President Donald Trump parroted multiple right-wing media talking points during a press conference as he responded to questions about deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA,. Trump, following in the footsteps of right-wing media personalities, mostly from Fox News, called counter-protesters the “alt-left,” suggested that calls to take down Confederate statues is a slippery slope that could lead to demands to take down statues of other historical figures, and defended his failure to condemn white supremacists in his initial response to the violence.
Trump equated neo-Nazis and white supremacists with counter-protesters after violence in Charlottesville
Trump doubled down on blaming violence that stemmed from a white supremacist, neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville on “both sides.” President Donald Trump held an unscheduled press conference on August 15 in which he “blamed the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend on both sides of the conflict,” CNN reported. The violence, which broke out on August 12 when white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, left one woman dead after a driver drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters. [CNN.com, 8/15/17]
Trump repeatedly parroted right-wing media post-Charlottesville talking points
Trump called counter-protesters “the alt-left” and said they “came charging at the … alt-right"
Trump: “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” When asked whether the “alt-right” was responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, Trump responded, “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump added that the so-called “alt-left” protesters “came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs.” From the press conference:
REPORTER: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those that perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he is talking about, but when you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me, come on, let's go.
REPORTER: Senator McCain defined them as the same group.
TRUMP: Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at [indiscernible] – excuse me – what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: What about this? What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. [Politico, 8/15/17]
The term “alt-left” comes from right-wing media and “doesn’t actually have any subscribers”
Wash. Post: The phrase “alt-left” comes from “right-wing websites, commentators and Fox News personalities.” The Washington Post explained that the term “alt-left” has been used “for months” by “some right-wing websites, commentators and Fox News personalities” to describe “a violent segment of left-wing activists.” The Post added that Fox host Sean Hannity “has expanded the term in recent months to include members of the news media.” And, as the Post’s Aaron Blake previously noted, “the ‘difference between alt-right and alt-left is that one of them was coined by the people who comprise the movement and whose movement is clearly ascendant; the other was coined by its opponents and doesn't actually have any subscribers.’" [The Washington Post, 8/15/17]
Trump questioned the removal of statues of Confederate leaders, asking if statues of Washington and Jefferson are next
Trump: “So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee. … I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” During the press conference, Trump referred to the removal of Lee’s statue, asking, “Where does it stop?” and referring to the removal of the statue of Lee, adding, “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” From Trump’s remarks:
REPORTER: Do you think what you call the alt left is the same as neo-Nazis?
TRUMP: Those people – all of those people, excuse me – I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.
REPORTER: Well, white nationalists –
TRUMP: Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue Robert E. Lee. So – excuse me – and you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? [Politico, 8/15/17]
Right-wing media: “Where does it stop?” “When do they go after Thomas Jefferson?”
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham: “How long before they show up at Monticello … How long before they show up at Mount Vernon?” The morning of Trump’s press conference, Fox contributor Laura Ingraham called out people who, she said, are “just roundly denouncing anyone who had any connection to the South,” and rhetorically asked “how long before” protesters “show up at Monticello,” where there is a shrine to former President Thomas Jefferson. Ingraham also asked, “How long before they show up at Mount Vernon,” the home of former President George Washington. From the August 15 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
LAURA INGRAHAM: I think, when you see people who have no idea, it seems, about the history of this country, just roundly denouncing anyone who had any connection to the South, we're in very precarious times. I mean, how long before we see the Workers Party, as you saw them yesterday, the communist party of the United States was represented there in Durham. They had the big banners. They were marching down the streets. How long before they show up at Monticello, where I spent three years in law school at Charlottesville in Virginia? How long before they show up at Mount Vernon?
PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): Or Mount Rushmore.
INGRAHAM: What else will be subjected to their eradication and denunciation? This is not about racial healing. This is about the control of the narrative and a destruction of historical recognition. That is terrifying. And what about books? Are they going to start burning books, too? I mean why not? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/15/17]
Fox’s Martha MacCallum: “You can make that argument for [statues of] Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.” A day before Trump’s media conference, Fox host Martha MacCallum and contributor Newt Gingrich criticized the removal of statues of Confederate leaders, with Gingrich asking, “Where does it stop?” Gingrich speculated that people could demand to “take down all the statues of Franklin Delano Roosevelt” over sensitivity to the Holocaust, and MacCallum said, “You can make that argument for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Are you going to change the name of the Washington Monument?” From the August 14 edition of Fox News’ The Story:
NEWT GINGRICH: Where does it stop? And I think that this whole effort on the left, they are going to have a run right now that is emotional, destructive, and wrong. It is anti-American. It is anti-American history. And I can appreciate the anger that somebody who is African-American might feel about somebody who was a Confederate. But let me suggest to you, there were 4,000 people shot in Chicago last year. Not a single one of them is helped by focussing on symbolic issues that are total baloney. And where are you going to stop it? You want to say, “What if you weren’t sensitive enough to the Holocaust?” We should take down all the statues of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? You could make an argument for that. You go right down this list, and once you start rewriting history --
MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): You can make that argument for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Are you going to change the name of the Washington Monument? Are you going to --
GINGRICH: If you want to take out slave owners.
