(AP) — White nationalists have been parsing President Donald Trump’s words since a deadly attack at a Virginia rally over the weekend. A day after the president called them “criminals and thugs,” some seemed quite pleased Tuesday when Trump angrily pivoted back to his initial response and spread out the blame.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and neo-Nazis who supported Trump’s campaign and have felt emboldened by his presidency praised Trump’s initial reaction on Saturday, which blamed “many sides” for the violence. They were disheartened two days later, when Trump, facing immense bipartisan pressure, belatedly criticized their hate groups by name and called them “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But by Tuesday evening, Trump flipped again.
Taking questions that had to be shouted in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Trump praised his initial statement that had caused so much criticism, and angrily laid blame on liberal groups advocating for the removal of Confederate statues.
Before this latest news conference, it had become clear that the man who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring dozens of people, had idolized Adolph Hitler long before he joined the white nationalist rally.
But when asked repeatedly whether this was an act of terror, Trump wouldn’t clearly condemn it as such, saying: “You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke seemed thrilled, tweeting a link to Trump’s latest comments Tuesday and saying: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” referring to the Black Lives Matter movement and an anti-fascist group.
A day earlier, Duke had posted a video mildly criticizing Trump’s prepared statement, saying “President Trump, please, for God’s sakes, don’t feel like you’ve got to say these things. It’s not going to do you any good.”
Also on Monday, white nationalist Richard Spencer — who popularized the term “alt-right” to describe the fringe movement mixing white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and anti-immigration populism — told reporters that Trump’s prepared statement “sounds like we might want to all bring out an acoustic guitar and sing “Kum ba yah.” It’s just vapid nonsense.”
Occidental Dissent, a white nationalist website, posted a statement Monday saying whites had been “deserted by their president.”
“He has sided with a group of people who attack us on sight and attempt to kill us and for that the Alt-Right can no longer support him. What Donald Trump has done today is an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters,” the message said.
Andrew Anglin, the publisher of The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, had praised Trump’s initial reaction to the violence Saturday as “no condemnation at all … really really good. God bless him.”
Anglin dismissed Trump’s Monday statement as “childish nonsense.” In an email to The Associated Press before Trump’s latest statements, Anglin said “If he actually believed that nonsense, or was planning on implementing it as policy, he would have said it before being bullied into it by the international thought police.”
By Tuesday afternoon, The Daily Stormer posted an article entitled, “Trump Defends Charlottesville Nazis Against Jew Media Lies, Condemns Antifa Terrorists.”