President Trump announced on Twitter that he was dissolving two of his advisory councils, after business leaders had stepped down from the groups, citing Trump’s handling of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. At a memorial service, Susan Bro, the mother of the young woman killed in Charlottesville, urged attendees to “make my daughter’s death worthwhile.” Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s long-time aides, will serve as the interim White House communications director. Former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will advance to a runoff election in September to fill the Senate seat left open by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The city of Baltimore removed four Confederate monuments overnight.
Trump’s Priorities: President Trump had two choices this week: work with business leaders and fulfill his pledge to bring back manufacturing jobs, or espouse white identity politics. He chose the latter. (David A. Graham)
And Then There Were Two: The results of Alabama's GOP special election primary for the state’s open Senate seat are in—and it’s headed to a September runoff election between two candidates: a Bible-thumper and a tainted establishment figure. (Molly Ball)
Charlottesville Could Have Been Worse: To prevent more violent clashes, states should rethink their open-carry gun laws, writes David Frum. After all, “the purpose is always to intimidate—to frighten others away from their lawful rights.”
Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.
Not All Bad: During a news conference on Tuesday, President Trump said there were “fine people” among those who marched to defend the Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. That may be true, argues Peter Beinart, but “fine people can believe monstrous things.” (Forward)
‘Down the Breitbart Hole’: White House chief strategist and former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon once called the site a platform for the alt-right. But Breitbart’s current editor, Alexander Marlow, says he has a different vision. (Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times Magazine)
Trump’s ‘Ride-or-Die’: A variety of polls, analyzed side by side, show the true size of President Trump’s base: Roughly one in four Americans support the president no matter what he says or does. (Kristen Soltis Anderson, Washington Examiner)
Insult to Injury: A new law in Florida has enabled insurers to deny benefits to injured undocumented workers, and has led to dozens of arrests and deportations of workers. (Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes, NPR and ProPublica)
Made in the USA: While the Trump administration touts the importance of manufacturing jobs in the American economy, factory workers are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate in years. (Danielle Paquette, The Washington Post)
Higher Premiums, Higher Deficit: Here’s what the Congressional Budget Office predicts will happen if President Trump eliminates funding for the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing subsidies. (Haeyoun Park, The New York Times)
Often in moments of public crisis, people turn to books or readings to make sense of it. What books or readings do you turn to for comfort or reflection in uncertain times?
Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.
-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)
The city of Baltimore took down four Confederate monuments overnight, less than a week after white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, in support of a monument to Robert E. Lee. “They needed to come down,” the city’s Democratic mayor, Catherine Pugh, said on Wednesday morning. “We moved as quickly as we could.”
In the wake of Charlottesville, where the weekend’s demonstrations and counter-protests led to deadly violence, a contentious debate over Confederate symbols is once again playing out across the United States. The Democratic mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, said on Saturday that he would work to “relocate” Confederate statues, though the state’s Republican governor argued on Tuesday that removing monuments would amount to a “sanitization of history.” In Durham, North Carolina, on Monday, protesters toppled a statue honoring “the boys who wore the gray,” an act that has already led to one arrest.
The decision to extract Baltimore’s monuments during the night, and with relatively little fanfare, was reportedly motivated by city officials’ desire to avoid public clashes.
“I’m proud that the city moved so quickly,” said Kwame Rose, a local activist who gained national prominence during protests over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody in 2015. “I think it stands to show that Baltimore will come to be one of those cities—even after having had so much negative press in the past—that becomes a guiding light,” he told me. Other cities, he noted, have “dragged their feet.”
The Baltimore monuments’ removal began hours after President Trump questioned the rationale for taking Confederate monuments down. “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee,” he said at a press conference. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” The president’s comments drew criticism from historians who pointed out that Washington and Jefferson played a foundational role in establishing the United States, while Lee was a Confederate general who fought against the Union.
In response to the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, the Baltimore City Council voted on Monday in support of removing the monuments. According to The Baltimore Sun, the process began Tuesday evening just before midnight local time and ended at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Crews dismantled the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors and the Confederate Women’s monuments, as well as statues honoring Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Supreme Court justice Roger B. Taney. As the Sun explained, while “the Taney statue makes no overt references to the Confederacy … Taney’s authorship of the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress couldn’t regulate slavery and that blacks weren’t citizens, has caused him to be linked with the Confederate cause.”
Though the Baltimore monuments are now gone, there are others throughout Maryland, which was a slave-holding state until 1864. Political pressure to take them down shows little sign of letting up. In 2015, the shooting of black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked widespread debate over Confederate flag imagery. At the time, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan pushed back against the idea of widespread removal of rebel symbols. “Where do we draw the line?” he said that July, a message similar to Trump’s remarks on Tuesday.
This week, however, Hogan expressed support for removing a statue of Taney from the grounds of the state house in Annapolis. The governor faces pressure, though, to take further steps. One of his early opponents in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate and former head of the NAACP Ben Jealous, said in a statement Wednesday that Hogan should now work to “pull our state together around removing all Confederate monuments from every part of our state.”
Updated on August 16 at 3:59 p.m.
While Donald Trump is on vacation, there are major renovations going on in the West Wing. Perhaps they’ll alter plans and include a portcullis and a moat, because the White House is under siege.
The president is once again facing loud denunciation (though so far little else) from members of his own party. Vice President Pence is cutting short an overseas trip and returning home to an administration in crisis. And Wednesday afternoon, the president announced he was pulling the plug on a manufacturing council and a strategy and policy forum, both comprised of business leaders, after a spree of defections in reaction to Trump’s handling of violence in Charlottesville.
Trump’s campaign for president stood on two legs: the politics of racial grievance, and a promise to bring back manufacturing jobs. What became clear this week is that he can either work with industrial titans on jobs or he can place white identity politics center stage, but he cannot do both. With his open embrace of de-facto white nationalism on Tuesday, Trump made his choice.
From his border wall with Mexico to his protectionist trade impulses to his vow to end “American carnage,” Trump promised white Americans that he would get them back on their feet, turn back the tides of immigration and progressive social justice, and bring back their jobs.
In order to take on the jobs question, he assembled two panels of blue-chip business leaders, the President’s Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum. The actual utility of presidential panels like this is often hard to judge, but for Trump, they represented the concrete evidence that unlike previous presidents, he was a businessman who could bring other titans of business together to make the country run better for its people.
The two bodies were already fragile—several members quit over Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord—but it was the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville that wrecked them. After Trump issued a bland statement on Saturday blaming “all sides” for violence at the march, Merck CEO Ken Frazier announced he was stepping down from the Manufacturing Council’s board. It did not go unremarked that Trump was faster to denounce Frazier than he was neo-Nazis, but Monday afternoon he tried to correct course, laboriously reading a statement in which he declared, “Racism is evil.”
Questions about Trump’s sincerity quickly surfaced, climaxing in a stunning press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday, in which he tried to defend the Charlottesville march even as he condemned neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The number of defections from the council climbed over the course of the week, as my colleague Annie Lowrey chronicled. The members were either genuinely appalled by Trump’s remarks, used their acute business sense to realize that being associated with him would be bad for their companies and reputations, or both.
