After a speech about a new executive order concerning infrastructure at Trump Tower in New York Tuesday, President Trump defended his response Saturday to the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, repeating his statement that there was blame on “many sides” and even coining a new term: “alt-left.”
“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump said to a reporter after asking her to define the term “alt-right” for him. He dug into his point, saying the counter-protesters came “charging” at the white supremacist groups “with clubs in their hands.”
“I watched those [rallies more] closely than you people watched it. You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now,” Trump continued.
When another reporter asked Trump if the “alt-left” is the same as neo-Nazis, he responded: “All of those people — excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis, I’ve condemned many different groups — but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”
While Trump reiterated his condemnation of neo-Nazis, which he shared in a Monday statement after being widely criticized for not doing up until that point, his placing blame for the weekend violence on “many sides” on Tuesday backpedaled to his initial Saturday statement.
Trump also failed to call the violence at the white supremacist rallies terrorism when reporters pushed. A participant at the weekend demonstration drove his car into a crowd on counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others. Trump called the driver a “murderer,” but said he didn’t want to get into “legal semantics.”
“The driver of the car is a disgrace to himself to his family and this country,” he said. “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. That’s what I’d call it.”
The president continued: “Because there is a question: Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
Trump said it took him so long to condemn the white supremacists because he needed more time to gather facts.
“I want to make sure when I make a statement that the statement is correct,” he said. “And there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters.”
Trump said that “people still don’t know all of the facts,” adding, “The first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made with knowledge, with great knowledge.”
When asked about senior advisor Stephen Bannon, Trump said, “we’ll see” if confidence in the White House staffer will continue, but defended him against accusations of racism.
“I mean, look, I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came in very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him. He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”