During an interview at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed President Trump’s widely-criticized defense of white supremacists who gathered for the violent “Unite the Right” rally last August in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Asked about Charlottesville, Nielsen said, “I think what’s important about that conversation is, it’s not that one side is right, one side is wrong. Anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate.”
The interview was conducted by NBC’s Peter Alexander. During a subsequent segment on MSNBC, Alexander said, “there wasn’t a condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy that I think a lot of people would want to hear from the secretary of Homeland Security on this issue.”
“You heard her in their own words,” Alexander added. “They were striking to me and I think striking to a lot of people in the room.”
Nielsen’s refusal to unequivocally denounce white supremacists resembles what Trump said in the days following last August’s rally, when he suggested both sides were to blame for violence that resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman named Heather Heyer who was run over by a neo-Nazi.
“You look at both sides — I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
Nielsen’s comments on Thursday aren’t the first time she’s obfuscated on behalf of the president’s racism. During a Senate hearing in January, Nielsen defended Trump’s characterization of African nations as “shithole countries” and desire to accept more immigrants from countries like Norway by pretending to be ignorant of the fact that 95 percent of Norwegians are white.
“Being from Norway is not a skill, and with the standard of living in Norway better than ours, you’re not going to have too many people from there,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said (D-VT) said to Nielsen. “What does he mean when he says he wants more people from Norway?… Norway is a predominately white country, isn’t it?”
“I’m — I — eh, I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that’s the case,” she replied.
As DHS secretary, Nielsen has played a key role in implementing Trump’s child separation policy, which resulted in more than 3,000 immigrant children being separated from their parents. As of earlier this week, more than 2,500 minors still had not been reunited with their families.
Nielsen has defended the policy on the grounds that separated children have access to TVs.
“We have high standards. We give them meals. We give them education. We give them medical care,” Nielsen said during a news conference last month. “There [are] videos. There [are] TVs. I’ve been visited the detention centers myself.”