Wednesday afternoon, Reuters and CNBC both reported that Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum had decided to disband itself amid the controversy. Trump had been defiant over earlier defections—“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!” he tweeted Tuesday morning—but he saw the end in sight and tried to get ahead of the story. In a twist on the old “you can’t quit, I’m firing you,” he said he did so for the good of the members:
Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
In practical terms, the end of these groups may not make much difference. After all, Trump has achieved so few of his goals on economic policy that the executives’ absence can’t really hurt. It is, however, a blow to Trump’s self-conception. Having long nursed a grudge over being viewed derisively by many business moguls, he reveled in inviting them to the White House. It is also a blow to his public image, suggesting that rather than being the businessman who could fix government, he can wrangle neither the private nor the public sector effectively.
And it is, as well, a challenge to his approach to race. On Tuesday, a reporter asked him what he’d do to overcome racial divides. “I really think jobs can have a big impact,” Trump said. “I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact, positive impact, on race relations.” If Trump believes, as he told reporters, that racial divides can be healed by the rising wages of a manufacturing revival, the dissolution of the business councils deals his agenda a double blow.
Also on Wednesday, North America’s Building Trades Unions also issued a statement that did not name Trump but called on “men and women of character to demonstrate leadership and unequivocally reject those who perpetrate hate, racism, sexism or any other manner of corrosive public discourse and action that only weaken us as a country.”
But the demise of the two panels is just one element of the latest self-inflicted crisis for the White House. Pundits have for months wondered what would happen when Trump encountered a genuine crisis that was not of his own making, and Charlottesville helps to clarify: As usual, he finds a way to make it harder for himself.
One bright spot for Trump is that despite the horror with which his comments on Charlottesville have been received, he has yet to have a single Cabinet member or high-profile aide resign in protest. While there’s been lots of staff turnover at the White House, those who have left have either been fired or pushed out in internal power battles. Reports pop up from time to time of top aides who are angry, but none of them has actually quit or said publicly that they could not tolerate the president’s words or actions.
Trump’s comments place all of his associates in a difficult position: They have to find some way to defend the president without implicating themselves in his wilder positions. Pence, speaking in Chile, said, “What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy and the president has been clear on this tragedy and so have I. I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia and I stand with the president and I stand by those words.” But he avoided other parts of a question about whether there were “good people” in the march, or whether Robert E. Lee should be considered an American hero. The vice president said he was cutting short his Latin American trip and coming home on Thursday, ahead of schedule.
Pence faces the same dilemma as newly installed Chief of Staff John Kelly, who looked uncomfortable during Trump’s remarks Tuesday, and as Republican officeholders. Many of them continue to treat Trump’s views on Charlottesville as an error, but as one more akin to a tactical difference—as though they simply disagreed about how to fund a new initiative. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, perhaps Trump’s most prominent GOP critic at the moment, said he wanted his colleagues to stage an intervention with Trump:
Just off phone w @JeffFlake, who says he hopes this will prompt senators to collectively go to Trump.— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) August 16, 2017
but: "i'm not sure he will listen"
Flake’s doubts that Trump would listen are prudent. This is not simply a matter of difference of policy approach. The optimists espouse the view that they can talk Trump out of a central tenet of his political identity. The improbability of that happening is manifest in the case of Trump’s manufacturing and strategy councils, in which he would not sacrifice white identity politics to defend another of his top priorities.
“Of course, it was terrorism,” said General H.R. McMaster on Sunday morning, the day after James Alex Fields, Jr. allegedly plowed his gray 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of anti-white supremacist protestors, then reversed and, bumper dangling by a thread, hit still more people on the way back. When he was done, one person, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was dead and 19 more were injured. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that the attack was an act of “domestic terrorism” and that the Department of Justice was investigating him. Fields is being held without bail on a second-degree murder charge.
In being an act of violence with an apparent political motive, Fields’s alleged actions clearly “count” as terrorism according to most definitions of the term. But there are also parallels between Fields and other terrorists in aspects of his route to Charlottesville.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Fields, but there is evidence that he was an adherent of a violent and extremist ideology. Just hours before he allegedly drove his car into that crowd, he was seen marching with and carrying a shield featuring the insignia of Vanguard America, a known white-supremacist group. According to Fields’s former high-school teacher Derek Weimer, Fields was also infatuated with the Nazis. “It was obvious that he had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler,” Weimer told The Washington Post. “He had white supremacist views. He really believed in that stuff.” A paper Fields wrote in high school, according to the teacher, was a “big lovefest for the German military and the Waffen-SS.”
In American political discourse, terrorism is a label often reserved for followers of a violent interpretation of Islam, whereas people who commit violence in the name of extremist far-right ideology based on race are sometimes portrayed as troubled young men, or criminals. The actions of the Trump administration have only deepened that gap. As one of its first acts, the administration reoriented the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program away from combatting white-supremacist groups. Life After Hate, an organization which helps people leave such groups, says it never received a promised $400,000 grant, even as the Southern Poverty Law Center received increased reports of hate crimes and threats in the period immediately after the election. In the months after the election, Life After Hate reported getting a 20-fold uptick in calls from family members, begging for help to pull their loved ones out of violent white supremacist groups.
The policy to shift federal resources away from protecting Americans against far-right extremism is both misguided and dangerous. According to a 2017 study done by the Government Accountability Office, fatal attacks by far-right extremists outnumbered those by jihadists by a factor of two to one in the last 15 years. (They are slightly less effective, however, as the jihadists have killed more per attack.)
Still, the two types of attacks often use similar methods. The attack in Charlotte, after all, used a signature ISIS technique, one that has also been espoused by the American far-right in targeting Black Lives Matter protesters. “Run them over,” they say. Or, “All lives splatter.” But for the differing death tolls, it looked a lot like the acts of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the man who plowed an 18-wheeler into a crowded boardwalk in Nice.
Similarly, despite the differences in jihadist and neo-Nazi, white-supremacist ideologies, the two movements and how they attract and retain followers are often studied side by side by scholars of extremism. When the problem of mass recruitment by jihadists emerged in the West, researchers turned for guidance to what they had learned studying the psychology, behavior, and structure of neo-Nazi groups. “It’s an obvious comparison, absolutely,” says Jessica Stern, a leading scholar of terrorist groups.
Take, instance, Daniel Koehler, founder of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies (GIRDS). He grew up in a small town in East Germany where, after reunification, neo-Nazi culture was all the rage among young locals. But after spending years helping German neo-Nazis leave those far-right groups, he moved into helping families pull their kids out of jihadist movements. And it worked—precisely because the two movements are so similar in how they seduce individuals.
“The process and structure of radicalization and extremism,” J.M. Berger, a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, wrote via email, “are the same in different kinds of movements, even when the content of the extremist belief is different (such as with neo-Nazis and jihadists).”
