President Donald Trump on Tuesday condemned the counter-protesters who showed up at Saturday’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, stating that they had attacked the other group and were partially responsible for the violence that ensued. His comments drew swift criticism from those who saw the president’s remarks as an attempt to justify the initial rally, organized to protest the removal of a Confederate monument and unite white supremacists and Nazi-sympathizers behind a common cause.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, ‘alt-right’? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump said, during the televised news conference, which was originally intended to address infrastructure. “What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Trump then claimed that the counter-protesters initiated the clashes by “violently attacking the other group.” He did not present evidence to support the claim.
“You had a group on one side and a group on the other… it was a horrible thing to watch. That’s the way it is,” he said. “I think there’s blame on both sides. I have no doubt about it.”
The New York Times reported on Monday that the majority of the counter-protesters were actually Charlottesville residents “who wanted to show their disdain for white supremacist groups” and who had been emboldened to speak out following an earlier KKK rally on July 8… Some carried signs expressing more far-flung ideologies — denouncing capitalism, for instance, alongside fascism and racism,” the Times noted.
Others who attended the event to protest the white supremacist presence were members of the clergy. A relatively small number were anti-fascist activists (known as Antifa) who came with the goal of creating chaos. About 20 members of the Redneck Revolt, an anti-fascist, anti-racist armed militia, surrounded Justice Park, where the rally was taking place to protect the counter-protesters, according to the Times.
Among the group of counter-protesters was Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who was killed when an Ohio man allegedly drove his car into the crowd. Police arrested and charged the driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., with second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and a hit-and-run.
“We were just marching around, spreading love — and then the accident happened,” Heyer’s friend Marissa Blair told the Times. “In a split second you see a car, and you see bodies flying. Heather was such a sweet soul, and she did not deserve to die.”
The president did not mention Heyer in his comments on Tuesday.
“They [the white supremacist demonstrators] had a permit. The other group did not,” Trump said. “There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country… but there are two sides to the [story].”