By Justin Sink, Margaret Talev, and Arit John
- Assails KKK, neo-Nazis and ‘other hate groups’ in statement
- Acts after criticism from bipartisan lawmakers and Merck CEO
President Donald Trump called out white supremacists for their role in the deadly violence over the weekend in Virginia as the administration sought to counter a backlash against his initial failure to directly hold hate groups accountable.
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said on Monday at the White House.
Trump’s statement, carried live on national television, came amid growing bipartisan condemnation of his early reaction blaming “many sides” for the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Aug. 12, a participant in a white supremacist rally there rammed a group of counter-demonstrators with a vehicle, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers assailed his initial response as inadequate. Merck & Co. Chief Executive Officer Ken Frazier resigned Monday in protest from Trump’s manufacturing council, saying “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values” by rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.
Under Armour Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin Plank and Intel Corp.’s Brian Krzanich Monday evening also said they were leaving the council. “I am appreciative of the opportunity to have served, but have decided to step down from the council,” Plank said in a statement. “We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing. However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”
Trump’s job approval fell to 34 percent in the daily Gallup tracking poll, its lowest level ever in the poll.
The White House hastily arranged Trump’s statement as the weekend barrage of criticism intensified Monday, summoning the White House pool of reporters without advance notice. He stood at a lectern reading prepared remarks and took no questions.
“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held accountable,” Trump said, adding that he had just met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Chris Wray for an update on a federal civil rights investigation into the incident.
“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence,” he added.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California blasted Trump’s delay in denouncing supremacists for the violence and called on him to fire his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, whom she called “an alt-right white supremacist sympathizer.”
“From the beginning, President Trump has sheltered and encouraged the forces of bigotry and discrimination,” Pelosi said in a statement emailed to reporters. “President Trump’s failure to immediately denounce white supremacy is well in line with the unmistakable conduct of his Administration toward immigrants, Muslims, and communities of color.”
Video images of the violence surrounding the white supremacist rally played out on U.S. and global television throughout the weekend, galvanizing the public. Many of the participants openly carried guns as they came to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate war general Robert E. Lee. Photos showed a group white men using large metal poles to beat a black man crouching on his knees.