WASHINGTON — President Trump, under mounting pressure from the left and right to deliver a more forceful response to the race-fueled riots in Virginia this weekend, called out white supremacists and said "racism is evil."
Trump was widely criticized over the weekend for not denouncing by name the white supremacist groups that planned the march over the weekend — and came ready to fight — leading to the deaths of one woman in a terroristic car attack, and of two state police officers. Trump initially said there was violence on "many sides," which racist groups claimed as a moral victory.
“Racism is evil,” President Trump said. “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."
The president also said that “hatred, bigotry, and violence” has “no place in America,” and that anyone who “acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence” would be held accountable.
Trump began his remarks by touting job creation numbers and the health of the economy before pivoting toward the issue of the Charlottesville attack.
"Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America," Trump said before speaking about the death of Heather Heyer. "Her death fills us with grief and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers, and our love," Trump said of Heyer, two days after her death.
In a statement, Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, thanked the president for addressing "violence and hatred, according to NBC News.
"Thank you, President Trump, for those words of comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred," the statement read.
Trump also acknowledged the deaths of two Virginia state troopers on the same day in a helicopter crash.
"These three fallen Americans embody the goodness and decency of our nation," the president continued. "In times such as these, America has always shown its true character. Responding to hate with love, division with unity, and violence with an unwavering resolve for justice."
Trump often calls out terrorism much faster than he is doing now — sometimes moments after a reported attack. He also is fast to denounce what he calls "radical Islamic terrorism," but didn't this weekend denounce the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who instigated the violence.
Many are still making the point that the president's address is too late — the white supremacist group's torchlit intimidation tactics began on Friday evening, and blew up on Saturday.
Some Republicans who criticized Trump's initial, vague Saturday comments reiterated on Monday that they believe it's clear Trump has a problem with condemning white supremacists in a timely manner, but still said they were encouraged by his words, even if they came late.
“It had unifying language all Americans wants to hear,” Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, said of Trump's new statement. “There is no way [white supremacist groups] could hear that and not take it as a condemnation of their views.
Mackowiak said there will be a lot of focus on why it took 48 hours for Trump to make a statement he could have given on Saturday or anytime on Sunday.
“It’s hard to know why they do what they do over there," he said.
Evan McMullin, an anti-Trump conservative who ran for president as an independent, said he still has concerns over Trump’s delay. “Leadership is not just about fighting against white supremacism, but fighting for equality,” he said. “Equality and liberty need to be active parts of what leaders do on a daily basis.”
While Trump may hope to turn the page from the bipartisan criticism that followed the most serious domestic crisis of his faltering presidency, it’s unclear if he will emerge from the weekend’s events unscathed.
“The White house did what they had to do today, but how much damage was done for waiting 48 hours remains to be seen,” Mackowiak said.
Later on Monday, in response to a reporter's question about why he didn't condemn the hate groups by name on Saturday, the president claimed he did condemn them — he did not condemn them by name. "They've been condemned. They have been condemned," Trump said.
When asked in the same exchange why a press conference was not held, the president said, "We had a press conference. We just had a press conference." The exchange was held at the signing of a memorandum on trade, not a press conference.
The reporter then asked if he could ask more questions. "It doesn't bother me at all," Trump said, and then pointed his finger at the reporter. "But I like real news not fake news. You're fake news," the president said with his finger still pointed in the direction of the reporter.
Responding almost immediately, the reporter, identified as CNN's Jim Acosta, said, "Haven't you spread a lot of fake news yourself, sir?"
Monday's remarks also stand apart from other comments the president has made about violent groups. In contrast to Monday's brief statement addressing white supremacist groups and violence, in a recent speech in Long Island that addressed the MS-13 gang, Trump went into extreme detail about the group's actions in order to paint a nightmarish scenario. In condemning the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacy — and an attack whose gruesome carnage was captured from multiple angles on video — the president simply used the word "violent" multiple times.
Trump also faces a stagnating agenda, and the risk that it would not move forward if he didn't address white supremacy head on:
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