The Rainbow Flag waved colorfully against the backdrop of Los Angeles City Hall Sunday afternoon as hundreds of protesters rallied against the violence and racist hatred perpetrated by white supremacists at a gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday that left one counter-protester dead. The LA demonstrations on Saturday at the LAPD andSunday at City Hall, a candlelight vigil in Long Beach in “solidarity” with Charlottesville, as well as in pain expressed in churches such as Holman United Methodist Church in South LA, joined demonstrations in cities around the country, including in front of the White House, that decried the violence—and President Donald Trump’s tepid response to what many have called domestic terrorism.
In an awkward moment Sunday away from his “working vacation” at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump seemed to blame both sides for the violence, establishing a moral equivalency between Nazi agitators and peaceful counter-demonstrators and refusing to explicitly condemn white supremacy or former KKK leader David Duke saying they were marching in Trump’s name.
“We condemn in strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence — on many sides, many sides,” Trump said before abruptly walking away without responding to reporters shouting: “Mr. President, do you want the support of these white nationalists?” “Do you call that terrorism, sir?”
The nation erupted, including Republicans. “Praying for those hurt & killed today in Charlottesville. This is nothing short of domestic terrorism & should be named as such,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner tweeted. “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
“We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home,” Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch tweeted.
“Unite the Right,” an organized coalition of neo-Nazis, KKK, Vanguard America and other white nationalist groups, gathered to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the leader of Southern states that started the Civil War in order to perpetuate slavery.
Among the demonstrations Sunday were vigils to honor Heather Heyer, a much-loved 32-year old paralegal who was mowed down when 20-year old Nazi lover James Field Jr. from Ohio allegedly drove a car at full speed into a crowd of protesters.
Twenty other people were also injured during the white supremacist riots Saturday. Some questioned the response of law enforcement. De’Andre Harris, 20, a hip hop artist and Charlottesville high school assistant special education teacher, was chased into a parking garage by five neo-Nazis who beat him with their fists and wooden poles as a group of police officers stood just yards away.
“They were trying to kill me out there,” Harris told the LA Times. “The police didn’t budge, and I was getting beat to a pulp.”
Vonzz Long, 23, implored police to help, but was ignored. “They looked at me and didn’t say nothing,” Long said. Eventually one officer did help Harris.
“Our police officers, the Virginia State Police and other law enforcement agencies were around the area the entire day, responding to more than 250 incidents incidents and assisting people,” Miriam Dickler, a spokeswoman for the city of Charlottesville, told The Times.
No one seems to have identified the group of white supremacists chanting “Fuck You Faggots!” before the melee, though some of the signage suggests they may be part of the group Vanguard America.
“This is happening in community’s across the country,” former Get Equal director Heather Cronk, now with Showing Up for Racial Justice, told reporters at Field’s arraignment Monday morning. “These guys are not armatures. They are professional hit-men who are out to murder people of color, Jewish folks, LGBTQ folks. This isn’t a one-time story. They’re coming back to Charlottesville. They’ve already filed for a permit in Richmond. This is going to keep continuing until folks intercede.”
In a televised statement Monday, Trump finally denounced the KKK and neo-Nazis by name, calling them “criminals and thugs,” and said Attorney General Jeff Sessions has opened a civil rights investigation into Heyer’s death.
“Anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held accountable,” Trump said in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America.”
Trump added, presumably under pressure: “Racism is evil 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 all that we hold dear as a nation.”
The New York Times suggests that it took the resignation of Merck’s black chief executive, Kenneth C. Frazier, from the president’s American Manufacturing Council to get Trump’s attention.
— Merck (@Merck) August 14, 2017
“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier said in a tweet announcing his resignation.
Before his televised, scripted remarks, Trump shot back at Frazier on Twitter.
Trump tweeted: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
“It took Trump 54 minutes to condemn Merck CEO Ken Frazier, but after several days he still has not condemned murdering white supremacists,” tweeted Keith Boykin, an open gay African American CNN commentator and former aide to President Bill Clinton.
The Human Rights Campaign and several other civil rights groups have called for Trump to fire alt-right/white nationalist and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon, now Trump’s White House chief strategist, and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, who also has ties to extremist, white nationalist groups. Additionally the groups call upon Congress to establish a bipartisan oversight committee on hate crimes and white supremacy.
On Monday, before Trump’s televised remarks, Griffin issued a statement slamming Trump as being unfit to be president: “It has never been more clear that all of our fights — against racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and more — are inextricably linked, because we have a common oppressor. We stand in solidarity with those targeted by these white supremacist neo-Nazis — in Charlottesville and around the country.
We know that this kind of hatred is not new. But we also know that Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and their administration have consistently appealed to and relied on the darkest and most hateful elements of society for their own cynical political gain. We have seen the results of regressive policies and rhetoric unfold for months. And in Charlottesville, the politics of hate erupted into a brazen act of domestic terrorism.
A group of radical right-wing extremists emboldened and energized by Donald Trump’s very intentional and reckless rhetoric, marched through the streets of Charlottesville — many in his name — for the purposes of inciting terror, and innocent Americans lost their lives. In the hours that followed, fair-minded Americans from every political persuasion condemned the day’s horrific events and the hate that motivated them. Except Donald Trump.
For generations, the American people have looked to the president of the United States to be a unifier in times of discord; to be a healer in times of pain; and to boldly condemn the bad in the name of the good.
The fact that Donald Trump would refuse to personally condemn white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the so-called alt-right and domestic terrorism is beyond the pale. It is a stunning failure of moral leadership. And every single American today should question whether Donald Trump is fit to serve as president of the United States.
This is a man who has criticized his own attorney general more harshly than he has white supremacists. That isn’t bringing America together — it is cowardice.
Bigotry must never be met with silence or half-hearted rebukes. There are no two sides to this, as the president has implied.
As we send our condolences to the friends and families of those whose lives were taken standing up to hate and violence, we also join other civil rights organizations and call on the Justice Department and the FBI to leave no stone unturned, to commit to this domestic terrorism investigation at the highest levels, and throughout every agency. No one in this administration should hinder this investigation in any way.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, anti-semitism and Islamophobia are all long-standing barriers to real freedom and equality across our country. And we cannot allow our President to tolerate and exacerbate this kind of bigotry. We stand in locked arms with civil rights groups demanding that Donald Trump, Mike Pence and every politician confront this violent extremism, and to rid the administration of those individuals who have long fueled this kind of hatred in America.”