President Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists for the violence that took place at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month has prompted strong reactions. But while many have expressed disgust with Trump’s equivocations, at least one group is feeling inspired by it: the Ku Klux Klan.
“We’re so proud of Trump. He condemned the Klan but he also said both sides are wrong,” Tom Larson, imperial wizard of the East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire, told The News Journal on Friday, referring to the president’s Charlottesville response. Trump initially attributed blame for the violence, in which one woman died, on “many sides.” Under criticism, he specifically condemned the KKK and Nazi groups last Monday, but quickly backtracked on Tuesday, returning to his original diagnosis and stating that participants in the white supremacist march were provoked by counter-protesters.
Larson claimed that his Klan chapter, based in Delaware, is largely made up of “middle-class, family-oriented Christian people” who “don’t go after anybody because of their race or religion,” piggy-backing on Trump’s earlier statement that there were “very fine people” at the white supremacist rally.
Although Larson’s group has around 150 members in Delaware, it won’t be holding Confederate rallies like the one in Charlottesville anytime soon. “We do much better in the tri-state area — New Jersey and Maryland,” he told The News Journal. The group is simply too afraid of being “outnumbered”, he said.
Similarly, over the weekend, a small group gathered in Boston to host a “free speech rally” which was quickly disbanded after tens of thousands of counter-protesters dwarfed the initial event. In the end, the few dozen people attending the free speech rally left the park, escorted by police. There were 33 arrests but no violence on the scale seen at Charlottesville.
Still, Trump decided to weigh in, reinforcing the myth that counter-protesters were the real danger.
“Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston,” he tweeted Saturday. “Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.” The president eventually commented on the counter-demonstration itself, but the statement came more than an hour after his initial tweet. “I want to applaud the many protestors [sic] in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate,” he wrote. “Our country will soon come together as one!”
Over on r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump subreddit that acts as a “safe harbor” for white supremacists and neo-Nazis according to FiveThirtyEight, the president’s most rabid supporters praised the response. One user called him a “master of media” for calling out counter-protesters. “I hope he keeps bringing attention to the alt-left because the media will never do it,” another user wrote. In one particularly telling response, a user stated, “Say it with me: ANTI POLICE AGITATORS.”
Those comments echoed earlier praise by former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who weighed in on Trump’s press conference last week. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” he tweeted.
Trump’s mixed messages are inspiring people in all the wrong ways.
“[A]s an enabler of behavior, as a stoker of arguments and hardener of resentments, he has no equal,” Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote on Monday. “…He has us arguing about things that weren’t even questions a few minutes ago, like, are Nazis bad?”