President Donald Trump on Tuesday again blamed "both sides" for a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.
"You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," he said. "Nobody wants to say that but I'll say it."
Taking an aggressive stance with reporters at a press conference at Trump Tower—initially about infrastructure—Trump appeared to go off the rails. He defended his reticence to pointedly condemn the neo-Nazis behind Saturday's "Unite the Right" rally, paradoxically explaining that "I wanted to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts." (The president has made perpetuating blatant falsehoods a routine since before he ran for office.)
In a short statement Saturday, Trump blamed the violence in Charlottesville on "many sides." He was roundly criticized for failing to specifically call out the white supremacists who had organized the rally, one of whom drove a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one woman and leaving dozens of others injured.
On Monday, he took another try at addressing the violence. "Racism is evil," he said (opens in new tab) then. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
But on Tuesday, he walked back that statement. "You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people—on both sides...You had people in that group who were there to protest the taking down of a statue," he said. "You had a lot of people who were there to innocently protest. They had a permit, the other people didn't have a permit." The white supremacists had gathered in Charlottesville to protest the city's decision to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Trump then equated Lee, who led an insurgency against the United States, to the nation's founder. "Is it George Washington next week?" he said. "Is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?"
As far as what can be done about the racial divide? "I think if we continue to create jobs," he said, "I think that's gonna have a tremendous impact on race relations."
He has not reached out to the family of the woman who was murdered Saturday, he said. And in response to a question about whether he'd visit Charlottesville, Trump noted that he owns a winery there.
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Rebecca Nelson is a magazine writer in New York. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post magazine, GQ, and many other publications.
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