White House

Trump on Charlottesville: From blaming 'both sides' for attack to berating the media

Standing before his supporters in Phoenix, Ariz., Tuesday evening, President Trump lambasted the media – specifically “fake news” – for its coverage of his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.

As white nationalists and alt-right groups gathered in the southern town to protest the removal of a Confederate statue on Aug. 12, tragedy struck when police say a Nazi sympathizer plowed his car through a group of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.

Trump’s public comments on the situation have slightly evolved over time, and the president castigated those who said he wasn’t forceful enough in condemning racism in the aftermath of the attack.

“Did they report that I said that racism is evil?” Trump said at the campaign-style rally Tuesday evening. “You know why? Because they are very dishonest people.”

At one point, Trump re-read a written statement he previously gave regarding the attack, but left out the key part that received much criticism – the part that said “many sides” were to blame for the violence.

Read on for a look at what Trump has said about the Charlottesville rally, the deadly attack and how his comments have changed over time.

Aug. 12

Speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump condemned the violence “on many sides” in the aftermath of the car attack that left Heather Heyer, a paralegal, dead.

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“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence – on many sides, on many sides. This has been going on for a long time in our country,” Trump said during a press conference.

The president called for a “swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

Trump said he spoke to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., and the two men had agreed that the “hate and division must stop and must stop right now.”

“We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation … and true affection for each other,” he added.

Aug. 13

After much criticism about Trump’s “many sides” comments and calls from lawmakers – both Republicans and Democrats – for Trump to specifically disavow white supremacists and racists, the White House issued a statement.

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“The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred,” the statement said. “Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

Aug. 14

Two days after the attack, Trump disavowed racists from the White House.

“As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America,” Trump said.

“Racism is evil,” Trump continued. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs – including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

WHITE HOUSE DEFENDS TRUMP’S BLAME OF ‘BOTH SIDES’ IN CHARLOTTESVILLE

Trump also took to Twitter to criticize press coverage of his Charlottesville statements.

“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the [Fake] News Media will never be satisfied … truly bad people!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s new comments drew criticism from far-right leader Richard Spencer who chalked it up to “kumbaya nonsense.”

Aug. 15

During a highly contentious press conference with reporters in New York, Trump returned to his original message of blaming “both sides” for the deadly attack. He specifically railed on the “alt-left” that he said were “swinging clubs” as they “came charging at” the alt-right groups.  

“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said during a combative exchange with reporters. “I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence – on many sides, on many sides."

- President Donald Trump

Trump also defended those who were originally protesting in Charlottesville as simply demonstrating against the removal of a statue of Confederate war hero Robert E. Lee.

“You had some bad people in that group, but you also had very fine people on both sides,” Trump said.

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But Trump also assailed the Ohio man accused of ramming his car through the crowd of counter-protesters, calling him a “disgrace to himself, his family and his country.”

“You can call it terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want,” Trump said.

The White House also defended Trump’s “both sides” comments Tuesday in a memo of talking points obtained by Fox News. It said Trump was “entirely correct – both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility.”

Aug. 16

Trump touted Heyer’s memorial service in a tweet Wednesday morning, calling her “incredible” and a “truly special young woman.”

“She will be long remembered by all!” Trump tweeted.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said she has “no interest” in speaking with the president following his comments where she said he was “equating the protesters [like Heyer] with the KKK and the white supremacists.”

Aug. 17

Trump used the criticism of his comments on Charlottesville as an opportunity to attack his former campaign opponent, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

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“Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is no moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer,” Trump tweeted. “Such a disgusting lie. He just can’t forget his election trouncing.”

“The people of South Carolina will remember,” he added.

In response, Graham said in a series of tweets that he wanted to “move our nation, my state and our party forward” and praised the president for his tweet “honoring Miss Heyer” as “very nice and appropriate.”

“However, because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country,” Graham said. “For the sake of our Nation – and as our President – please fix this. History is watching us all.”

While Graham threw his hat in the ring for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he dropped out of the race after several poor primary results. Graham tweeted on Election Day that he voted for independent candidate Evan McMullin.

Aug. 22

At a campaign-style rally in Arizona Tuesday night, Trump railed on the media for its coverage of his Charlottesville statements yet again. He shouted that he had “openly called for healing, unity and love” in the aftermath of the tragedy but was misrepresented by press coverage.

Trump took the time to read his responses to the racially charged violence – and he got more animated with each one. He read from the written statement he had given the day of the violence but skipped over the highly criticized part that he had ad-libbed at the time – his observation that “many sides” were to blame.

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That, as well as his reiteration in the days after that “both sides” were to blame for the killing of Heyer.  

“You know where my heart is. I’m only doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are,” Trump said.

After the rally, Trump alleged that the media “give[s] a platform to hate groups” and “turns a blind eye to the gang violence on our streets.”

Aug. 23

The morning following his Arizona speech, Trump took to Twitter to chastise the “Fake News Media” – again.

“Last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the Fake News Media didn’t cover fairly,” Trump said. “People got it!”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.