President Trump thinks he sufficiently condemned the white supremacists who organized the Charlottesville rally that turned violent in August, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on him to put resources behind his words and tweets.
Four senators, two from each side of the aisle, requested last week that the Trump administration “use all available resources to improve data collection on hate crimes and to work in a coordinated way to address the growing prevalence of hate groups.” The Senate passed the resolution Monday.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group tracking hate crimes, said the number of hate groups in the United States has increased since the 2016 presidential campaign began. And many Americans think Trump’s response to Charlottesville may have given these groups more ammunition. Nearly 6 in 10 voters say Trump has encouraged white supremacists, according to an August Quinnipiac poll.
Virginia's Democratic senators, Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, joined Colorado Republican Cory Gardner and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson in hoping the Senate quickly passes the resolution “condemning white nationalists, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups.”
Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund support it, but will the president?
It’s easy to foresee Trump agreeing with the words condemning white nationalists and white supremacists — particularly because he can argue that he already did.
“Racism is evil,” Trump said Aug. 14, the Monday following the “Unite the Right” rally. “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 those words were met with significant criticism for not being robust enough, and the ones that followed were attacked even more strongly and considered downright insensitive. Despite the only fatality at the rally coming at the hands of a white supremacist who plowed his car into a crowd, Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence that erupted at the gathering.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said at a much-criticized news conference Aug. 15 in the lobby of the Midtown Manhattan Trump Tower.
“What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right,' do they have any semblance of guilt?” he asked. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.
“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now,” Trump added.
Most voters didn’t think the words were particularly helpful. According to an Washington Post-ABC poll in August, 56 percent of Americans disapproved of Trump's response to Charlottesville.
The senators requested that the secretary of homeland security thoroughly investigate all “acts of violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism” by these groups to determine whether any criminal laws have been violated and work to prevent those groups from committing additional violence. The resolution also requests that heads of other federal agencies improve reporting of hate crimes and encourage local and state agencies to report that data to the FBI.
Allocating more resources to monitoring groups that have regularly backed Trump may be a difficult pill for him to swallow, given his historically low approval ratings and history of being slow to criticize similar groups by name. White supremacists were among the few groups that praised Trump’s response after Charlottesville.
The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Trump’s comments “good,” and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke took to Twitter to praise Trump for condemning Black Lives Matter.
Trump allocating resources to more aggressively monitoring white supremacists — especially under a Justice Department run by Attorney General Jeff Sessions — would be surprising, unless the administration also agrees to provide resources to monitor the “many sides” that Trump thinks are perpetuating violence.