Donald Trump arrived to Trump Tower in Manhattan Monday night, back in New York for the first time since the inauguration. After being greeted by several blocks’ worth of protesters the same day, he was cajoled by aids to make a statement about the racist violence in Charlottesville.
Predictably, none of this deterred him from doubling down in his press conference today, to the point of becoming fully unhinged. Seemingly emboldened by the familiar turf of his elevator bank, where over the years he crafted a cardboard empire from reality television and immigrant labor, Trump’s delivery boomed to the brink as he once again blamed the violence on “both sides,” defended the white supremacists’ right to protest, and all but identified himself with the gathering to protect the Robert E. Lee statue that led to the beatings of several counter-protesters and the murder of Heather Heyer by a domestic terrorist driving his car into pedestrians in the name of white supremacy.
He began by attacking the press for allegedly “not reporting” that Heyer’s mother had “thanked” him on Twitter for his statement, which he said he waited to make because he “wanted to get all the facts.” He hedged about calling her murderer a terrorist due to “legal semantics,” and said that he has never spoken to “Steve Bannon about it” but that he’s “not a racist.”
Then he criticized the “alt-left,” a farcical delineation used to put counter-protesters on the same playing field as the white supremacists who were beating unarmed black people in the streets. He placed the blame for the violence on “both sides,” saying that “you had a group on one side that was bad, and a group on the other side that was also very violent, but nobody wants to say that. You had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
When asked the question of whether he thinks the “alt-left” are “the same as neo-Nazis,” he seemed to become more agitated. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” Trump yelled. “I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all those people were neo-Nazis, they were not all white supremacists. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking-down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. You take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you 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,” Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
It wasn’t even subtle enough to be a dog whistle, but then it never really has been. A reporter asked Trump if he is “against the Confederacy.” The president did not respond.
Later, still defending the white supremacists “with permits”—presumably, he meant Friday night’s throngs of racist protestors carrying tiki torches and surrounding counter-protesters as a form of intimidation:
I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important park from “Robert E. Lee” to another name. George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So now will George Washington lose his status? Are we gonna take down statues to George Washington? How ‘bout Thomas Jefferson, you like Thomas Jefferson? Okay, good, are we gonna take down Thomas Jefferson? ‘Cause he was a major slave owner.
So you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them, absolutely unfairly. In the other group also, you had some fine people, but you had some troublemakers, and when you see them coming with the black outfits, and the helmets, and the baseball bats, you’ve got a lot of bad people in the other group, too.
Didn’t see any of them, but here’s video of a man in a black outfit, helmet and baseball bat beating up Deandre Harris.