(JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League joined critics of President Donald Trump in condemning his assertion that there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazis faced off against counterprotesters.
Trump made the remark at a news conference Tuesday in New York, several days after a 32-year-old counterprotester was killed in a car-ramming attack by a participant in the far-right rally.
Observers said the Charlottesville march was the largest event of its kind in over two decades. Hundreds chanted slogans against Jews, blacks and other minorities during a torchlit procession Friday night and an aborted rally Saturday morning.
ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement that he was “profoundly disturbed” by Trump’s remarks, whom Greenblatt said “went beyond the pale today in equating racist white supremacists in Charlottesville with counter protesters who were there to stand up against hate.” For the second time in four days, Trump “did the opposite” of previous presidents who are remembered for “standing up to bigotry and hate,” Greenblatt added.
On Saturday, Trump condemned the “display of hatred and bigotry and violence on many sides,” sparking criticism that by not singling out the racists, he was drawing a moral equivalence between supporters of fascism and their opponents.
Two days later, Trump did single out the far right.
“Racism is evil, 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,” he said in a statement Monday.
But at the news conference, which was intended to discuss infrastructure, Trump appeared to revert to the view of shared blame.
“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’?” Trump asked. “Let me ask you this: What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Addressing the alleged actions of James Alex Fields Jr. — the 20-year-old white supremacist accused of murdering Heather Heyer and wounding 20 others by driving a car into a crowd of counterprotesters – Trump called him a “murderer.” Fields did “a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing,” the president said.
Trump’s references to violence on both sides also drew criticism in Israel.
A former justice minister, Tzipi Livni, wrote on Twitter, “In racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are no two equal sides. There’s good and there’s bad, period.”
Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, also wrote “There are no two sides,” adding that “every leader must confront racism head on.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke offered his gratitude to Trump for the statements.
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” Duke wrote, referring to the Black Lives Matter campaign and the “antifa” anti-fascist movement.