White House Chief of Staff John Kelly appeared uneasy during a explosive news conference by President Donald Trump in which the president defended some of the participants of a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At an Aug. 15 news conference from Trump Tower, the president argued that although there were white supremacists and neo-Nazis present at the "Unite the Right" rally, there were also "very fine people" among the participants. Violent clashes between the rally participants and a group of counter-protestors resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer when a rally participant drove his car into a group of counter-protestors on Aug. 12., according to The New York Times.
Trump asserted that activists from what he called the "alt-left" (a reference to the "alt-right," a term often applied to young white supremacists online) were equally responsible for the violence that erupted over the weekend.
"You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest" the taking down of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the president added. A number of the rally participants carried swastika flags and yelled racist and anti-Semitic chants.
"Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth," tweeted former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke after Trump's comments.
"Trump's statement was fair and down to earth," tweeted white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Kelly was among the Trump aides reportedly "blindsided" by Trump's comments, according to Daily Mail. A CNN reporter tweeted that the newly appointed chief of staff was "frustrated with how today played out."
Trump was reportedly meant to decline to take questions from the press, but "went rogue" and took matters into his own hands.
Users online noticed Kelly's body language, which they said appeared to suggest that he was unhappy with Trump's comments. One Twitter user captioned the photo with the phrase "I've made a huge mistake."
"That look on John Kelly's face while Trump was speaking," one user wrote.
"Live from John Kelly's office," wrote another user, adding a GIF of Alec Baldwin pouring liquor into a glass.
"Wow, I feel ever so much better now that John Kelly has brought discipline and order to the administration," joked another.
Virginia's Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, responded to Trump's comments critically.
"Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight," said the governor. "One of them murdered a young woman in an act of domestic terrorism, and two of our finest officers were killed in a tragic accident while serving to protect this community. This was not 'both sides.'"
Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, added that the president needed to speak sooner, and that his decision to say both sides were to blame was "unacceptable."
"It really did demand a statement at the very beginning," said Cantor. "There's no moral equivalence."