Scholars have often observed a radicalization process that goes something like this: After a first contact with the ideology, a person’s curiosity drives them to seek out more information, often through social media. After trying it on for size, they decide that the ideology sufficiently addresses their grievances, usually by framing it as the result of their group—their Muslim brothers and sisters, or their brothers and sisters in the white race—are being victimized by another group, say infidels or non-white immigrants. Then, the new adherent will consider whether he or she is doing enough to advance the cause, and if the answer is no, the person will act. “Extremist groups rely on a crisis-solution construct,” says Berger. “The in-group”—the ideological group, say, neo-Nazis or ISIS members—“is afflicted with a crisis that is blamed on the out-group”—people excluded from that group as enemies and threats, say, non-believers or non-whites—“and the extremist movement is presented as offering a solution to that crisis, which is often violent. The crisis is defined as being intrinsic to the identity groups involved, rather being than situational or temporary.”
Another parallel is how the recruitment narrative can involve the promise of rewards. With ISIS it was sometimes the promise of wives or sex slaves; the Daily Stormer goaded its followers to head to Charlottesville by saying that “random girls will want to have sex with you. Because you’re the bad boys. ... Every girl on the planet wants [you] now.”
Violence isn’t always the result; few people radicalize in the first place, and still fewer commit attacks after doing so. But what can lead to violence is the many ways in which the process of radicalization is constricting: It alienates you from family and friends, and posits an acute problem to which the ideology demands a solution. After a while, it feels like an emergency every day. “The general psychological process of moving to those movements is very much the same,” says Koehler, who is also a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “It is a process of de-pluralization and isolation. There is a grievance or perceived threat, and it gets more and more intense until you don’t see any other solution but violence.” Both the jihadist and white-supremacist ideologies, Koehler said, “explain what is wrong in your life, and tie your personal frustration into a global struggle—the global conspiracy against Islam, or against white race—and gives you a chance for significance, for living out a positive, heroic life.” Koehler has even worked with several neo-Nazis who became jihadists. (They’re not common, but some have made it into the news.)
There are few identifiable patterns in who is most susceptible to radicalization; it is, scholars agree, a highly individualized process. In my reporting on radicalization, for instance, many of the youth that joined ISIS came from homes where there was no father, or where he was a weak presence. Fields’s father reportedly died before his birth in a car accident, but scholars say this alone doesn’t predispose someone to radicalization and extremism. Plenty of terrorists come from happy or intact families, and plenty of non-terrorists come from broken ones.
Still, what’s known about Fields shows he had some of the known risk factors. There is evidence that people with mental-health problems are more susceptible to being radicalized. Fields, it seems, fit the bill. His mother repeatedly called 911 on her son, then barely a teenager, who was physically violent with her and once threatened her with a 12-inch knife, according to police records described by The Washington Post. The same report says that in 2011, she told police that she wanted him hospitalized for assessment, and that in 2010 she told them that Fields was on medication to control his temper. Weimer, Fields’s high-school teacher, told the Associated Press that Fields had confided having been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The aggression toward family, especially mothers, is also something Koehler says he has observed in his work. “I have seen that in ISIS radicalization where they’ve been aggressive against their mothers,” Koehler says. “It’s part of the process of de-pluralization. These groups will try to draw a line between the group and ideology, and the biological family. They have to do that so that the recruit can join the new spiritual family, to turn the recruit against the family because otherwise they can step in and interfere in the radicalization. And kids, teenagers, don’t know how to cope with that kind of tension.”
Another sign is fascination with a warrior myth. “It’s very common,” says Koehler. “The ISIS fan boys dream of being Muslim warriors. Warrior hero culture is essential to understanding that specifically male aspect of radicalization.” Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist and author of Life After Hate, wrote that, “Since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of being a warrior.” Fields tried to become a warrior, joining the Army in 2015, and then flunking out in a matter of months after failing to meet basic training requirements. He then worked as a security guard.
There’s one other thing that is the same between jihadi and white-supremacist radicalization: identity. Radicalization is simultaneously an intensely individual and intensely collective process. What draws a person to an extremist ideology, be it jihadism or neo-Nazism, grows out of a unique cocktail of that person’s experiences, frustrations, hopes, and needs. But what keeps them there and propels them toward the final, violent stage comes from a community that first reels them, keeps them engaged, and pushes them toward action. “In my experience, there is no radicalization without a group context,” says Koehler. “It happens within the interaction between individuals. It is impossible to get to the stage of using violence without other people to support you, to push you forward.” There are no true lone wolves, in other words, not in radical Islam, not in white supremacy.
Roy Moore of Alabama has been twice elected to lead his state’s supreme court and twice thrown out of that position. The first time, in 2003, he refused to obey a federal court’s order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse in Montgomery. The voters of Alabama restored him, and in 2016, he was thrown off the bench again for refusing to implement the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage.
On Tuesday, a plurality of Alabama Republican voters picked Moore to be their candidate for U.S. Senate. With 99 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, Moore had 39 percent of the vote to 33 percent for the incumbent, Luther Strange, and 20 percent for Representative Mo Brooks. Moore and Strange will now advance to a runoff election for the Republican nomination next month. The winner will proceed to a general election against the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones.
The first-place finish for the colorful Moore might not have even been the most remarkable aspect of the Republican primary, which played out as a fascinating allegory of the GOP’s new fault lines in the uncharted territory of the Trump era.
The special election is being held because the Senate seat’s former occupant, Jeff Sessions, was appointed attorney general by President Trump. In February, the Republican governor, Robert Bentley, appointed Strange to fill the vacancy. The fact that Strange was, at the time, the state attorney general overseeing a criminal investigation of the very same same scandal-tarred governor who had given him his ticket to Washington made many Alabamans smell a rat. Despite the specter of a quid pro quo in the style of the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, nothing was ever proven; Bentley subsequently resigned.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, made it a major priority to keep Strange—a former Washington lobbyist and reliable Republican vote—in the Senate. But two anti-establishment troublemakers entered the race against him. Moore, a stalwart of the local and national religious right, and a known quantity to Alabama voters, was one; Brooks, an archconservative member of the House Freedom Caucus who had chaired Ted Cruz’s Alabama campaign, was another.
Moore has his own brand in Alabama independent of the politics of the moment, a devoted band of followers who can be counted on to vote in GOP primaries. Local experts like to say he had a “high floor but a low ceiling”: Even in a primary, he would have a hard time broadening his appeal beyond his built-in base.
Brooks had the support of national conservatives like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, but wasn’t well known outside his North Alabama congressional district. He sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Washington GOP establishment, particularly McConnell—one of his final campaign events was a “Ditch Mitch” rally Monday night. But his ambivalent relationship with the president, whom he had criticized in the past, didn’t play well with Trump-loving Alabama Republican primary voters.
Brooks’s onetime antipathy for Trump was a major theme of the multimillion-dollar barrage of attack ads aired by Strange and his allies. (A source who polled the race told me Trump is viewed favorably by 68 percent of Alabama Republicans.) But the killing blow came a week before the election, when Trump unexpectedly endorsed Strange on Twitter—the first time the president has waded into a contested GOP primary. Trump apparently did it as a favor to McConnell—but then went after McConnell when he learned the majority leader had been patronizing him behind his back. Still, the president stuck with Strange, issuing more tweets and a recorded message in favor of the incumbent.
Trump’s popularity likely helped drag Strange across the finish line in second place. But it’s notable that his endorsement was only good enough for second place, and less than a third of the primary vote, for his favored candidate. Now Strange faces Moore one-on-one for the nomination, with Moore positioned as the outsider and Strange as the Washington candidate tainted by corruption.
