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Trump bows to pressure on white nationalist rally

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US President Donald Trump has denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as criminals and thugs, bowing to mounting political pressure to condemn such groups explicitly after a white-nationalist rally turned deadly in Virginia.

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Trump was assailed from across the political spectrum for failing to respond more forcefully to Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville. The head of one of the world’s biggest drug companies quit a presidential business panel as a result, saying he was taking a stand against intolerance and extremism.

Critics slammed Trump for waiting too long to address the bloodshed, as well as for initially saying that “many sides” were involved, instead of singling out the white supremacists widely seen as sparking the melee. Several senators from his own Republican party had harsh words for him.

Some 48 hours into the biggest domestic challenge of his young presidency, Trump tried to correct course.

“Racism is evil 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 said in a statement to reporters at the White House on Monday.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” he said.

A 20-year-old man said to have harboured Nazi sympathies is facing charges he ploughed his car into protesters opposing the white nationalists, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people. The accused, James Fields, was denied bail at a court hearing on Monday.

Trump said anyone who engaged in criminal behaviour at the rally would face justice, the Republican president said.

“I wish that he would have said those same words on Saturday,” responded Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia on MSNBC. “I’m disappointed it took him a couple of days.”

As the chorus of outrage over Virginia grew louder on Sunday, Trump stayed silent on the matter while at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Early Monday, he took to Twitter – his preferred method of communication – to attack Democrats over trade deals and to endorse a political candidate in Alabama, but said nothing about white supremacists.

In a strong rebuke to Trump early on Monday, the black chief executive of Merck & Co Inc, Kenneth Frazier, resigned from a business panel led by the president, saying expressions of hatred and bigotry must be rejected.

Trump quickly hit back on Twitter, but made no reference to Frazier’s reasons for quitting the panel, instead revisiting a longstanding gripe about expensive medicines. Frazier would now have more time to focus on lowering “ripoff” drug prices, Trump tweeted.

The jarring images of violence from Charlottesville and the heated public debate over racism resonated around the world, particularly in Europe where leaders are contending with a wave of xenophobia.

– Reuters

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