MACCALLUM: Exactly, that’s my point. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/14/17]
CNN’s Matt Lewis: “When is Robert E. Lee is not enough? When do they go after Thomas Jefferson?” On the morning of August 15, before Trump’s press conference, CNN contributor and Daily Beast writer Matt Lewis asked, “When is Robert E. Lee not enough? When do they go after Thomas Jefferson?” From the August 15 edition of CNN Newsroom:
MATT LEWIS: Look, in Charlottesville, the city council or whatever voted and decided to move that statue of Robert E. Lee to a different park. That is local government. That is their decision. This is citizens being iconoclastic. When do they go after -- when is Robert E. Lee not enough? When do they go after Thomas Jefferson? That's the question that I have. [CNN, CNN Newsroom with John Berman and Poppy Harlow, 8/15/17]
Trump defended his failure to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists in his initial statement, saying he he didn’t want to “rush into a statement” because “you still don’t know the facts.”
Trump: “I don’t want to rush into a statement” about the violence in Charlottesville because “you still don’t know the facts.” When asked why he took such a long time to decry the violence in Charlottesville, Trump claimed, “I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement.” Trump continued, saying, “This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts, so I don’t want to rush into a statement.” From Trump’s August 15 remarks:
REPORTER: Why did you wait so long to denounce neo-Nazis?
TRUMP: I didn't wait long. I didn’t wait long. I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement, but you don't make statements that direct unless you know the fact. And it takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it is a very, very important process to me. It is a very important statement. So I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to my statement, in fact I brought it. I brought it.
As I said on remember this, Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. And then I went on from there. Now here is the thing. Excuse me, excuse me. Take it nice and easy. Here is the thing, when I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. A lot of the event didn't happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts, so I don't want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman who I hear is a fantastic young woman and it was on NBC, her mother wrote me and said through I guess Twitter, social media, the nicest things, and I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually an incredible young woman, but her mother on Twitter, thanked me for what I said. Honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. – excuse me – unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts. [Politico, 8/15/17]
Right-wing media previously argued Trump was right not to jump to conclusions in his initial statement
Fox’s Mike Huckabee: Is Trump supposed to “jump to a conclusion” like Obama? Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee asked if Trump was “supposed to do what Barack Obama used to do and jump to a conclusion” about the violence in Charlottesville. Huckabee claimed Obama did just that “in Ferguson, MO, which turned out to be totally untrue.” From the August 12 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine:
JEANINE PIRRO (HOST): Governor, what do you say to those people who say that the president wasn’t specific enough, he wasn’t hard enough? And I have to tell you, I mean, he condemned in the strongest possible terms the egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. It’s been going on for far too long. It has no place in America. We need a swift restoration of law and order. Are these just Trump haters who just will look for any reason to dump on the president?
MIKE HUCKABEE: Well, it seems like that a lot of them are. I don’t know what they expect the president to do. At the time that he made the comment, the driver of the car had not even been identified.
PIRRO: That’s exactly right.
HUCKABEE: Nothing had been attributed to him at that point. And so, what is he supposed to say? Is he supposed to do what Barack Obama used to do and jump to a conclusion and make a decision about something like he did in Ferguson, MO, which turned out to be totally untrue?
PIRRO: To be wrong.
HUCKABEE: The president has to be careful in taking steps. [Fox News, Justice with Judge Jeanine, 8/12/17]
Fox’s Jesse Watters: Trump didn’t make a statement because he didn’t “know who the driver was.” Fox host Jesse Watters suggested that Trump could have delayed his condemnation of the violence because he didn’t “have all the facts” and wanted to know “who the driver was” who injured 19 and killed one person. Watters also said he didn’t think Trump was “going to let left-wing violence off the hook.” From the August 14 edition of Fox News’ The Five:
JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): Perhaps the president was thinking, “You know what, we don't have all the facts,” like Dana said. “Let's just take a big picture approach because both sides are rumbling. I don't know who the driver was before I make a statement.” And I don’t think he was going to let left-wing violence off the hook. [Fox News, The Five, 8/14/17]