McConnell’s allies have indicated that they intend to go hard against Moore, whose Bible-thumping ways do give many Alabamans pause—one Brooks voter I met told me it was hard enough telling out-of-staters you’re from Alabama without Moore underscoring outsiders’ stereotypes. “Here’s the question, what happens when McConnell & Co. train their guns on Moore?” asked David Mowery, a Montgomery-based consultant who ran a Democratic campaign against Moore that nearly succeeded in 2012. “He is very, very hard to attack,” because of his reputation for standing on principle.
The Republican voters I met in Alabama had interesting perspectives on the embattled president. Nearly all supported Trump, but they were frequently vexed by his actions, and they were all offended when he hung Sessions out to dry a few weeks ago. Several said they supported Trump’s agenda but not necessarily his behavior—more than one blamed his boorishness on his being a Yankee.
But the most important thing I learned was that these red-state voters, accurately perceiving the paralysis and dysfunction in Washington, didn’t hold Trump responsible for it. They blamed Republican leaders like McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan; they blamed the “swamp”; they blamed the establishment elements in Trump’s own orbit for getting in his way.
They said they wanted a senator who would exert leadership to get things done. But they saw a president who was already doing all he could.
In his Tuesday press conference, Donald Trump talked at length about what he called “the alt left.” White supremacists, he claimed, weren’t the only people in Charlottesville last weekend that deserved condemnation. “You had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he declared. “Nobody wants to say that.”
I can say with great confidence that Trump’s final sentence is untrue. I can do so because the September issue of The Atlantic contains an essay of mine entitled “The Rise of the Violent Left,” which discusses the very phenomenon that Trump claims “nobody wants” to discuss. Trump is right that, in Charlottesville and beyond, the violence of some leftist activists constitutes a real problem. Where he’s wrong is in suggesting that it’s a problem in any way comparable to white supremacism.
What Trump calls “the alt left” (I’ll explain why that’s a bad term later) is actually antifa, which is short for anti-fascist. The movement traces its roots to the militant leftists who in the 1920s and 1930s brawled with fascists on the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. It revived in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, when anti-racist punks in Britain and Germany mobilized to defeat neo-Nazi skinheads who were infiltrating the music scene. Via punk, groups calling themselves anti-racist action—and later, anti-fascist action or antifa—sprung up in the United States. They have seen explosive growth in the Trump era for an obvious reason: There’s more open white supremacism to mobilize against.
As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifa activists generally combat white supremacism not by trying to change government policy but through direct action. They try to publicly identify white supremacists and get them fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments. And they disrupt white-supremacist rallies, including by force.
As I argued in my essay, some of their tactics are genuinely troubling. They’re troubling tactically because conservatives use antifa’s violence to justify—or at least distract from—the violence of white supremacists, as Trump did in his press conference. They’re troubling strategically because they allow white supremacists to depict themselves as victims being denied the right to freely assemble. And they’re troubling morally because antifa activists really do infringe upon that right. By using violence, they reject the moral legacy of the civil-rights movement’s fight against white supremacy. And by seeking to deny racists the ability to assemble, they reject the moral legacy of the ACLU, which in 1977 went to the Supreme Court to defend the right of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois.
Antifa activists are sincere. They genuinely believe that their actions protect vulnerable people from harm. Cornel West claims they did so in Charlottesville. But for all of antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists—who no one elected—can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts. It leads to what happened this April in Portland, Oregon, where antifa activists threatened to disrupt the city’s Rose Festival parade if people wearing “red maga hats” marched alongside the local Republican Party. Because of antifa, Republican officials in Portland claim they can’t even conduct voter registration in the city without being physically threatened or harassed.
So, yes, antifa is not a figment of the conservative imagination. It’s a moral problem that liberals need to confront.
But saying it’s a problem is vastly different than implying, as Trump did, that it’s a problem equal to white supremacism. Using the phrase “alt-left” suggests a moral equivalence that simply doesn’t exist.
For starters, while antifa perpetrates violence, it doesn’t perpetrate it on anything like the scale that white nationalists do. It’s no coincidence that it was a Nazi sympathizer—and not an antifa activist—who committed murder in Charlottesville. According to the Anti-Defamation League, right-wing extremists committed 74 percent of the 372 politically motivated murders recorded in the United States between 2007 and 2016. Left-wing extremists committed less than 2 percent.
Second, antifa activists don’t wield anything like the alt-right’s power. White, Christian supremacy has been government policy in the United States for much of American history. Anarchism has not. That’s why there are no statues of Mikhail Bakunin in America’s parks and government buildings. Antifa boasts no equivalent to Steve Bannon, who called his old publication, Breitbart, “the platform for the alt-right,” and now works in the White House. It boasts no equivalent to Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who bears the middle name of a Confederate general and the first name of the Confederacy’s president, and who allegedly called the NAACP “un-American.” It boasts no equivalent to Alex Jones, who Donald Trump praised as “amazing.” Even if antifa’s vision of society were as noxious as the “alt-right’s,” it has vastly less power to make that vision a reality.
And antifa’s vision is not as noxious. Antifa activists do not celebrate regimes that committed genocide and enforced slavery. They’re mostly anarchists. Anarchism may not be a particularly practical ideology. But it’s not an ideology that depicts the members of a particular race or religion as subhuman.
If Donald Trump really wants to undermine antifa, he should do his best to stamp out the bigotry that antifa—counterproductively—mobilizes against. Taking down Confederate statues in places like Charlottesville would be a good start.
President Trump’s short press conference Tuesday afternoon was remarkable for seeming cogent. In so many of his public statements Trump wanders, free-associates, digresses, and seems either incapable or uninterested in piecing together complete sentences. The fact that he didn’t seem to be improvising made his defense of some of those who participated in a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, more important.
It was the clearest and most precise articulation of a view that Trump has espoused since the start of his political career. The president worked to draw a fine distinction between different elements of the march, and in the process to rescue his own vision of pride in white America from being tarnished from association with neo-Nazis. Trump mounted a defense of a political movement rooted in pride about Confederate symbols and white heritage by seeking to disassociate it from its more extreme elements.
“I am not putting anybody on a moral plane,” he said, but that wasn’t quite right. Trump was passing moral judgment on self-described neo-Nazis and white supremacists, in order to defend those who marched alongside them in defense of a Confederate monument, even if they did not endorse either their means or ultimate ends. The latter group forms a core part of Trump’s support. Although many Republican officeholders rushed to condemn Trump’s comments, there’s little evidence to believe most Trump voters disagree with the president. In June 2017, the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found that 70 percent of Trump backers support public monuments to the Confederacy, with only 15 percent approve of their removal. In a June 2015 CNN poll, almost six in 10 whites said they viewed the Confederate battle flag as a sign of Southern heritage, not bigotry.
Having drawn this distinction, Trump could portray what happened in Charlottesville not as a battle over racism but instead as a clash between two equally legitimate political factions. It allowed him to declare that there is an “alt-left” equivalent to the alt-right—fringes that employ violence, and tarnish the “very fine people on both sides”—and to ignore questions about whether there was actually equivalent hatred and malice in the two groups that clashed in Charlottesville.
