Right-wing media voices are again attempting to rewrite the history of President Donald Trump’s defense of “very fine people” on both sides of the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris marked the third anniversary of the event, which culminated in the murder of counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer.
Biden had previously referred to Trump’s “very fine people” remark as an event that spurred him to launch his presidential campaign. Meanwhile, right-wing media voices have claimed that Trump was taken out of context, and they argue that he actually “condemned ‘neo-Nazis and White nationalists.’”
What Trump actually said
In this case, of course, it’s important to look at what Trump actually said. And this really becomes an odd thing for right-wing media figures to try to lie about — as video of both his statement, and the actual events at the time, are easy to come by.
“And you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” Trump declared on August 15, before arguing with reporters that he was not defending white nationalists. “And you had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned too — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”
He went on: “There were people in that rally — and I looked the night before — if you look, there were people protesting, very quietly, the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people — neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them.”
What really happened
As independent journalist Jonathan Katz has pointed out, on “the night before,” August 11, 2017 —when Trump claimed he saw people “very quietly” protesting — was actually the infamous tiki torch march, in which white nationalists flashed Nazi salutes and chanted slogans such as “You will not replace us” and “White lives matter” while getting into fights with counterdemonstrators.
The Tiki Brand company, the makers of tiki torches, actually condemned this event — but Trump voiced his approval and claimed that these were the good people of whom he approved.
And as Vox’s Jane Coaston also pointed out last year of the August 12, 2017, event: “Unite the Right was explicitly organized and branded as a far-right, racist, and white supremacist event by far-right racist white supremacists. This was clear for months before the march actually occurred.”
In short, there were no peaceful protesters that Trump was referring to on the side chanting “Blood and soil.” There was only ever a white nationalist invasion of the Charlottesville community, for which he had to invent some presence of legitimate protesters — and meanwhile, the neo-Nazis actually present would know that they were the “very fine people” to whom he referred.
Triggered by Biden and Harris, right-wing media lie about what Trump said
On the day of Biden’s general election campaign launch with Harris as his running mate, right-wing media voices attempted to call this very simple recounting of the facts a lie.
On the August 12 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld claimed that “the ‘fine people’ hoax” had “already been discredited. Trump wasn't talking about racists, he was talking about both sides of the statue debate. Anybody with half a brain, i.e. Joe, knows that.”
The far-right website Breitbart also called Biden’s statement “debunked” and a “hoax.” “Trump had been referring to peaceful protests both for and against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee,” senior editor Joel Pollak wrote. “He completely condemned the extremists — as the timeline and transcript confirm.”
The allegation that Trump praised the neo-Nazis in the 2017 Charlottesville rally has been widely repeated since that year. Yet a review of Trump's remarks on Aug. 15, three days after that rally, shows that Trump clearly differentiated between the white supremacists who were present at that rally and the "very fine people" he said were there for more benign reasons.
And Fox’s manufactured outrage continued over the weekend.
Gutfeld delivered another strange rant on the August 15 edition of The Greg Gutfeld Show, accusing Biden of wanting a “race war” like Charles Manson did, and then played the video of Biden: “That terrible day in Charlottesville … to see those neo-Nazis — close your eyes — and those Klansmen, white supremacists coming out of fields, carrying lighted torches. … At that moment, I knew I couldn't stand by and let Donald Trump, a man who went on to say when asked about what he thought, he said there were ‘very fine people.’”
“What harmful bullshit,” said Gutfeld, with the obscenity partially bleeped out in the broadcast.
And on the August 16 edition of The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe called Biden’s statement a “blatant lie” and claimed that Trump had in fact “explicitly condemned the KKK and the neo-Nazis, yet the media has peddled this lie, and so has Joe Biden, unquestionably by the media. The media allows him to do it.”
What’s going on here is not an example of some media outlets “allowing” Biden to talk about Trump and Charlottesville. Rather, right-wing media are trying to allow Trump to get away with what he actually said and defend his campaign against Biden — a tactic the president has continued to deploy in rewriting his own history of the event.