called to protest against plans to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee. A civil rights investigation into the incident has been launched by the FBI. Among those present were Ku Klux Klan members. Later that afternoon, two police officers died when a helicopter monitoring the clashes between protesters crashed in woodland south-west of the city.
The Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and former presidential candidate responded to Trump by tweeting: “Very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.” Another Republican Senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado, said: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.
The Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, commented: “The march and rally in Charlottesville goes against everything the American flag stands for. President Trump must condemn this in the strongest terms immediately.”
Unlike Trump, Virginia’s Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe explicitly condemend the far-right. He told a press conference: “I have a message for all the white supremacists, and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you. You pretend that you’re patriots, but you are anything but a patriot.
“You came here today to hurt people. And you did hurt people. But my message is clear: We are stronger than you.”
US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has been publicly criticised by Trump, said: “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.
“I have talked with FBI director Chris Wray, FBI agents on the scene, and law enforcement officials for the state of Virginia. The FBI has been supporting state and local authorities throughout the day. US attorney Rick Mountcastle has commenced a federal investigation and will have the full support of the Department of Justice. Justice will prevail.”
Charlottesville, a liberal college town, where 86 per cent of residents voted for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election, has been repeatedly targeted by white supremacists. On Friday, the day before the attack, torch-bearing protesters chanted “white lives matter” as they marched through the University of Virginia campus. In February, the city council voted to remove and sell the Robert E Lee statue, and to rename the surrounding Lee Park Emancipation Park.