“You had a group on one side and the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. It was a horrible thing to watch,” he said. “There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You can say what you want. That’s the way it is.”
But one can condemn violence in all forms while still acknowledging that, even before anyone threw a punch in Charlottesville, the Unite the Right rally was led by, and composed of, in large part, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Trump claimed Tuesday that his initial statement on Charlottesville blamed “all sides” because he had not yet gathered the facts, but it doesn’t require any fact-gathering to condemn white supremacy. It does not matter that, as Trump correctly stated, the white nationalists had a permit. The point is not that the president should infringe the right of white nationalists to assemble and speak freely. It is that a system of free speech which relies on good ideas to triumph over bad ones only functions if political leaders, starting with the president, loudly and clearly denounce the content of hateful speech.
The crux of Trump’s statement Tuesday was to draw a distinction between the worst of the extremists who marched in Charlottesville, and the rest who were there. “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists,” Trump said. “They should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
How, precisely, had the press treated them unfairly? Apparently by lumping them in with the people they chose to march with—a mob that sported swastikas, bore white-supremacist symbols, and shouted anti-Semitic slogans. Trump argues that there were some in the crowd who disagreed with the neo-Nazis but were there to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville wants to remove, and thus decided to march alongside them.
This is an old canard in the debate over Civil War symbols: “Heritage, not hate.” Defenders of Confederate statues and Confederate flags have long contended that these symbols represent not hatred of black people but simply reverence for ancestors and a bygone way of life. Many people honestly believe that they are upholding heritage rather than hate in their embrace of Confederate symbols. But that can’t alter what the Confederacy actually stood for, why these symbols were erected in public spaces, or what they mean to many other Americans.
The Civil War was fought to maintain black enslavement and defend white supremacy (a point on which the founding fathers of the Confederacy were quite clear, despite latter-day insistence that the fight was over states’ rights). It was a treasonous rebellion against the legitimate government of the United States, and it was defeated. And defining “Southern culture” around the Confederacy erases the fact that African Americans are an important segment of Southern culture that did not support the war, to say nothing of the many Unionists in secessionist states.
Trump raised another common canard on Tuesday: the slippery slope. “Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status?” he asked. “Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? … Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner.”
This may seem on its face like the most compelling argument against removing Civil War statues, but as I have written before, it falls apart under any scrutiny. Many Civil War symbols were erected not immediately after the war but at times when white supremacy was asserting itself most aggressively in the South—at the end of the 19th century, as states enacted strict race laws and rolled back Reconstruction, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, during the heart of the civil-rights movement. The United States can, and increasingly is, making sure that discussions of figures like Jefferson are more nuanced than they have been. But there is also a clear, bright line between flawed men who founded the country and those who sought to tear it apart.
“We can distinguish between people who wanted to build the United States of America and people who wanted to destroy it,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed said this summer. “It’s possible to recognize people’s contributions at the same time as recognizing their flaws.”
Trump wants to speak to Americans who disdain Nazis and disavow white supremacists, but who share their sense of cultural displacement, angry resentment at a diversifying nation, and conviction that white Americans are the real victims. Just as he converted birtherism from a fringe, racist belief into a mainstream (though no less racist) movement, Trump is trying to draw a line around a group of people who have beliefs that are substantially similar to those of white nationalists (and in some matters, neo-Nazis)—who are literally willing to march alongside them—and to make them acceptable in polite society because they say they are not neo-Nazis or white nationalists, but simply wish to protect their culture.
This is, probably not coincidentally, precisely the project of the so-called alt-right. As my colleague Rosie Gray put it, “The alt-right movement has sought over the past two years to rebrand white nationalism, lifting it out of the obscure corners of the website Stormfront and elevating it into the mainstream political discussion.” No wonder that alt-right leader Richard Spencer deemed Trump’s condemnation of white supremacists and hate groups on Monday insincere—in retrospect, it clearly was—and was delighted by Tuesday’s change of course.
This might be politically successful. Trump has shown an acute sense for how to push the envelope of racist rhetoric and policy, going far beyond what any mainstream observer would have thought politically possible during both his campaign and his presidency so far—though the presidency has been a series of stumbles. Trump and the alt-right help push each other forward into the mainstream of American politics, and now the president is using the bully pulpit to keep helping his allies. Trump is not much for loyalty per se. He is doing so because he sees a political upside in both appealing to and whipping up a sense of grievance among whites who would never explicitly align themselves with neo-Nazis, but might be made to believe that their culture is in danger because of the removal of an old statue.
In the aftermath of the press conference, even Trump’s media allies seemed initially appalled, and the press said the president had veered off the rails once more. But that misses the point. A senior White House official expressed surprise, telling CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, “That was all him—this wasn't our plan.” Yet the White House fired off a set of talking points to members of Congress that didn’t blink. “The President was entirely correct—both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility,” they stated. Though plenty of observers are disgusted by the president’s validation of racist protesters, no one should be surprised or take it as a spontaneous riff: It was one of the most cogent, precise, and enduring cases he has made as a politician.
DURHAM, N.C.—Sheriff’s deputies have begun arresting protesters who tore down a monument to Confederate veterans in front of the old Durham County courthouse Monday night.
Takiyah Thompson, who climbed a ladder and put a rope around the statue before a crowd tugged it off its base, was arrested by deputies around 4:45 p.m., immediately following a press conference at North Carolina Central University, in which she had defended her actions and others demanded amnesty for all involved.* A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office confirmed that deputies had begun executing warrants, but she did not immediately know how many.
“I did the right thing,” Thompson said during a Workers World Party press conference on the steps of a building at the historically black college. “Everyone who was there—the people did the right thing. The people will continue to keep making the right choices until every Confederate statue is gone, until white supremacy is gone. That statue is where it belongs. It needs to be in the garbage.”
Thompson was one of several speakers at the press conference. Loan Tran said the group was demanding amnesty for all those involved in the project, including that the sheriff’s office and district attorney drop all charges. They also wanted meetings with the county commission, and criticized Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, for his statement Monday night that summarily pulling down statues was the wrong way to deal with them.
“That statue glorifies the conditions that oppressed people live in and it had to go,” Thompson said.
Local officials have protested that they had no power to pull the statue down, even if they wanted to, citing a state law passed in 2015 that says no historical monuments can be permanently removed without permission from the state. But Tran said that excuse was unacceptable. She demanded that commissioners call for symbols to come down, and she said her group would work with them to discuss some ideas, though she didn’t say what.
The county’s response has been somewhat bifurcated. On the one hand, the county commission released a statement after the protest that condemned racism but neither mentioned the statue nor criticized its removal. Sheriff Mike Andrews, however, promised during a press conference earlier on Tuesday to bring felony charges against those who pulled the statue down. “Let me be clear, no one is getting away with what happened,” Andrews said.
Cooper, meanwhile, offered a more aggressive statement late Tuesday afternoon on Medium, demanding that the General Assembly repeal the law preventing removal of monuments.
“Cities, counties, and the state must have the authority and opportunity to make these decisions,” Cooper wrote. “Second, I’ve asked the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to determine the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property as well as alternatives for their placement at museums or historical sites where they can be studied in context.”
