President Trump on Saturday condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” in Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists upset over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue violently clashed with counter-protesters.
One woman died and 19 others were being treated for injuries after a car plowed into a crowd of demonstrators, authorities said. Two Virginia state troopers also died when a helicopter crashed nearby.
“We are closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in New Jersey.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides,” he said.
On Saturday evening, a White House aide issued a statement clarifying why the president used the phrase "on many sides” instead of singling out the white nationalists who initially gathered in Charlottesville.
“The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides,” a White House official said. “There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”
During his remarks, the president said he spoke with Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who declared a state of emergency on Saturday.
“What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives,” the president said. “No citizen should ever fear for safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”
The president made the comments during a bill signing with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He also expressed his sympathy to those who died in the helicopter crash.
“Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today,” Trump tweeted. “You're all among the best this nation produces.”
Earlier Saturday, Trump first responded to the unrest on Twitter.
“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for,” the president tweeted. “There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
Vice President Mike Pence also weighed in, tweeting: “I stand with @POTUS against hate & violence. U.S is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us. #Charlottesville.”
The demonstrators gathered for a "pro-white" rally to protest Charlottesville's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park.
Thousands of supporters and counter-protesters screamed, chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday.
Both Republicans and Democrats released statements Saturday criticizing the protesters.
“The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”
Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, said: “Having a right to spew vile hate does not make it right. It is painful to see these ugly events in Charlottesville last night and today.”
Former President Bill Clinton tweeted: “Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy. #Charlottesville”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran for president as a Democrat in 2016, said the white nationalist demonstration “is a reprehensible display of racism and hatred.”
“While this incident is alarming, it is not surprising,” Sanders said in a statement. “Hate crimes and shows of hostility toward minorities have recently been surging.”
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said the “march and rally in Charlottesville goes against everything the American flag stands for.”
Ronna McDaniel, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Saturday the “hate & bigotry on display in #charlottesville is dangerous & cowardly.”
“Free speech may give them the right to do this but also empowers us to unite to loudly speak out against it,” McDaniel tweeted.
Likewise, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez spoke out against the gathering.
“The vile & bigoted display of hate in #Charlottesville has no place in America,” Perez said. “We stand against white supremacy wherever it appears.”
First Lady Melania Trump also called for ending the violence.
“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville,” Melania Trump tweeted.
Clashes first broke out Friday night after a judge cleared the way for the protest to continue as planned. The unrest prompted McAuliffe to place National Guard members on standby and encourage Virginians to stay away from the event.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.