President Donald Trump has criticized the removal of Confederate monuments, asserting that their aesthetic contribution to public spaces could never be replaced. The president has also defended participants in a white nationalist rally that had spiraled into violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Aug. 17, Trump took to social media to defend Confederate statues.
"Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," Trump tweeted. "You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson -- who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!"
He added: "Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!"
On Aug. 15, Trump ignited controversy by asserting during a White House press conference that white nationalists and anti-racist counter-protesters shared equal responsibility for the violence that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. Trump also asserted that not all members of the "alt-right" rally, which contained Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi members, were racist, CNBC reports.
"You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides," Trump said. "You have people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name."
Several White House staffers were reportedly dismayed by Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville. One adviser, who requested anonymity, told Politico the president had diverted from his talking points during the press conference because he was upset that critics accused him of condemning white nationalists too late.
"In some ways, Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong," the adviser said. "This may turn into the biggest mess of his presidency because he is stubborn and doesn't realize how bad this is getting."
In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated that there were roughly 1,500 Confederate symbols on public lands across the U.S., including more than 700 statues and monuments, according to CNN.
The same morning that Trump defended Confederate monuments on Twitter, Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine asserted during a radio interview that removing the statues was like desecrating shrines to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack, The Associated Press reports.
"To me, it's just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11," LePage said. "It will come to that."
The majority of Confederate monuments were erected in the 20th century. Activists and lawmakers who called for their removal assert that the statues glorify the institution of slavery and state secession.
"We will never solve America's race problem if we continue to honor traitors who fought against the United States in order to keep African Americans in chains," Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said in a statement, reports ABC News. "By the way, thank god, they lost."
On Aug. 16, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey announced he would introduce a bill to remove the Confederate monuments that adorn the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
"I will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol building," Booker tweeted. "This is just one step. We have much work to do."