After criticism, White House says Trump condemns KKK, neo-Nazis

By Ian Simpson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's remarks condemning violence at a white nationalist rally were meant to include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the White House insisted on Sunday, a day after he was criticized across the political spectrum for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists.

U.S. authorities opened an investigation of the deadly violence in Virginia, which put renewed pressure on the Trump administration to take an unequivocal stand against right-wing extremists occupying a steadfast segment of the Republican president's political base.

A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 were people injured, five critically, on Saturday when a man plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally in the Southern college town of Charlottesville. Another 15 people were injured in bloody street brawls between white nationalists and counter-demonstrators who fought each other with fists, rocks and pepper spray.

Two Virginia state police officers died in the crash of their helicopter after assisting in efforts to quell the unrest.

James Alex Fields Jr., 20, a white Ohio man described by a former high school teacher as having been "infatuated" with Nazi ideology as a teenager, was due to be appear in court on murder and other charges stemming from the deadly car crash.

Democrats and Republicans criticized Trump for waiting too long to address the violence, and for failing when he did speak out to explicitly condemn the white-supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.

On Sunday, however, the White House added: "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, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together."

The statement was emailed to reporters covering Trump at his golf resort in New Jersey and attributed to an unidentified "White House spokesperson."

On Saturday, Trump declined to single out any political ideology by name as being involved in Charlottesville. "We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides," he said.

On Sunday TV shows Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, a Democrat, praised the police response as adequate, citing the presence of nearly 1,000 law enforcement personnel at the scene. Signer blamed Trump for the violence, starting with the billionaire businessman's 2016 run for the White House.

"Look at the campaign he ran, Signer said on CNN's State of the Nation." "There is two words that need to be said over and over again - domestic terrorism and white supremacy. That is exactly what we saw on display this weekend."


Memorial vigils and other events showing solidarity with Charlottesville's victims were planned across the country on Sunday to "honor all those under attack by congregating against hate," according to a loose coalition of civil society groups said in postings on social media.

Virginia police have not yet provided a motive for the man accused of ramming his car into the crowd, but U.S. prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation, an FBI field office said.

Derek Weimer, a history teacher at Fields' high school, told Cincinnati television station WCPO-TV that he remembered Fields harboring "some very radical views on race" as a student and was "very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler."

"I developed a good rapport with him and I used that rapport to constantly try to steer him away from those beliefs," Weimer recounted.

Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and a single count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, authorities said.

The cause of the police helicopter crash was also under federal investigation.


On Sunday morning, before the White House statement, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and White House adviser, appealed on Twitter for Americans to "be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville." She also posted: "There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis."

Also before the statement, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the Republican Party's Senate election effort, called on the president to condemn "white supremacists" and to use that term. He was one of several Republican senators who squarely criticized Trump on Twitter on Saturday.

"Calling out people for their acts of evil - let's do it today - white nationalist, white supremacist," Gardner said on CNN's "State of the Union" program on Sunday. "We will not stand for their hate."

An organizer of Saturday's "Unite the Right" rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate army commander General Robert E. Lee from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down. The rally stemmed from a long debate over various public memorials and symbols honoring the pro-slavery Confederacy of the U.S. Civil War, considered an affront by African-Americans.

Organizer Jason Kessler, identified by civil rights groups as a white nationalist blogger, attempted to hold a press conference outside city hall in Charlottesville on Sunday, but was quickly shouted down by counter-protesters. They then approached Kessler, who was whisked away by state police.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, who had declared an emergency seeking to curb the unrest as it began on Saturday, held a news conference afterward calling for the white nationalists "to go home."

"There is no place for you here," he said. "There is no place for you in America."

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lucia Mutikani in Washington, James Oliphant in New Jersey, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Grant McCool and Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Mary Milliken)