Donald Trump condemns supremacist groups 48 hours after Charlottesville riots

President Donald Trump has condemned white supremacist groups by name, declaring "racism is evil" two days after the deadly race-fuelled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In a statement at the White House, Mr Trump branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs".

The groups are "repugnant to everything that we hold dear as Americans," he said.

In his initial remarks on the violence on Saturday, the president did not single out the groups and instead bemoaned violence on "many sides".

Those remarks prompted stern criticism from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, who urged him to seize the moral authority of his office to condemn hate groups.

Mr Trump's softer statement on Saturday had come as graphic images of a car ploughing into a crowd in Charlottesville were playing continually on television.

White nationalists had assembled in the city to protest against plans to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee, and counter-demonstrators gathered in opposition.

Fights broke out, and then a man drove into the opponents of the white supremacists. One woman was killed and many more badly hurt.

James Fields, 20, of Ohio is charged with second-degree murder and other counts.

Loath to appear to be admitting a mistake, Mr Trump was reluctant to change his remarks.

He expressed anger to those close to him about what he perceived as the media's unfair assessment of his comments, believing he had effectively denounced all forms of bigotry, according to outside advisers and White House officials.

Several of Mr Trump's senior advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly, had urged him to make a more specific condemnation, warning the negative story would not go away and the rising tide of criticism from fellow Republicans could endanger his legislative agenda.

Yesterday, Mr Trump had planned to interrupt his 17-day working holiday at his New Jersey golf club to travel to Washington for an announcement he hoped would showcase some tough talk on China's trade practices.

But by the time he arrived, it was clear all other messages would be drowned out until he said more about Charlottesville.

Reading from a teleprompter, he made a point of beginning with an unrelated reference to the strength of the economy under his leadership.

Then, taking pains to insist "as I said on Saturday," Mr Trump denounced the hate groups and called for unity.

"We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence," he said.

Mr Trump for the first time mentioned Heather Heyer by name as he paid tribute to the woman killed by the car.

At the trade event later, he was asked why it took two days for him to offer an explicit denunciation of the hate groups.

"They have been condemned," he responded before offering a fresh criticism of some media as "fake news".

He followed up by tweeting: "Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!"

His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had said earlier: ''You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America."

Mr Trump's initial comments had drawn praise from the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, which wrote: "Trump comments were good. He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. ... No condemnation at all."

Though the Daily Stormer did not criticise Mr Trump's new statement, the Occidental Dissent, a white nationalist website, published a message saying whites had been "deserted by their president".

Mr Trump, as a presidential candidate, frequently came under scrutiny for being slow to offer condemnation of white supremacists.

Early on Monday, the chief executive of the third largest pharmaceutical company in the US said he was resigning from the president's American Manufacturing Council, citing "a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism".

Mr Trump hit back at Merck boss Kenneth Frazier on Twitter, saying: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

Later, the chief executive of sportswear manufacturer Under Armour also resigned from the panel, saying his company "engages in innovation and sports, not politics".

Kevin Plank said his company will focus on promoting "unity, diversity and inclusion" through sport.


 

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