President Trump broke his silence Saturday afternoon amid violent confrontations between white nationalist groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, tweeting that there was “no place for this kind of violence in America.”
“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for,” the president stated on Twitter shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday. “Lets come together as one!”
By then, a “Unite the Right” rally planned for noon — originally intended to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the city's Emancipation Park — had been canceled as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency.
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
The president's silence had been noticeable Friday night, as a few hundred tiki torch-bearing white supremacists — mostly young men — paraded through the University of Virginia campus while chanting racist taunts and flaunting Nazi paraphernalia, The Washington Post's Joe Heim reported.
Even as many online called for Trump to respond, his Twitter feed remained quiet into Saturday morning as the Charlottesville clashes escalated into open brawls and weapons being hurled into the air.
Vice President Pence had also remained quiet until Trump tweeted his message Saturday, at which point the vice president appended it with a note urging people to “join together & oppose those seeking to divide us.”
— Vice President Pence (@VP) August 12, 2017
Trump has been on a 17-day working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., a point he reiterated in a follow-up tweet Saturday.
Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
His messages came about an hour after first lady Melania Trump addressed the tense protests taking place in Charlottesville.
Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 12, 2017
By then, other public figures had already spoken out forcefully against the demonstrations in Charlottesville. Republican House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) denounced the white supremacist views “fueling the spectacle” as “repugnant.”
In declaring a state of emergency in Virginia, McAuliffe said he was “disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours.”
The president's Twitter responses to the Charlottesville riots did little to reassure those who saw them as weak and vague. Trump's first tweet, many noted online, didn't even mention Charlottesville and didn't denounce the ideology that had driven the white nationalists to rally in the first place.
Some also found Trump's follow-up tweet underwhelming.
“So … your full condemnation of people marching IN YOUR NAME is 'but Charlottesville sad!' " one Twitter user pointed out in apparent disbelief.
White nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who was at the demonstrations Friday and Saturday, seemed also to call out how vague Trump's tweets were, quoting one and wondering whether the president had just denounced antifascists instead of the white nationalist groups.
Did Trump just denounce antifa? https://t.co/jOgiw4pPzK
— Richard ☝Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) August 12, 2017
Trump's response times to instances of violence have varied. As The Post's Philip Bump reported in June, Trump has usually in the past been quick to weigh in on incidents when the perpetrators were thought to be Muslim:
Donald Trump tweeted about the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 about 3½ hours after they occurred. The following month, he tweeted about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., 90 minutes after the violence began. It took fewer than 12 hours from the time an EgyptAir flight went missing in May 2016 for Trump to speculate publicly that the attack was terror-related. More than a year later, it’s still not clear what happened to the plane.
When terrorists drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge earlier this month, Trump tweeted about the need to be “smart, vigilant and tough” even before authorities identified terror as the motive behind the attack.
By contrast, Bump noted, it took Trump days to praise two men who were fatally stabbed trying to defend women from racist rants on a train in Portland, Ore. In other cases, Trump has never spoken out; the president has still not condemned the bombing of a Minnesota mosque this month.
White House national security adviser Sebastian Gorka defended Trump’s silence in an interview with MSNBC, suggesting that it was prudent to wait until the ideological motive of the attack was known.
“There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false,” Gorka said in the interview. “You have to check them. You have to find out who the perpetrators are. … We’ve had a series of crimes committed — alleged hate crimes — by right-wing individuals in the last six months that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left.”
Katie Mettler contributed to this post, which has been updated.