Examining Charlottesville: Is Trump a Racist?

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At a September 2016 political fundraiser in New York City, Hillary Clinton famously smeared Donald Trump’s backers in a speech where she said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he [Trump] has lifted them up.”[1]

In a similar spirit, Joe Biden flatly called Trump a “racist” during the first presidential debate of 2020.[2] Senator Bernie Sanders has likewise stated: “We  have a president who is, in fact, a racist and a bigot.”[3]

The most famous and noteworthy charge of “racism” that has been leveled at the president is the allegation that Trump issued racist remarks in the aftermath of the August 12, 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In terms of laying bare the modus operandi by which Trump has routinely been painted as a racist, Charlottesville is the Rosetta Stone. What we learn about the veracity — or inveracity — of that particular racism charge, will teach us a great deal about how much, or how little, credence we should give to other accusations.

First, a bit of context: The Charlottesville event was originally organized for the very explicit purpose of protesting the proposed removal, from a local park, of an equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to various reports, the protesters were composed of two very distinct and dissimilar contingents of people: (a) aggressive and hateful white supremacists with neo-Nazi sympathies,[4] and (b) others who had no racial or anti-Semitic animus and simply wished to voice their disapproval regarding the Lee statue’s removal.[5] It is difficult to ascertain with any precision the relative numbers of people in each contingent.

Meanwhile, a large group of counter-protesters likewise included two very distinct and dissimilar contingents: (a) those who supported the statue’s removal and wished to make their feelings known in a nonviolent public forum, and (b) hundreds of people who were affiliated with Antifa, a revolutionary Marxist/anarchist militia movement that explicitly advocates the use of violence to raze America’s existing society to the ground.[6]

On the morning of Saturday, August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, the most radical and combustible elements on both sides of the Lee statue debate began to engage in violence against one another. Then, at about 1:40 p.m., a deranged white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters who were still in the vicinity, killing one white woman and injuring several other people.

President Trump issued a brief statement later that same day, followed by additional remarks over the course of the ensuing three days. Those remarks sent the Left into a frenzy of outrage. The Washington Post complained: “Trump didn’t call out white supremacists.”[7] The New York Times ran a headline that said: “Trump Gives White Supremacists Unequivocal Boost.”[8]

What, exactly, did President Trump say to elicit such responses? Did he in fact voice sympathy or support for neo-Nazis and racists? Let us examine the evidence, piece by piece.

Just hours after the deadly violence of August 12, Trump issued a short statement saying: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides — on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”[9]

The following day — August 13 — a White House spokesperson issued a follow-up statement: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”[10]

The day after that — August 14 — President Trump made a televised statement in which he said:

“No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. 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…. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”[11]

So where, exactly, was the “racism” to which the aforementioned news sources were objecting? Don’t feel too badly if you missed it. Because in order to have seen it, you’d have to really have wanted to see it, even if you had to twist the meaning of Trump’s words inside-out in the process. What the critics found most objectionable was that Trump, by using the phrase “on many sides” on August 12, had chosen not to restrict his condemnation solely to the detestable white supremacists in Charlottesville, but had also placed some blame at the feet of the equally detestable Marxist/anarchist Antifa counter-protesters. And that, to Trump’s critics, was unacceptable.

Then, on August 15, President Trump held a televised press conference where he spoke at greater length about the events of August 12 in Charlottesville. Below is a compilation of all the relevant remarks which he made to the reporters[12]:

  • “[Y]ou had a group on one side [the neo-Nazis] that was bad, and you had a group on the other side [Antifa] that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group—you had a group on the other side [Antifa] that came charging in without a permit [to assemble and protest], and they were very, very violent.”[13]
  • “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those [pro-statue] 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, Robert E. Lee.”
  • “What I’m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group [Antifa] on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left—that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”
  • “I think there’s blame on both sides.”
  • “[Y]ou have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. 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.”
  • “And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers [Antifa] and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You’ve got—you had a lot of bad—you had a lot of bad people in the other group.”
  • “[I]t looked like they had some rough, bad people—neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you [also] had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”
  • “I’m sure in that group [of protesters who had marched on the night of August 11 on the University of Virginia campus], there were some bad ones.”[14]

