President Trump shared a controversial new video Tuesday that seeks to recast his infamous comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” at a deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
In the video, conservative CNN political commentator Steve Cortes claims that the media committed “journalistic malfeasance” by reporting that Trump had referred to neo-Nazis as “very fine people” after the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer.
“Thank you Steve!” Trump wrote in a tweet that included a link to the video, titled “The Charlottesville Lie,” which was produced by PragerU, a conservative nonprofit organization that produces political videos.
Echoing a defense Trump has offered, Cortes contends that Trump’s comments were limited to people on both sides of a protest over whether to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville.
The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was explicitly organized by a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis as a celebration of white nationalism. The stated goals of the organizers included unifying the U.S. white-nationalist movement and opposing the removal of the Lee statue.
The official event was presaged by a nighttime parade in which rallygoers held tiki torches aloft while chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil,” a reference to a nationalist slogan used in Nazi Germany.
Heyer, 32, was killed at the event after an avowed neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
“It is a misrepresentation of what was happening in Charlottesville to say it was a statue protest that went wrong,” Nicole Hemmer, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center who lives in Charlottesville and attended the rally as an observer, told The Washington Post in May. “Anyone who was there that day would have walked into a park of people waving Nazi flags and people who were Klansmen. It was not a secret who put that rally on that day.”
A few days after the rally, during an event at Trump Tower in New York, Trump, in one breath, said, “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis or the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally” — a statement Cortes and other defenders have latched onto.
Yet, in the next breath, Trump asserted, “There’s blame on both sides . . . very fine people on both sides.”
The episode drew renewed attention in late April when former vice president Joe Biden launched his White House bid with a video featuring Trump’s response to the rally.
Afterward, when asked by a reporter whether he still believed there were “very fine people on both sides”at the Charlottesville rally, Trump said he had previously answered that question “perfectly.”
“I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general whether you like it or not,” Trump said. “He was one of the great generals. … People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”