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In the aftermath of the attacks in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday and Charlottesville, Va., five days earlier, President Trump offered very different reactions.
His response to the attack in Spain, in which a van rammed a crowd at a popular tourist destination, killing at least 13 people and injuring 100 more, was swift and decisive.
Soon after Thursday’s attack, Trump sent a tweet denouncing the terror and offering “love” to Barcelona.
Shortly afterward, he followed up by suggesting his followers research a debunked story about U.S. Army Gen. John J. Pershing executing Muslims with bullets that had been dipped in pig’s blood.
The swift condemnation and attribution of blame was decidedly divergent from the president’s reaction to the events in Charlottesville, where a car driven by an alleged white supremacist rammed a group of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others.
In a tweet that came hours after violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters, Trump initially shied away from calling out any one group.
Approximately forty minutes later, the president tweeted again.
At a signing event later in the day in Bedminster, N.J., Trump offered another take on the violence.
“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Va.,” Trump said. “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.”
Trump’s choice to condemn “many sides” was widely derided as an inadequate response to the hate groups in Charlottesville and an attempt to equate them with the counterprotesters. Later on Saturday, Trump tweeted tributes to Heyer and two Virginia state troopers who died when the helicopter they were using to monitor the scene crashed.
As criticism over his initial response gathered steam, Trump was convinced by advisers to make a further statement on Monday from the White House. “Racism is evil,” Trump said, reading from a teleprompter. “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.”
While his amended statement was applauded by many of his supporters, it ushered in new questions about why the president did not condemn those hate groups in the first place. As that criticism was amplified by the media, Trump returned to Twitter to vent his frustration.
That anger bubbled over at a press conference Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York City, during which the president returned to the rationale that blame for the Charlottesville violence was shared.
“I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it,” Trump said during a combative back and forth with reporters.
Trump defended his Saturday statement by insisting he “didn’t know all of the facts,” and had hedged his words out of a measure of caution.
While he said some “very bad people” partook in the “Unite the Right” rally, he also took pains to add, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
The “Unite the Right” rally was organized to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and Trump seemed to side with those activists by comparing Civil War figures with the Founding Fathers.
“Was George Washington a slave owner?” Trump asked a reporter at the press conference. “So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson?”
“You are changing history, you’re changing culture,” Trump continued, before returning to the violence that transpired in Charlottesville. “You had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, O.K.? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
Wednesday, after those comments drew fresh rebukes from members of both parties, Trump highlighted the memorial for Heyer, but otherwise did not comment on Charlottesville.
By Thursday, Trump’s frustration was once again on display on Twitter. He first bashed Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for the latter’s harsh statement decrying the president’s remarks.
Trump then moved on to targeting his avowed enemy, the press.
Then, defiantly, he returned to the subject of Confederate monuments, bemoaning that “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
Trump has already sparked controversy by invoking the debunked story about Pershing in response to the Barcelona terror attacks. The multi-day saga that has played out since his initial statement on Charlottesville may provide clues about what he’ll do next.
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