President Donald Trump has asserted that anti-racist protesters shared equal blame with white supremacists for the violence that punctuated a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12. The president accused progressive activists of comprising a so-called "alt-left" (video below).
On Aug. 15, Trump defended his decision to wait two days to specifically condemn white supremacists following an alt-right rally in Charlottesville.
"When I make a statement, I like to be correct," Trump told reporters during a White House press conference, according to CNBC. "I want the facts."
On Aug. 11, hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right members gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate monument and stage a rally.
On Aug. 12, violence flared up between the white supremacists and counter-protesters, culminating in alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. plowing his vehicle through a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, The Guardian reports.
That day, Trump issued a statement condemning the violence. The president did not single out the white nationalists but asserted that there was bigotry and violence "on many sides."
On Aug. 14, Trump gave another statement on Charlottesville after receiving criticism for not condemning white supremacy. The president stated condemned "criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
During his Aug. 15 press conference, Trump asserted that the anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville had been equally as aggressive as the white supremacists.
"When you say the alt-right ... what about the alt-left that came charging at -- excuse me, 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?"
The president stated that both sides were equally culpable in the violence in Charlottesville.
"You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," Trump continued. "And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now. You have a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent ... I do think there's blame on both sides."
Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had previously disclosed that local law enforcement was hesitant to intervene during the rally because the alt-right rally members were heavily armed and had planted caches of weapons across Charlottesville.
When journalists asked Trump if he was equating the anti-racist protesters with the white nationalist rally attendees, the president responded, "Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch ... many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee."
Trump proceeded to blast the removal of Confederate monuments across the country.
"I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down," Trump said. "I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really have to ask yourself where does it stop?"
The president asserted that some members of the alt-right rally had been treated unfairly by the media.
"You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine on both sides ... And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly," Trump said.
Trump concluded that he would improve race relations in the U.S. through job creation.
"Well I really think jobs can have a big impact ... I think that will have a tremendously positive impact on race relations," Trump concluded. "Thank you."
Following the press conference, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke took to social media to thank Trump for his comments.
"Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about [Charlottesville] & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa," Duke tweeted.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted that he had "No words."