Media and Politicians Twist Trump’s Words About Charlottesville

by James D. Agresti | August 24, 2017 12:03 am

In the wake of President Trump’s comments about the killing and mass violence in Charlottesville, media outlets and politicians have alleged that Trump said some of the white supremacists are “very fine people” and that both sides are equally to blame. Based on those claims, they are accusing Trump of supporting neo-Nazis and drawing moral equivalence between the two sides. Those assertions are demonstrably false, and Trump said the polar opposite of what these people allege.


“Very Fine People”

When Trump used the phrase “very fine people” during a press conference[2] on Monday, he repeatedly stated that he was not referring to the white supremacists. A reporter at the conference even tried to put these words in Trump’s mouth, and he rejected them. The full record of comments about this matter in chronological order is as follows:

Trump: “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”

Trump: “Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

Trump: “Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.”

Trump: “Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

Trump: “You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”

Trump: “And you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists—because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

Reporter: “Sir, I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don’t understand what you were saying.”

Trump: “No, no. There were people in that rally—and I looked the night before—if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people—neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest.”

In sum, Trump explicitly condemned the white supremacists/nationalists two times, said they were “very bad people,” and emphasized that he was not calling them “very fine people.” Still, a reporter at the conference then tried to put this spin on this words, and Trump responded, “No, no.”

Nevertheless, after the press conference:

The list of such examples goes on and on, but given the clarity of Trump’s words, there is no honest way to allege that he called white supremacists “very fine people.”

Also, Trump is correct that the event’s organizers “didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis.” On the day before the protest, the local NBC news station in Charlottesville reported[13] that this event was a “protest of the City Council’s decision to remove the statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.” The NBC report contains no mention of white supremacy or anything similar, and it states that the ACLU supported the court order that allowed the event to move forward.

Likewise, the court order[14] itself describes the event as a protest of “the City’s decision to rename the Park, which was previously known as Lee Park, and its plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from the Park.”

Contrary to the Associated Press, opposing the removal of Confederate statues is not “right-wing rhetoric.” Just after the violence in Charlottesville, an NPR/PBS/Marist Poll found[15] that 62% of U.S. residents do not want “statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy” taken down, because they are “historical symbols.” In contrast, 28% want them “removed because they are offensive to some people,” and 11% are unsure about this issue.

Some prominent people have alleged that no decent person would have stayed at the event once they saw that neo-Nazis and white nationalists were there. For example, comedian Jimmy Kimmel (while not joking) said[16], “If you’re with a group of people and they’re chanting things like ‘Jews will not replace us’ and you don’t immediately leave that group, you are not a very fine person.”

Such arguments are based on the irrational assumption that people would abandon a protest they believed in if others showed up and expressed views that they detest. Moreover, extensive pictures and videos[17] of the event show that it was not a sea of Nazi flags and racist chants. Instead, these displays of racism were limited to specific people and groups. They were not rampant among the entire throng of protestors.

Moral Equivalence

Despite widespread media claims, the full transcript[18] and video[19] of Trump’s press conference show that he never assigned equal blame to both sides of the Charlottesville violence. To the contrary, he had much harsher words for the white supremacists. In addition to his universal denunciations of them, Trump singled out the driver of the car who killed Heather Heyer as “a disgrace to himself, his family, and this country.” He emphasized, “The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”

Unlike others, however, Trump also criticized the “alt-left” for “charging with clubs in their hands.” He said that “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. You had a group—you had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”

During these statements, the reporters fired questions at Trump like:

Trump directly replied:

I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs—and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side. You can call them the left—you just called them the left—that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.

Trump also distinguished the violent counter-protestors from the peaceful ones by describing the latter as “fine people” and stating that Heather Heyer was “a fantastic young woman.”

Throughout all of this. Trump never used the word “equal” or any synonym for it. Nor did he make an explicit or implied declaration of moral equivalency.

Yet, in direct contradiction to what Trump stated:

Again, the list of such falsehoods extends far beyond the examples above.

Do Counter-Protesters Have Any Blame?

