President Trump’s public remarks on the violence in Charlottesville have been criticized by many, including members of his own political party, for being insufficient and vague.
But Trump’s choice of words — and the silence that preceded them — are being cheered by at least a few groups of people: neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
On the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, updates about Saturday’s events unfolded quickly, as hundreds of mostly young, white men who had gathered in Charlottesville to stage a rally to “take America back” clashed with counterprotesters.
“WE HAVE AN ARMY!” the website posted to a live blog shortly after 11 a.m., along with photos of people carrying Confederate flags and neo-Nazi paraphernalia. “THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A WAR!”
Shortly afterward, the “Unite the Right” rally planned for noon — intended to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park — had been canceled as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency.
Around 1 p.m. Saturday, Trump finally broke his silence, tweeting that there was “no place for this kind of violence in America.”
Trump’s first tweet didn’t even mention Charlottesville and neither tweet denounced the ideology that had driven the white nationalists to rally in the first place. And they were so generalized that even self-proclaimed “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer, who was at the demonstrations Friday and Saturday, quoted one and wondered whether the president had just denounced antifascists instead of them.
The Daily Stormer live blog quoted Trump’s initial tweets with the commentary: “Trump is tweeting about us. I don’t think he understands who the haters were.”
Soon, the chaos in Charlottesville escalated even further as a car plowed into a crowd, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Police later arrested 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., of Ohio, who was identified by a former teacher as being a longtime Nazi sympathizer.
From his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump once again addressed the violence, this time by reading a prepared statement. Once again, however, the president did not mention white supremacists or white nationalists. In fact, he seemed to go out of his way to avoid placing blame.
“The hate and division must stop. And must stop right now,” Trump said Saturday. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.”
He did not say which “sides” he was referring to, or whose hatred and bigotry he was condemning.
Less than a half-hour after Trump’s live remarks, the Daily Stormer had declared the president’s words as a signal of tacit support for their side:
Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.
He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate … on both sides!
So he implied the antifa are haters.
There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.
He said he loves us all.
The neo-Nazi live blog also noted that Trump had refused to respond when a reporter asked about white nationalists who supported him.
“No condemnation at all,” the Daily Stormer wrote. “When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
It was far from the first time white supremacists had signaled their support for Trump. Earlier Saturday, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke replied to Trump, suggesting the president was attacking “White Americans being targeted for discriminated [sic].”
“I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” Duke tweeted to Trump.
Trump has in the past had to be pushed to rebuke white supremacy and those in the movement who supported him, particularly when it came to Duke. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog found that Trump’s statements about Duke, spanning more than two decades, are often “reactive.” For example, when Bloomberg News’s John Heilemann asked Trump in 2015 whether he would repudiate Duke, Trump responded: “Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I don’t know anything about him. Somebody told me yesterday, whoever he is, he did endorse me. Actually I don’t think it was an endorsement. He said I was absolutely the best of all of the candidates.”
As The Post’s Jenna Johnson and John Wagner reported, Trump’s presidential campaign excited many white nationalists:
They rallied behind his promises to build a wall on the southern border, reduce the number of foreigners allowed into the country and pressure everyone in the country to speak English and say “Merry Christmas.” And they celebrated Trump selecting Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist, who formerly ran the right-wing Breitbart News and advocated for what he calls the “alt-right” movement.
The Daily Stormer wrapped up its coverage of Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville by attacking House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for speaking out forcefully against white supremacists and neo-Nazis. It ended with nary a word about Trump — but an optimistic note to those who had protested in Charlottesville, and a word of warning to everyone else.
“And to everyone, know this: we are now at war. And we are not going to back down. … We are going to go bigger than Charlottesville. We are going to go huge. We are going to take over the country. … We learned a lot today. And we are going to remember what we learned. This has only just begun.”
Kristine Phillips contributed to this report.