The White House scrambled on Sunday to deflect a growing political row over Donald Trump’s equivocal condemnation of violence at a white supremacy rally, insisting his statement included “neo-Nazis and all extremist groups”.
However, the fresh spin will do little to counter growing criticism that the president was trying to shield white nationalists who helped propel him to power.
A day earlier protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in tragedy when a car ploughed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal.
She was among a group rallying against members of the Ku Klux Klan and other hard Right organisations who gathered in protest at the city’s decision to remove a statue commemorating Robert Lee, a storied Civil War general who fought on the Confederate side.
As the local mayor condemned her death as an act of “terrorism” and politicians of all sides denounced neo-Nazi thugs, Mr Trump chose instead to condemn violence which he said was caused by “many sides”.
“Hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now,” he said, taking time out from a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club. “We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and … true affection for each other.”
His words provoked a wave of outrage. Critics said his vague wording appeared to suggest a moral equivalence between the actions of peaceful protesters and those of far-Right groups, some of whom flew Swastikas.
Meanwhile Neo-Nazi websites filled with comments applauding the statement.
“Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together,” said one Trump supporter on the Daily Stormer website.
On Sunday morning, a White House spokesman tried to defuse the anger, saying: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi,…