Trump defiant on Charlottesville unrest: ‘Blame on both sides’

US President Donald Trump. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2017

Trump defiant on Charlottesville unrest: ‘Blame on both sides’

NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump sparked another political firestorm Tuesday when he doubled down on his initial response to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that ended in bloodshed, saying there was “blame on both sides.”
The Republican president — who one day ago solemnly denounced racism and singled out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as “criminals and thugs” — also hit out at what he called the “alt-left” over the weekend melee.
Trump has faced days of criticism from across the political spectrum over his reaction to Saturday’s unrest in the Virginia college town, where a rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists over the removal of a Confederate statue erupted in clashes with counter-demonstrators.
The violent fracas ended in bloodshed when a 20-year-old suspected Nazi sympathizer, James Fields, plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, leaving one woman dead and 19 others injured.
In a rowdy exchange with journalists at Trump Tower in New York, Trump made clear on Tuesday that he was fed up with continued questioning about the issue.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said.
As he spoke, his new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former Marine general, appeared displeased during the president’s long tirade, standing rigidly.
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now,” Trump continued.
“What about the alt-left that came charging... at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? (...) There are two sides to a story.”
“What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I am concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments were immediately welcomed by David Duke, a former “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan and a key figure at Saturday’s rally.
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists,” Duke tweeted.
But on the political left, the president’s words were met with indignation.
“Charlottesville violence was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts,” said Tim Kaine, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate and senator from Virginia.
The state’s other Democratic senator, Mark Warner, tweeted: “No words.”
Trump’s fellow Republicans also didn’t mince words.
“We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote on Twitter.
“This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
And the condemnations also spilled beyond the political realm.
NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted: “Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again!“
After the contentious press conference, the head of the main US labor union, the AFL-CIO, joined several high-powered executives in stepping down from Trump’s manufacturing advisory panel.
Outside Trump Tower where the president spoke, hundreds of people protested to denounce racism. They were surrounded by police officers to prevent clashes with a handful of Trump supporters nearby.
Protesters chanted: “We are here to stay, we are here to fight!“
“I would not have come here if I had not seen him say that on TV 20 minutes ago,” said actor Jason David, 23.
When asked why he waited until Monday to explicitly condemn hate groups present in Charlottesville, Trump said he wanted to be careful not to make a “quick statement” on Saturday without all the facts.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct,” Trump insisted.
Trump called Fields, who has been charged with second-degree murder, a “disgrace to himself, his family and this country.”
But he also said that while there were troublemakers at the rally, there were also many people there “to innocently protest and very legally protest” the removal of a “very important statue” of Confederate general Robert E Lee.
“I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” he said angrily, referring to the fact they owned slaves.
“Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? ... You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”
The president also defended his controversial far-right chief strategist Steve Bannon, insisting that “he is not a racist,” but without ruling out his possible departure from the West Wing.
Pressed as to whether he might visit Charlottesville, Trump — criticized by some for not telephoning victims of the violence — said he owns “one of the largest wineries in the United States” in that area.
The president bought the winery in 2011 and has given it to his son, Eric Trump.
Lawmaker Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, urged Republicans to help remove Trump from office.
“My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history,” she said in a statement.


FBI: Saudi shooter believed to have acted alone in US Navy base attack

Updated 16 min 1 sec ago

FBI: Saudi shooter believed to have acted alone in US Navy base attack

  • Special agent Rachel Rojas thanked Saudi Arabia for its cooperation in the investigation
  • Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani was shot dead after he opened fire and killed three people at the base in Florida

PENSACOLA: Investigators believe a Saudi Air Force lieutenant acted alone on Friday when he killed three people and wounded eight at a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida before being fatally shot by police, the FBI said on Sunday.
Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville office, said the shooter used a Glock model 45 9mm handgun that he had purchased legally in Florida.
“We currently assess there was one gunman who perpetrated this attack and no arrests have been made in this case,” Rojas, the lead investigator on the case, said at a news conference.
“We are looking very hard at uncovering his motive and I would ask for patience so we can get this right,” she said.
Authorities confirmed the suspect was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was on the base as part of a US Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.
The FBI identified him as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21.
A sheriff’s deputy fatally shot the gunman, authorities said, ending the second deadly attack at a US military base within a week. Within hours, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had called US President Donald Trump to extend his condolences and pledge the Kingdom’s support in the investigation.
Rojas said there were several Saudi students who were close to the shooter and are cooperating with investigators.
“Their Saudi commanding officer has restricted them to base, and the Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation,” she said. “I thank the kingdom for their pledge of full and complete cooperation.”

Meanwhile, a second victim was identified as Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who joined the Navy after graduating from high school last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Haitham's mother, Evelyn Brady, herself a Navy veteran, said the commander of her son's school called her and told her Haitham had tried to stop the shooter.