WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday defended his controversial 2017 comments about the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, saying his remarks were perfect when he said both sides were to blame for the violence that left one person dead.
“If you look at what I said, you will see that question was answered perfectly,” Trump said Friday as he left the White House for an event in Indianapolis.
Trump’s remarks came a day after former Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the president’s reaction to Charlottesville in a video announcing he’s running for president. Biden argued in the video that Trump’s presidency was “an aberrant moment in time” and that his comments “assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”
Trump drew widespread bipartisan criticism — including from senior members of his own staff — for his reaction to the 2017 march by self-identified white supremacist groups in Charlottesville. Organizers said the goal of the event was to unify the nation’s white nationalist movement, using the city’s call for the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as a rallying point.
On Friday, Trump also praised Lee: “I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals. I’ve spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought — of the generals, they think he was maybe their favorite general. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument to Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”
Though the city voted to remove its two statues of Confederate generals, no action has been taken to physically relocate them or tear them down, pending a lawsuit over the vote.
At several times during the summer of 2017, rally participants chanted anti-Semitic slogans and wielded Tiki torches, including at a march at the University of Virginia. On Aug. 12, 2017, counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by James Alex Fields Jr., a self-identified white supremacist from Ohio, when he drove his car into a crowd of people near the rally site.
In remarks shortly afterward, Trump said he was concerned not only by white supremacists but the actions of “alt-left protesters,” adding that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict.
The president has attempted to clarify his remarks on several occasions.
Ahead of last year’s one-year anniversary of the rally, Trump tweeted: “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
Trump said Friday that he isn’t concerned about Biden’s candidacy, saying he would “easily” beat the former vice president. Trump also suggested Biden, who at 76 is four years older than the president, might be too old to win.
“I am a young, vibrant man,” Trump said. “I look at Joe — I don’t know about him.”