Cooper also said legislators should reject a bill, currently under consideration, that would grant immunity to drivers who strike protesters in streets.
Even as the WWP was holding its press conference, a whisper went around organizers as word of raids by officers spread. Not long afterward, Thompson was taken into custody by deputies and bundled into an unmarked car. Officers said they had a warrant but did not display it.
Moments earlier, Thompson had been arguing that today’s police are agents of white supremacy—in a lineage with Confederate soldiers, and in an alliance with the Ku Klux Klan.
“The statue in Durham, North Carolina, said ‘to the boys who wore the gray,’” she said. “If we understand history, we know that those boys who wore the gray, today they wear blue, and they wear sheets over their heads.”
* This article originally misspelled Takiyah Thompson’s first name as Taqiyah. We regret the error.
It could have been so much worse.
Like ISIS attackers in Europe, the Charlottesville murderer used a car as his assault weapon. But Charlottesville this past weekend was crammed with anti-social personalities carrying sub-military firearms. It could just as easily have been one—or more—of those gun-carriers who made the decision to kill. If so, Americans might this week be mourning not one life lost to an attack, but dozens.
As recently as 2009, the nation retained a capacity to be shocked when individuals carried weapons to political events. Such was the case in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 18, 2009:
A man toting an assault rifle was among a dozen protesters carrying weapons while demonstrating outside President Obama's speech to veterans on Monday, but no laws were broken. It was the second instance in recent days in which weapons have been seen near presidential events.
The man who followed Obama with a rifle in Arizona was sending a wordless message. Not so the man who had showed up a few days before at an Obama event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. With a handgun strapped to his thigh, he carried a placard reading: “It is time to water the tree of liberty!”—a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s famous remark about the periodic need for revolutionary bloodshed.
A decade ago, such incidents still occurred rarely enough that onlookers could be surprised and upset by them. But the presence of a president did at least ensure that the preponderance of firepower lay with the lawful authorities.
Not so a decade later.
In June, a rumor spread via Facebook that protesters planned to rally at a park in Houston, Texas, to demand the removal of a statue of Sam Houston. Hundreds of supporters of the statue rallied; a large number of them carrying rifles, some wearing body armor.
Hermann park, the site of the statue, is one of the city’s most visited parks. The Houston Zoo is located within it; the Houston Children’s Museum stands just a few blocks away. On weekends, the park is typically crowded with young families. Yet some dozens of Texans decided that this would be an appropriate place to plan a gunfight. And of course they were entirely within their rights, as those rights are understood in 21st-century America. Texas law forbids citizens to carry deadly weapons “in a manner calculated to alarm.” Otherwise, long arms may be shouldered by virtually anyone in almost any place. It might be thought that bringing a rifle into a playground is itself “calculated to alarm.” But over the past generation, gun carriers have become much more assertive—and the authorities much more accommodating.
Charlottesville, however, marks a new era of even bolder assertion of the right to threaten violence for political purposes. Gun carriers at the so-called “Unite the Right” rally acted more like a paramilitary force than as individual demonstrators. They wore similar pseudo-military outfits, including body armor. They took tactical formations to surround the site of the expected confrontation. According to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, “They had better equipment than our state police had.” (The state police have disputed that claim.)
The carrying of firearms by random citizens into public places is typically defended as a contribution to public safety. If criminals must reckon with the possibility of armed resistance, they will hesitate to commit crimes—or so goes the theory. It’s a hard theory to prove or disprove, because the thing to be measured—“defensive gun use”—is so subjective. An altercation erupts after a traffic accident. One motorist raises his voice. The other displays a weapon. Has the weapon carrier prevented a crime? Or has the law empowered a subset of Americans to intimidate their neighbors? The Florida man who shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis dead for playing his music too loud also claimed he was acting in self-defense. If widespread gun carry enhances safety, why are countries that forbid it so much safer than the United States?
Whatever its merits, however, the theory of the crime-reducing effects of citizen carry applies only to concealed carry. Society receives the putative benefit of citizen carry only if the potential criminal does not know which potential victim might be armed.
Open carry has no such justification—and until recently, it has not needed it. Until recently, almost all states forbade the open carry of handguns. Although many Western states ignored the open carry of long guns, they did so not as a matter of policy or right, but as a left-over from their rural origins. A rancher moving about his lands may want to carry a shotgun or rifle in case predators attack his livestock. Is he supposed to put a bag over his gun? Are hunters supposed to carry their rifles in a locked case until they literally see the deer?
Today in Arizona, however, 89.8 percent of the population dwells in urban areas, a higher percentage than in Connecticut; Texas’s population has become 84.7 percent urban, higher than Delaware. Hunting is declining. The most popular rifle in the United States is the AR-15, a look-alike of the military-grade M-16 that can be used for hunting purposes only by the most skilled marksmen. Fewer and fewer American households own long guns at all. Gun sales are up because a few gun enthusiasts are accumulating miniature arsenals: In 1994, the average gun-owning household owned four weapons; by 2015, the average gun-owning household owned eight.
Over that same period, American political culture has become more polarized. Those polarities have become more extreme. And on the political right especially, the rhetoric has become more indulgent of—if not more enthusiastic about—political violence.
Sometimes the indulgence of violence is spoken in tones of regret, as in this column by radio host Dennis Prager in May 2017:
Left-wing thugs engage in violence and threats of violence with utter impunity. They shut down speakers at colleges; block highways, bridges, and airport terminals; take over college buildings and offices; occupy state capitals; and terrorize individuals at their homes.
In order to understand why more violence may be coming, it is essential to understand that left-wing mobs are almost never stopped, arrested, or punished. Colleges do nothing to stop them, and civil authorities do nothing to stop them on campuses or anywhere else. Police are reduced to spectators as they watch left-wing gangs loot stores, smash business and car windows, and even take over state capitals (as in Madison, Wisconsin).
It’s beginning to dawn on many Americans that mayors, police chiefs and college presidents have no interest in stopping this violence. Left-wing officials sympathize with the lawbreakers, and the police, who rarely sympathize with thugs of any ideology, are ordered to do nothing by emasculated police chiefs.
Consequently, given the abdication by all these authorities of their role to protect the public, some members of the public will inevitably decide that they will protect themselves and others.
Sometimes it is gleeful, as in this August monologue by one of Trump’s favorite radio hosts, Michael Savage:
That is what’s going to happen in this country. You have not yet seen mob violence in this country. You’ve seen some mob violence instigated by George Soros’s mobs. … But you haven’t seen the thing I’m telling you is coming in this country. … We’ve had it up to here. We’ve put up with your garbage in the universities. We’ve put up with your filth coming out of your filth factories in Hollywood. We’ve put up with your hatred that comes out of your newspapers. We’ve put up with your filth and your hatred coming out of CNN. But if you do the next step and steal our president, I warn you. You’ve seen nothing yet. You will see the ‘Day of the Locust’ in this country.
