WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called out the KKK, neo-Nazis and other hate groups in response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, after criticism that his initial response to the tragedy was insufficient and cast the clashes as a matter of political equivalence.
Speaking from the Diplomatic Room at the White House, Trump said that hatred and bigotry “has no place in America,” while labeling racism as “evil.”
“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 everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said.
“We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal,” he said.
He said that the Department of Justice has opened up a civil rights investigation of the tragedy, and said “we will spare no resource fighting so every American child can grow up free from violence and fear.”
He met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray late on Monday morning.
He did not take questions after delivering the brief statement by Teleprompter. Reporters asked him why it had taken until Monday to make such a statement.
Trump had been under pressure to call out white supremacist groups after delivering remarks on Saturday in which he condemned the violence and bigotry from “many sides.”
Trump did mention by name Heather Heyer, who was killed after she was struck by a vehicle whose driver crashed into a crowd of counter demonstrators. The driver, James Alex Fields, has been charged with second-degree murder.
He also mentioned the two state troopers who are killed in a helicopter crash near Charlottesville. They had been assisting local law enforcement in trying to control the unrest.
Trump said that the three “fallen Americans” are people who “embody the goodness and decency of our nation.”
“In times such as these, America has always shown its true character,” he said. “Responding to hate with love, division with unity and violence with an unwavering resolve for justice.”
The president began his speech by talking about the success of the economy under his leadership, then switched to providing an update to what the federal government is doing to address the Charlottesville tragedy.
The white supremacist groups staged demonstrations at the University of Virginia on Friday and in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday. They were holding a “Unite the Right” rally, to protest the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a statute of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general.
The pressure on Trump to condemn the protesters had been building the past couple of days, even from members of his own party, to make clear that he disavowed their support. Some of the demonstrators wore Make America Great Again hats, and those participating included David Duke, who told reporters that they were would to “fulfill the promises” of Trump.
Earlier on Monday, before Trump’s remarks, Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, resigned from a White House advisory council on manufacturing to protest Trump’s failure to specifically call out the groups.
Trump responded on Twitter by attacking Frazier. “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” he wrote.