Charlottesville mayor largely blames Trump for white supremacist violence

Dylan Stableford
Senior Writer

The mayor of Charlottesville, Va., says President Trump bears responsibility for the violence that erupted during a white supremacist rally there Saturday.

“Look at the campaign he ran,” Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I mean, look at the intentional courting, both on the one hand of all these white supremacists, white nationalists — a group like that — anti-Semitic groups, and then look on the other hand the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence, you know, put to bed all those different efforts, just like we saw yesterday. I mean, this is not hard.”

“I’m not going to make any bones about it,” Signer told the Virginian-Pilot. “I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”

A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 other people were injured when a car rammed into a group of counterprotesters on Saturday in Charlottesville, where torch-bearing demonstrators were protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count related to leaving the scene. Two Virginia state troopers were killed when their police helicopter crashed into woods near the rally.

Slideshow: Violent clashes erupt at ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Va. >>>

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

Trump responded to the incidents during a previously-scheduled press event at his golf club in New Jersey Saturday afternoon, saying “many sides” were to blame.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides,” the president said. “On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”

Trump was widely criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for not going far enough in opposing white supremacists and right-wing extremism.

“You know, I sort of hung my head,” Signer said of Trump’s response to the violence. “I mean, it’s — it was more of a lot of the same that I think we’ve seen. But, to be honest, this is not about Donald Trump. I mean, you know, we all talk about him a lot. I think this is about the United States of America. It’s about Virginia. It’s about Charlottesville.”

Signer did, however, thank Trump for finally condemning “hate in speech and action.”

On Sunday morning, a White House spokesperson issued a follow-up to Trump’s initial remarks.

“The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred,” the statement read. “Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

Rescue workers move victims on stretchers after car plowed through a crowd of counter-demonstrators marching through the downtown shopping district Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump initially refused to denounce comments made by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who told listeners of his radio show that voting against Trump would be the equivalent of “treason to your heritage.”

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“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke,” Trump told Jake Tapper on CNN in February 2016. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on? You know, I know nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists.”

“I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about,” Trump added. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look.”

“I’m just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here,” Tapper said.

“Honestly, I don’t know David Duke,” Trump replied. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”

Duke attended the rally in Charlottesville on Saturday.

“This represents a turning point,” Duke said at the beginning of the rally. “We are determined to take our country back. We will fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he will take our country back. And that’s what we have to do.”

But after Trump tweeted a short statement condemning Saturday’s “hate” and “violence,” Duke ripped the president on Twitter.

“So, after decades of White Americans being targeted for discriminated & anti-White hatred, we come together as a people, and you attack us?” he wrote. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror [and] remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”

Read more from Yahoo News on the violence in Charlottesville: