President Donald Trump said Tuesday that “alt-left” protesters at a Charlottesville rally over the weekend were partially responsible for the violence that left one woman dead.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said at a press conference in New York. “I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either.”
The president’s comments doubled down on his initial reaction to the events in Charlottesville, which failed to singularly condemn white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK for the violence. Trump said that “many sides” were to blame. After outcry from both Democrats and Republicans calling on the president to be more forceful in his rejection of the hate groups, Trump on Monday issued a more explicit statement.
There was widespread protest at the Charlottesville rally, held on Saturday by white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate monument. One of those counterprotesters, Heather Heyer, was killed when a man rammed a vehicle into a crowd. James Alex Fields, 20, had attended the “Unite the Right” rally.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” Trump said. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
Some of the counterprotesters were members of Antifa, and anti-facist group that engaged in violent confrontations with the white supremacists. Trump said “they came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
Trump blamed the media for criticizing his initial statement on Saturday for not being strong enough. He said he did not immediately make comments against the white supremacists that day because he was “waiting for the facts.” Minutes later, Trump said that he watched Saturday’s events “very closely.”
The president also refused to explicitly label Heyer’s death as an act of terrorism. Other administration officials, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, called the incident “domestic terrorism.”
Trump on Tuesday appeared to be separating attendees of the rally between white supremacists and others who were not members of hate groups but just there to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. The president said the removal of Confederate monuments to figures like Lee and Stonewell Jackson may be precipitating the removal of monuments to Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, because those leaders owned slaves.
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”