A scold­ing fol­lows si­lence

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNA JOHN­SON AND JOHN WAG­NER jenna.john­son@wash­post.com john.wag­ner@wash­post.com

Hours af­ter vi­o­lence, Trump de­cried hate “on many sides.”

bed­min­ster, n.j. — Pres­i­dent Trump is of­ten quick to re­spond to ter­ror­iz­ing acts of vi­o­lence.

As news broke of a ter­ror­ist at­tack in Paris in Novem­ber 2015, Trump im­me­di­ately tweeted that he was pray­ing for “the vic­tims and hostages.” Very soon af­ter a shoot­ing at an Or­lando night­club in June 2016, Trump tweeted that he was “right on rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism.”

But he kept quiet Sat­ur­day morn­ing as a protest led by white na­tion­al­ists, who ar­rived with torches and chants in Char­lottesville, on Fri­day night, turned vi­o­lent. The ca­ble net­works that he usu­ally watches showed footage of in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent clashes be­tween the white na­tion­al­ists, some of whom looked like sol­diers be­cause they were so heav­ily armed, and the coun­ter­protesters who showed up to chal­lenge them.

He kept quiet as David Duke, the for­mer leader of the Ku Klux Klan, de­clared that the scene in Char­lottesville is a “turn­ing point” for a move­ment that aims to “ful­fill the prom­ises of Don­ald Trump.”

The pres­i­dent kept quiet as Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) de­clared a state of emer­gency — and as Trump’s own wife re­sponded, writ­ing in a tweet that “no good comes from vi­o­lence.”

Ca­ble news com­men­tary, Twit­ter and the in­boxes of White House spokes­men quickly filled with this ques­tion: Where is the pres­i­dent?

Then, at 1:19 p.m. in New Jer­sey, Trump took a break from his work­ing va­ca­tion at his pri­vate golf club to tweet: “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!”

Trump has long tip­toed around the is­sue of white supremacy and has yet to pro­vide a full-throt­tled re­buke of those who in­voke his name. He had to be re­peat­edly pushed to de­nounce Duke af­ter the for­mer KKK leader en­dorsed him and praised him.

Trump’s can­di­dacy ex­cited many white na­tion­al­ists as he mocked the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment on the cam­paign trail and de­clared that “all lives mat­ter.” They ral­lied be­hind his vows to build a wall on the south­ern bor­der, re­duce the num­ber of for­eign­ers al­lowed into the coun­try and pres­sure ev­ery­one in the coun­try to speak English and say “Merry Christ­mas.”

About two hours af­ter the pres­i­dent’s tweet, Trump ex­panded with four-minute state­ment that be­gan: “We con­demn in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms this egre­gious dis­play of ha­tred, big­otry and vi­o­lence on many sides.” He added for em­pha­sis: “On many sides.”

When asked what the pres­i­dent meant by “on many sides,” a White House spokesper­son re­sponded: “The Pres­i­dent was con­demn­ing ha­tred, big­otry and vi­o­lence from all sources and all sides. There was vi­o­lence be­tween pro­test­ers and coun­ter­protesters to­day.”

Later in the evening, Trump of­fered his con­do­lences to a vic­tim and “best re­gards to all of those in­jured.”

Trump never used the words “white supremacy” or “white na­tion­al­ism.” He didn’t de­tail what acts or words he con­sid­ers to be hate­ful or big­oted. He didn’t men­tion the ve­hi­cle that had driven into a crowd of coun­ter­protesters in Char­lottesville — a tac­tic that has been re­peat­edly used by Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists. He scolded both sides and treated their of­fenses as be­ing equal. He was vague enough that his state­ment could be in­ter­preted in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways.

But many other Amer­i­cans wanted their pres­i­dent to be crys­tal-clear when it comes to white supremacy and what they were wit­ness­ing in Char­lottesville. The pres­i­dent’s tweet and state­ment were quickly ques­tioned.

“There is only one side,” tweeted for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

In a se­ries of tweets Sat­ur­day, for­mer Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton said her “heart is in Char­lottesville to­day” and added that “the in­cite­ment of ha­tred that got us here is as real and con­demnable as the white su­prem­a­cists in our streets.”

Some Repub­li­cans took a sim­i­lar ap­proach.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) re­leased a strongly worded state­ment that said, in part: “White su­prem­a­cists and neo-Nazis are, by def­i­ni­tion, op­posed to Amer­i­can pa­tri­o­tism and the ideals that de­fine us as a peo­ple and make our na­tion spe­cial.”

And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (RU­tah) tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fight­ing Hitler for Nazi ideas to go un­chal­lenged here at home.”

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