These talkers only intend to rev people up. It’s shtick—“performance art,” as Alex Jones’s lawyers have argued in defense of that inflammatory radio host. They don’t take themselves seriously, and would surely be horrified if anybody else did. And surely the vast majority of Americans do see through the performance. But not all. A poor fool with a gun fired a shot into a Washington pizza restaurant crowded with children because some cynic saw the chance of a dishonest dollar in sending him there—and so it may be again on a more horrifying scale next time.
What can be done? We can begin by acknowledging that America’s ranching days are behind it. Within metropolitan areas, there is no reason—zero—that a weapon should ever be carried openly. The purpose is always to intimidate—to frighten others away from their lawful rights, not only free speech and lawful assembly, but voting as well. This happened in Loudon County, Virginia, on Election Day 2016:
A man wearing a Donald Trump shirt and carrying a weapon stood outside a voting location in Loudon County, Virginia. ... ‘I had my 9-year-old son with me. I felt intimidated,’ [Erika] Cotti said. ‘And I had to explain to my 9-year-old why a man with a 357 magnum is standing outside the polling station.’
Cotti said the man offered her a Republican sample ballot, which she declined.
‘He’s like, “Who are you going to vote for, crooked Hillary?” And I was like, “That’s really none of your business,”’ Cotti said, adding that the man was standing in the sidewalk outside of the office when they left and blocking their path.
Virginia is an open-carry state. Any adult can show a legally acquired loaded handgun just about anywhere; people with a concealed-carry permit can openly carry rifles with large-capacity magazines. Some Virginia cities have passed laws purporting to bar guns, but the state’s permissive carry laws explicitly preempt local ordinances.
But take care: As David Graham has observed here at The Atlantic, the right to carry arms is America’s most unequally upheld right. Ohio is an open-carry state. Yet Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old, was shot dead in Cleveland within seconds of being observed carrying what proved to be a pellet gun. John Crawford was shot dead for moving around an Ohio Walmart with an air rifle he had picked up from a display shelf. Minnesota allows concealed-carry permit-holders to open carry if they wish—yet Minnesotan Philando Castile was killed after merely telling a police officer he had a legal gun in his car.
On the other hand, every white man who played vigilante in Charlottesville this weekend went home unharmed to his family, having successfully overawed the police—and having sent a chilling message of warning to lawful protesters.
No other democracy on Earth tolerates such antics. When libertarian-minded Americans lament the over-militarization of police, they might give some thought to what it takes to police a society where potential lawbreakers think it their right to accumulate force that would do credit to a Somali warlord. And not only accumulate it, but carry that force into public to brandish against fellow citizens who think differently from their local paramilitaries.
At Charlottesville, blessedly, no gun went off. But at Dallas last year, the guns did.
Police came under fire from an African American who believed himself to be resisting governmental abuse and tyranny—which, according to many a gun-rights advocate, is one of the reasons to have an armed populace.
Attempting to locate the sniper, Dallas law enforcement had to contend with some 20 people who were marching in a larger protest against police brutality while openly carrying rifles and wearing body armor, as was their right under Texas law.
It’s not necessary to live like this. No other advanced democracy does. As Americans critically self-examine the forces in their society that enabled the tragedy in Charlottesville, they might give a thought as well to the permission they allow the even graver tragedy that might have happened—and that sooner or later, surely will.
By December of 1866, the Civil War was over, but the conflict that would define the nature of the United States of America was not close to finished. Encouraged by President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat sympathetic to their aims, the former Confederate states had eagerly subjected the newly freed slaves to the Black Codes, laws confining them to inferior status and second-class citizenship, denying them votes, citizenship and even freedom of movement, while armed groups of whites attacked them with impunity. In vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Johnson insisted that the law protecting the freedmen’s rights was in fact “made to operate in favor of the colored against the white race.”
In a rebuke to Johnson, his party fared poorly in the November 1866 election, and the newly strengthened Republicans vowed to protect the freedmen's rights. Before the new Congress took office, the former slave and abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass urged the Republican Party to defy the president by protecting the fundamental rights of black Americans and shielding them from the violence of the former Confederates.
“Whatever may be tolerated in monarchical and despotic governments,” Douglass wrote in his 1866 essay for The Atlantic, “no republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them.”
The choice before Republicans in that era was between accepting the efforts of a rogue president to allow the subjugation of a group of Americans based on race, or to continue striving for a more perfect union by thwarting him. — Adam Serwer
Seldom has any legislative body been the subject of a solicitude more intense, or of aspirations more sincere and ardent. There are the best of reasons for this profound interest. Questions of vast moment, left undecided by the last session of Congress, must be manfully grappled with by this. No political skirmishing will avail. The occasion demands statesmanship.
Whether the tremendous war so heroically fought and so victoriously ended shall pass into history a miserable failure, barren of permanent results,—a scandalous and shocking waste of blood and treasure,—a strife for empire, as Earl Russell characterized it, of no value to liberty or civilization,—an attempt to re-establish a Union by force, which must be the merest mockery of a Union,—an effort to bring under Federal authority States into which no loyal man from the North may safely enter, and to bring men into the national councils who deliberate with daggers and vote with revolvers, and who do not even conceal their deadly hate of the country that conquered them; or whether, on the other hand, we shall, as the rightful reward of victory over treason, have a solid nation, entirely delivered from all contradictions and social antagonisms, based upon loyalty, liberty, and equality, must be determined one way or the other by the present session of Congress. The last session really did nothing which can be considered final as to these questions. The Civil Rights Bill and the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the proposed constitutional amendments, with the amendment already adopted and recognized as the law of the land, do not reach the difficulty, and cannot, unless the whole structure of the government is changed from a government by States to something like a despotic central government, with power to control even the municipal regulations of States, and to make them conform to its own despotic will. While there remains such an idea as the right of each State to control its own local affairs,—an idea, by the way, more deeply rooted in the minds of men of all sections of the country than perhaps any one other political idea,—no general assertion of human rights can be of any practical value. To change the character of the government at this point is neither possible nor desirable. All that is necessary to be done is to make the government consistent with itself, and render the rights of the States compatible with the sacred rights of human nature.
The arm of the Federal government is long, but it is far too short to protect the rights of individuals in the interior of distant States. They must have the power to protect themselves, or they will go unprotected, spite of all the laws the Federal Government can put upon the national statute-book.
Slavery, like all other great systems of wrong, founded in the depths of human selfishness, and existing for ages, has not neglected its own conservation. It has steadily exerted an influence upon all around it favorable to its own continuance. And to-day it is so strong that it could exist, not only without law, but even against law. Custom, manners, morals, religion, are all on its side everywhere in the South; and when you add the ignorance and servility of the ex-slave to the intelligence and accustomed authority of the master, you have the conditions, not out of which slavery will again grow, but under which it is impossible for the Federal government to wholly destroy it, unless the Federal government be armed with despotic power, to blot out State authority, and to station a Federal officer at every cross-road. This, of course, cannot be done, and ought not even if it could. The true way and the easiest way is to make our government entirely consistent with itself, and give to every loyal citizen the elective franchise,—a right and power which will be ever present, and will form a wall of fire for his protection.
One of the invaluable compensations of the late Rebellion is the highly instructive disclosure it made of the true source of danger to republican government. Whatever may be tolerated in monarchical and despotic governments, no republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them. What was theory before the war has been made fact by the war.
