Pres. Trump Comments on Charlottesville: 'Racism Is Evil'

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Aug. 14, 2017. 

Three days after a march by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia -- which ultimately turned violent and deadly -- Pres. Trump denounced the racist and xenophobic groups behind the gathering by name for the first time on Monday afternoon (Aug. 14). Facing increasing criticism from Democrats as well as a number of prominent Republicans for his tepid remarks in the wake of the clashes -- which resulted in the death of one and injuries to dozens of others when a Nazi sympathizer plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters -- Trump took a break from his extended vacation in New Jersey to speak on the matter at the White House.

"To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered," said Trump, who opened the unexpected remarks by announcing that he'd returned to Washington to meet with his economic team to talk about tax cuts and the renegotiation of trade deals. Before delving into a condemnation of the shocking incident -- which the president initially blamed on bad actions on "many sides," a phrase that rankled many -- he took credit for what he said was the growing, healthy economy, claiming one million new jobs added under his watch.

"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," he said during the five-minute speech. "And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws. We all salute the same great flag and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence."

The president confirmed that he'd met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director James Wray to discuss the Justice Department's investigation into the weekend's "horrific" attack, which includes a civil rights investigation into the car crash that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. He did not, however, explicitly reach out to any of the groups targeted by the march's organizers.

Monday's comments from Trump came after the White House issued an unsigned statement on Sunday (Aug. 13) -- 36 hours after the bloody protests erupted at a planned march by Nazi and white nationalist groups over plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park -- in which it condemned "white supremacists" for the violence that led to Heyer's death. The Charlottesville native was killed when a car driven by Nazi-obsessed Ohio man James Alex Fields Jr., 20, plowed into a crowd of protesters marching against hate and racism.

"Racism is evil and those who cause violence its name are criminals and thugs," Trump added, calling out the hateful seed of the weekend's incidents several minutes into his remarks. "Including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal... Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America."

Trump has been slow to condemn actions by white nationalists and their ilk in the past, often doing so only when pressed. "Mr. President, we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism," Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner tweeted over the weekend. Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina added, "[Trump] missed an opportunity to be very explicit here. These groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House." Hours before Monday's comments, NBC News called Trump's initial response "A Failure of Presidential Leadership."

Following the violence at the "Unite the Right" rally, former KKK grand wizard David Duke said, "this represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump... That's why we voted for Donald Trump."

The president ended with a mention of Heyer, sending thoughts to her family, as well as the families of the two Virginia state troopers who died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the unrest in the city.