BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Trump on Saturday condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the spate of violence unfolding in Charlottesville and called for “a swift restoration of law and order” — but avoided placing blame on any particular party for the hate-fueled upheaval.
Trump spoke after hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members clashed with counterprotesters in the streets and three cars later collided in a pedestrian mall packed with people, killing one person and injuring at least 10 others.
In his remarks, at his private golf club here, N.J., Trump spoke out against “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
“It’s been going on for a long time in our country, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time,” Trump said, adding that he wanted to study the episode to learn what is wrong with the country.
He ignored shouted questions from reporters about what he thought of the white nationalists at the event who said they supported him and were inspired by his campaign.
Trump’s comments came at an event where he signed the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, which provides funding to extend a program that allows veterans to seek care at private medical offices instead of just at Veterans Administration facilities.
The Republican president in in the midst of a 17-day working vacation in Bedminster.
Trump said he had spoken earlier Saturday to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) about the events in Charlottesville, adding: “We agreed that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection — and, really, I say this so strongly — true affection for each other.”
Trump praised the state and local law enforcement in Virginia, along with the National Guard, for “working smart and working hard.”
“What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives,” Trump said. “No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”
Trump said that McAuliffe thanked him for the support provided so far and said that the government is “ready, willing and able” to provide more.
The president said “our country is doing well in so many ways,” citing “record employment” and the arrival of new companies, among other things.
“We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very very sad,” Trump said.
Trump tweeted earlier Saturday on the situation in Charlottesville, saying “there is no place for this kind of violence in America.”
In one tweet, Trump said, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for.” The tweet, however made no mention of the white nationalists, whose gathering was central to the violence.
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
His messages came about an hour after first lady Melania Trump tweeted about the protests, saying: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville.”
Among those to criticize Trump on Saturday for not calling out white supremacists in his remarks was Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
“Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” Gardner wrote on Twitter.
Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism. https://t.co/PaPNiPPAoW
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) August 12, 2017
During last year’s campaign, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sought to make Trump’s support by white nationalists a liability.
One a single day last August, her campaign released a video that featured Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacists touting Trump’s candidacy — then gave an afternoon speech condemning past racially inflammatory remarks by Trump and his support within the “alt-right,” which she described as an “emerging racist ideology.”
“Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters,” she said in the speech in Reno, Nev., August 2016. “It’s a disturbing preview of what kind of president he’d be.”
In a series of tweets on Saturday, she said her “heart is in Charlottesville today” and said “the incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets.”
But the incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 12, 2017
Wagner reported from Washington. Amy B Wang contributed to this report from Washington.