Trump Defends Claim That There Were “Very Fine People on Both Sides” of White Supremacist Rally

“That question was answered perfectly.”

Ting Shen/ZUMA

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President Donald Trump on Friday defended his response to the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, claiming that his assertion at the time that there were “very fine people on both sides” had been stated “perfectly.” Trump argued that his remarks—which drew fierce bipartisan condemnation at the time—have been taken out of context.

Trump’s 2017 comments followed a weekend of violence sparked by a collection of far-right groups that converged on Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, was murdered by a neo-Nazi during the rally.

The remarks were once again in the news this week after former Vice President Joe Biden condemned them in a video announcing his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Very fine people on both sides?” Biden said. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”

Asked Friday about the controversy, Trump said, “If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general, whether you like it or not.”

“People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee,” he continued. “Everybody knows that.”

Trump’s defense of his 2017 statements echoes arguments made recently by a number of right-wing media figures. But as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explains, it’s completely absurd to claim that there was somehow a distinct group of “very fine people” who had allied themselves with violent, avowedly racist thugs chanting, among other things, “Jews will not replace us”:

They note that Trump, at one point, explicitly excluded neo-Nazis and white nationalists from his “very fine people” formulation…But it leads to the question: Which “very fine people” was he talking about? The “Unite the Right” rally was partly organized by a well-known white nationalist, Richard Spencer, and included both neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups. Former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke was a scheduled speaker…For the Trump defense to make any sense, there would have had to be some other group of people who didn’t subscribe to these awful ideals but for some reason decided to march in common cause with neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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