US President Donald Trump drew criticism from members of his own Republican party on Saturday after failing to explicitly condemn white supremacists following a deadly car-ramming at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A 20-year-old man was charged with second degree murder after the car ploughed into a group of counter-protesters at the white nationalist rally, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said, speaking from his golf resort at Bedminster, New Jersey.
He urged Americans “to come together … with love for our nation and true affection for each other.”
The president ignored questions shouted by reporters asking why he would not denounce white nationalists who were at the rally, including David Duke, former leader of the racist white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.
Duke was recorded in a video from the rally posted by the Indianapolis Star as saying that the groups represented there wanted to “take our country back” and “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”
Trump’s vague response to the car ramming, attributing blame to “many sides,” attracted swift condemnation Republicans and Democrats alike.
“Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” Republican Senator Cory Gardner responded on Twitter.
“Very important for the nation to hear potus [President Trump] describe events in Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by white supremacists,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio added.
“The president’s talk of violence ‘on many sides’ ignores the shameful reality of white supremacism in our country today, and continues a disturbing pattern of complacency around such acts of hate,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.
Fifteen other injuries were also reported in a day of chaos and violence touched off by the rally, organized to protest against the city-ordered removal of a statue of the general who led southern forces in the US Civil War.
Alongside the Ku Klux Klan were various activists associated with the so-called “alt-right,” militia members and Confederate heritage groups, news reports said.
Violence erupted early in the day as people shouted and cursed at one another, shoved each other, threw projectiles and used clubs during street fights.
Police in riot gear stepped in, and both Virginia’s governor and local law enforcement authorities declared a state of emergency.
The car ramming occurred as counter-protesters marched toward the centre of the city after police ordered white nationalists to clear a park and declared the “Unite the Right” demonstration illegal.
James Alex Fields of Ohio was charged with second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run following the incident, Charlottesville Police said.
No further details were immediately available. It was not clear if Fields was a member of one of the nationalist groups at the rally.
Two police officers were also killed when a helicopter thought to have been monitoring the protests crashed in a wooded area near the city.
The Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in Charlottesville in July over the same statue of Robert E Lee, the general who led the Confederate army during the US civil war.
Charlottesville’s city council recently voted to remove the statue, drawing both public support and outcry.
Opponents of the statue say it represents some of the darker chapters of US history, when slavery was legal and racism was the norm. But people who want it preserved said taking it away would be like removing a piece of history that they say only commemorates the individual.
White nationalist groups organized their events ostensibly to express their opposition to the plan to remove the statue.(dpa/NAN)