Above all else, following the August 15 press conference, Trump’s detractors zeroed in mainly on his assertion that there had been “blame on both sides,” as well as some “very fine people on both sides,” at the site of the August 12 protest. These grievances against Trump have persisted undiminished through the three years since Charlottesville. Joe Biden, for example, has repeatedly claimed that Trump’s “very fine people” remarks were what caused him to run for president.[15]

But Trump explicitly, unmistakably, and repeatedly denounced “neo-Nazis,” “KKK,” “white supremacists,” and “white nationalists” — by name — in the course of his remarks on August 14 and August 15, 2017. He openly described them as “rough, bad people” who “should be condemned totally.” Nevertheless, it is quite evident that his critics very much wantand very much need—to believe that the president somehow endorsed the racist impulses of such human filth. For without willfully misrepresenting what Trump so clearly said, it would be impossible to read racism into his remarks.

[1] https://time.com/4486502/hillary-clinton-basket-of-deplorables-transcript/

[2] https://www.businessinsider.com/biden-calls-trump-racist-clash-black-lives-matter-protests-2020-9

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/06/29/bernie-sanders-makes-appeal-cincinnati-black-americans-we-have-president-who-is-fact-racist-bigo/1605628001/

[4] https://archives.frontpagemag.com/fpm/riot-charlottesville-matthew-vadum/

[5] https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/08/10/prager_u_steve_cortes_the_charlottesville_lie.html

[6] https://www.prageru.com/video/the-charlottesville-lie/; https://www.discoverthenetworks.org/organizations/antifa/

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/08/13/trump-didnt-call-out-white-supremacists-he-was-rebuked-by-members-of-his-own-party/

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/us/politics/trump-charlottesville-white-nationalists.html

[9] https://abcnews.go.com/US/happen-charlottesville-protest-anniversary-weekend/story?id=57107500

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.c-span.org/video/?432578-1/president-trump-condemns-hate-groups-racism-evil

[12] https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-charlottesville-transcript-20170815-story.html

[13] https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2017/aug/17/donald-trump/donald-trump-wrong-charlottesville-counter-protest/ (FN: Contrary to early reports, it appears that the counter-protesters did in fact have a permit as well.)

[14] https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-charlottesville-transcript-20170815-story.html

[15] https://richmond.com/news/local/government-politics/at-richmond-fundraiser-biden-says-he-wouldnt-be-running-if-it-werent-for-charlottesville/article_9558d0a9-783c-5876-9a44-9b2b7fe4653a.html

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Footnotes

[1] https://time.com/4486502/hillary-clinton-basket-of-deplorables-transcript/

[2] https://www.businessinsider.com/biden-calls-trump-racist-clash-black-lives-matter-protests-2020-9

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/06/29/bernie-sanders-makes-appeal-cincinnati-black-americans-we-have-president-who-is-fact-racist-bigo/1605628001/

[4] https://archives.frontpagemag.com/fpm/riot-charlottesville-matthew-vadum/

[5] https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/08/10/prager_u_steve_cortes_the_charlottesville_lie.html

[6] https://www.prageru.com/video/the-charlottesville-lie/; https://www.discoverthenetworks.org/organizations/antifa/

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/08/13/trump-didnt-call-out-white-supremacists-he-was-rebuked-by-members-of-his-own-party/

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/us/politics/trump-charlottesville-white-nationalists.html

[9] https://abcnews.go.com/US/happen-charlottesville-protest-anniversary-weekend/story?id=57107500

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.c-span.org/video/?432578-1/president-trump-condemns-hate-groups-racism-evil

[12] https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-charlottesville-transcript-20170815-story.html

[13] https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2017/aug/17/donald-trump/donald-trump-wrong-charlottesville-counter-protest/ (FN: Contrary to early reports, it appears that the counter-protesters did in fact have a permit as well.)

[14] https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-charlottesville-transcript-20170815-story.html

[15] https://richmond.com/news/local/government-politics/at-richmond-fundraiser-biden-says-he-wouldnt-be-running-if-it-werent-for-charlottesville/article_9558d0a9-783c-5876-9a44-9b2b7fe4653a.html

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