New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg—who was present at the Charlottesville protest—initially made the same point as Trump by writing[25], “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”Corroborating Stolberg, these pictures by Joshua Roberts of Reuters show[26] a counter-protestor using a club to beat the face of an old man lying on the ground:

Likewise, this picture published by the Chicago Tribune shows[27] a counter-protestor throwing a metal newspaper box at protesters:

After being criticized for her statement, Stolberg amended[28] it eight hours later at 4:20 AM: “Rethinking this. Should have said violent, not hate-filled. They were standing up to hate.” Stolberg’s revision follows the dominant narrative of the media and politicians, who won’t condemn any of the counter-protestors, because they were engaged in a righteous cause.

Antifa, the so-called anti-fascists who counter-protested in Charlottesville, use that same rationale to justify assaulting anyone that they deem to be a fascist, which includes roughly half of the U.S. population. Per a sympathetic profile[29] of antifa in the leftist magazine The Nation:

As organizers from anti-fascist research and news site Antifa NYC told The Nation: “Antifa combines radical left-wing and anarchist politics, revulsion at racists, sexists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes, with the international anti-fascist culture of taking the streets and physically confronting the brownshirts of white supremacy, whoever they may be.”

Who is “whoever they may be?”

In the view of antifa, anyone who stands in the way of their self-described “radical left-wing” agenda is a “fascist” and is therefore a justified target of violence. These are not mere words. Antifa has repeatedly[37] assaulted Trump supporters, and they injured[38] six police officers while trying to shut down Trump’s inauguration. On the day before the inauguration, The Nation broadcast[39] antifa’s call to action:

Meanwhile on January 20, the call for the actual inauguration day is unequivocal protest. More than 50 anarchist, anti-fascist, anti-racist groups from across the country have called for a #J20 Disruption[40]. “We call on all people of good conscience to join in disrupting the ceremonies. If Trump is to be inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the true face of the security state Trump will preside over,” the announcement reads, “We must take to the streets and protest, blockade, disrupt, intervene, sit in, walk out, rise up, and make more noise and good trouble than the establishment can bear. The parade must be stopped.”

Hundreds of antifa heeded this call by violently rioting[41] around the White House on inauguration day. Thus, lists the following among Trump’s “crimes against humanity”: “Over 200 protesters arrested at Trump’s inauguration were charged with multiple felonies, including federal riot charges, and 211 defendants face up to 75 years in prison.”

For these reasons and others, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness classifies[42] antifa as a terrorist threat, noting that “antifa groups have become active across the United States, employing a variety of methods to disrupt demonstrations.”

Regardless of what antifa has done, many people take issue with Trump’s statement that they share some blame for what happened in Charlottesville. They contend that antifa was innocent in this case since they were there to fight racism and Nazism. For example, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded[43] to Trump, “No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”

Besides embracing the unjustified assumption that every protestor was a racist, bigot, or Nazi, Romney’s words echo antifa’s rhetoric. Antifa contends that they are right to physically attack people who utter racist words, make violent overtures, or support an ideology like Nazism that has killed millions of people. However, under these anarchist standards, people would also be justified in assaulting:

In the United States—unlike Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and North Korea—the right to free speech is constitutionally protected. This includes[58] racist speech, hateful speech, and offensive speech. Under the First[59] and Fourteenth[60] Amendments to the Constitution, government at all levels is required to respect free speech and to equally enforce the law for all U.S. citizens. These laws don’t allow people to physically attack one another for voicing their views, no matter how detestable anyone finds them to be.

Under the U.S. Constitution[61]—which is the nation’s supreme legal authority that all elected officials are sworn to uphold—the facts of this event show that the violent antifa counter-protestors have some blame. Moreover, the public figures who excuse antifa’s actions and adopt their logic are supporting anarchy, which is one of antifa’s stated doctrines.


Scores of politicians, journalists, and commentators have twisted beyond recognition Trump’s words about the violence in Charlottesville. Trump did not say that some of the white supremacists are “very fine people” or that both sides are equally to blame. In fact, he said the exact opposite.

Furthermore, despite the publicly available facts above, many people refused to condemn all of the illegal and unconstitutional violence in Charlottesville—and when Trump did so—they condemned him instead.

James D. Agresti[62] is the president of Just Facts[63], a nonprofit institute dedicated to publishing verifiable facts about public policy.

Also see,

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