Washington, United States | AFP | US President Donald Trump, under pressure to explicitly condemn a weekend rally by white supremacists that ended in bloodshed, on Monday denounced racism and slammed the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as “repugnant.”
Trump had taken heat from Democrats and Republicans alike for his response to Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A woman was killed and 19 others injured when a suspected Nazi sympathizer plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters after a violent rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists over the removal of a Confederate statue.
After meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and new FBI Director Christopher Wray, Trump got tough.
“Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” Trump said in nationally televised remarks from the White House, where he travelled early Monday to meet with his top law enforcement aides.
“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,” he said.
“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.”
In an appearance Saturday at his golf resort in New Jersey, Trump had faulted “many sides” for the violence but made no specific mention of the white extremists involved in the melee, some of whom wore Trump hats and T-shirts.
Earlier Monday, Sessions said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program that the car attack “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism.”
“You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation towards the most serious charges that can be brought because this is unequivocally an unacceptable, evil attack,” he told ABC.
The Justice Department has launched a civil rights inquiry in connection with the incident, and the driver, a 20-year-old Ohio man who was said to have had a history of neo-Nazi beliefs, has been charged with second-degree murder.
On Monday, a judge denied bail for the suspected attacker, James Fields.
– Backlash mounts –
After a weekend of criticism of Trump from both sides of the political aisle, a prominent African-American businessman quit a presidential advisory body Monday to protest what he deemed an insufficient response.
“Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs,” Ken Frazier, chief executive of Merck Pharmaceutical, said in announcing his resignation from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council.