President Donald Trump lashed out today over criticism of his initial statement about the Charlottesville, Virginia, violence over the weekend in a confrontational press conference at Trump Tower in New York.
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Asked about his immediate response Saturday, Trump quickly blamed both sides for the conflict, adding that there were "very fine people" among both the protesters — which included white supremacists and white nationalists — and the counterprotesters.
"I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides," Trump said today.
"You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides," he added.
Trump defended his initial remarks about the violence, saying that it "was a fine statement" and that he wanted to make sure that he had enough facts before speaking again on the issue. Trump made a second statement on Monday from the White House, in which he condemned hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
"Before I make a statement, I need the facts, so I don't want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent," he said today.
Trump took issue with a reporter's characterization of some protesters as being part of the so-called alt-right — short for the "alternative right," which encompasses many far-right ideologies with racist, white nationalist and populist elements.
"When you say the alt-right, you define it. Go ahead. Define it for me," he said.
"What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right? Do they have any assemblage of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do," he said. It's unclear what he meant by the "alt-left."
Trump said that he looked at images of protests held "the night before" the violence Saturday. Photos and videos of a demonstration on Friday, Aug. 11, showed people carrying lit tiki torches on a march through the University of Virginia campus.
He went on to question why the statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee was being removed, which prompted the protest.
"You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name," he said.
"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me," Trump said, cutting off a reporter who tried to interject. "Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner."
Asked whether he thinks the Lee statue should remain in the park, he said he thinks it's a local issue.
Trump was also asked about his view of the driver of a car that plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 others.
"I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country. You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics," Trump said.
At one point during the press conference, he said that he "didn't know David Duke was there [at the protest]." Trump's remarks appeared to please Duke, a former Louisiana lawmaker who was once an imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Shortly after the press conference, Duke tweeted, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa," he wrote, apparently referring to the Black Lives Matter and the anti-fascist movements.