US President Donald Trump looks on during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 26, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An angry President Donald Trump shouted at reporters in the lobby of his Manhattan tower on Tuesday for their coverage of his response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, where torch wielders flew swastikas and Confederate flags to the shock of the nation.
Trump initially declined on Saturday to name those responsible for the event– groups which self-identify as white supremacist, white nationalist and neo-Nazi together rallying to "Unite the Right" around their racist cause– until, facing tremendous pressure from his own party, he caved on Monday to issue a more detailed statement.
Less than a day later he has backtracked, angrily disputing criticism that he failed to properly denounce racism in the first place whilst defending those seeking to preserve Confederate iconography, including statues of former Southern generals who fought in the Civil War to defend slavery and secession.
The president's new chief of staff, John Kelly, stood on the sidelines in the Trump Tower lobby with his arms crossed and his head down, appearing despondent.
"I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it," Trump said on Monday, claiming that an "alt-Left" exists that shares in the blame of Saturday's violence with an "alt-Right."
"What about the alt-Left that came charging at the alt-Right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump asked, claiming that American neo-Nazis do not, in fact, support him.
Over the weekend, he was lambasted for a similar turn of phrase seen as equivocation: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides– on many sides," he said at the time.
One 32 year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was murdered in the clashes on Saturday, when a 20 year-old man reported to have neo-Nazi ties mowed down counter-protesters pushing back against hate groups. The Department of Justice and FBI have opened civil rights and domestic terrorism investigations, but the president declined to call the incident an act of terrorism on Monday: "The driver of the car is a murderer," he said.
And Trump declined to criticize his belabored chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who rose to prominence running what he called the "platform for the alt-Right" at Breitbart.com and remains an icon of the movement.
"I like Mr Bannon, he's a friend of mine. But he came on very late," Trump said. "He is not a racist, I can tell you that." David Duke, a former congressman and Ku Klux Klan member who attended the Charlottesville rally, thanked Trump for his latest statement on Twitter.
"Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa," Duke wrote on Monday afternoon, using an acronym for Black Lives Matter.