There is cause to be thankful even for rebellion. It is an impressive teacher, though a stern and terrible one. In both characters it has come to us, and it was perhaps needed in both. It is an instructor never a day before its time, for it comes only when all other means of progress and enlightenment have failed. Whether the oppressed and despairing bondman, no longer able to repress his deep yearnings for manhood, or the tyrant, in his pride and impatience, takes the initiative, and strikes the blow for a firmer hold and a longer lease of oppression, the result is the same,—society is instructed, or may be.
Such are the limitations of the common mind, and so thoroughly engrossing are the cares of common life, that only the few among men can discern through the glitter and dazzle of present prosperity the dark outlines of approaching disasters, even though they may have come up to our very gates, and are already within striking distance. The yawning seam and corroded bolt conceal their defects from the mariner until the storm calls all hands to the pumps. Prophets, indeed, were abundant before the war; but who cares for prophets while their predictions remain unfulfilled, and the calamities of which they tell are masked behind a blinding blaze of national prosperity?
It is asked, said Henry Clay, on a memorable occasion, will slavery never come to an end? That question, said he, was asked fifty years ago, and it has been answered by fifty years of unprecedented prosperity. Spite of the eloquence of the earnest Abolitionists,—poured out against slavery during thirty years,—even they must confess, that, in all the probabilities of the case, that system of barbarism would have continued its horrors far beyond the limits of the nineteenth century but for the Rebellion, and perhaps only have disappeared at last in a fiery conflict, even more fierce and bloody than that which has now been suppressed.
It is no disparagement to truth, that it can only prevail where reason prevails. War begins where reason ends. The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion. What that thing is, we have been taught to our cost. It remains now to be seen whether we have the needed courage to have that cause entirely removed from the Republic. At any rate, to this grand work of national regeneration and entire purification Congress must now address itself, with full purpose that the work shall this time be thoroughly done. The deadly upas, root and branch, leaf and fibre, body and sap, must be utterly destroyed. The country is evidently not in a condition to listen patiently to pleas for postponement, however, plausible, nor will it permit the responsibility to be shifted to other shoulders. Authority and power are here commensurate with the duty imposed. There are no cloudflung shadows to obscure the way. Truth shines with brighter light and intenser heat at every moment, and a country torn and rent and bleeding implores relief from its distress and agony.
If time was at first needed, Congress has now had time. All the requisite materials from which to form an intelligent judgment are now before it. Whether its members look at the origin, the progress, the termination of the war, or at the mockery of a peace now existing, they will find only one unbroken chain of argument in favor of a radical policy of reconstruction. For the omissions of the last session, some excuses may be allowed. A treacherous President stood in the way; and it can be easily seen how reluctant good men might be to admit an apostasy which involved so much of baseness and ingratitude. It was natural that they should seek to save him by bending to him even when he leaned to the side of error. But all is changed now. Congress knows now that it must go on without his aid, and even against his machinations. The advantage of the present session over the last is immense. Where that investigated, this has the facts. Where that walked by faith, this may walk by sight. Where that halted, this must go forward, and where that failed, this must succeed, giving the country whole measures where that gave us half-measures, merely as a means of saving the elections in a few doubtful districts. That Congress saw what was right, but distrusted the enlightenment of the loyal masses; but what was forborne in distrust of the people must now be done with a full knowledge that the people expect and require it. The members go to Washington fresh from the inspiring presence of the people. In every considerable public meeting, and in almost every conceivable way, whether at court-house, school-house, or cross-roads, in doors and out, the subject has been discussed, and the people have emphatically pronounced in favor of a radical policy. Listening to the doctrines of expediency and compromise with pity, impatience, and disgust, they have everywhere broken into demonstrations of the wildest enthusiasm when a brave word has been spoken in favor of equal rights and impartial suffrage. Radicalism, so far from being odious, is now the popular passport to power. The men most bitterly charged with it go to Congress with the largest majorities, while the timid and doubtful are sent by lean majorities, or else left at home. The strange controversy between the President and Congress, at one time so threatening, is disposed of by the people. The high reconstructive powers which he so confidently, ostentatiously, and haughtily claimed, have been disallowed, denounced, and utterly repudiated; while those claimed by Congress have been confirmed.
Of the spirit and magnitude of the canvass nothing need be said. The appeal was to the people, and the verdict was worthy of the tribunal. Upon an occasion of his own selection, with the advice and approval of his astute Secretary, soon after the members of Congress had returned to their constituents, the President quitted the executive mansion, sandwiched himself between two recognized heroes,—men whom the whole country delighted to honor,—and, with all the advantage which such company could give him, stumped the country from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, advocating everywhere his policy as against that of Congress. It was a strange sight, and perhaps the most disgraceful exhibition ever made by any President; but, as no evil is entirely unmixed, good has come of this, as from many others. Ambitious, unscrupulous, energetic, indefatigable, voluble, and plausible,—a political gladiator, ready for a "set-to" in any crowd,—he is beaten in his own chosen field, and stands to-day before the country as a convicted usurper, a political criminal, guilty of a bold and persistent attempt to possess himself of the legislative powers solemnly secured to Congress by the Constitution. No vindication could be more complete, no condemnation could be more absolute and humiliating. Unless reopened by the sword, as recklessly threatened in some circles, this question is now closed for all time.
Without attempting to settle here the metaphysical and somewhat theological question (about which so much has already been said and written), whether once in the Union means always in the Union,—agreeably to the formula, Once in grace always in grace,—it is obvious to common sense that the rebellious States stand to-day, in point of law, precisely where they stood when, exhausted, beaten, conquered, they fell powerless at the feet of Federal authority. Their State governments were overthrown, and the lives and property of the leaders of the Rebellion were forfeited. In reconstructing the institutions of these shattered and overthrown States, Congress should begin with a clean slate, and make clean work of it. Let there be no hesitation. It would be a cowardly deference to a defeated and treacherous President, if any account were made of the illegitimate, one-sided, sham governments hurried into existence for a malign purpose in the absence of Congress. These pretended governments, which were never submitted to the people, and from participation in which four millions of the loyal people were excluded by Presidential order, should now be treated according to their true character, as shams and impositions, and supplanted by true and legitimate governments, in the formation of which loyal men, black and white, shall participate.
It is not, however, within the scope of this paper to point out the precise steps to be taken, and the means to be employed. The people are less concerned about these than the grand end to be attained. They demand such a reconstruction as shall put an end to the present anarchical state of things in the late rebellious States,—where frightful murders and wholesale massacres are perpetrated in the very presence of Federal soldiers. This horrible business they require shall cease. They want a reconstruction such as will protect loyal men, black and white, in their persons and property; such a one as will cause Northern industry, Northern capital, and Northern civilization to flow into the South, and make a man from New England as much at home in Carolina as elsewhere in the Republic. No Chinese wall can now be tolerated. The South must be opened to the light of law and liberty, and this session of Congress is relied upon to accomplish this important work.
The plain, common-sense way of doing this work, as intimated at the beginning, is simply to establish in the South one law, one government, one administration of justice, one condition to the exercise of the elective franchise, for men of all races and colors alike. This great measure is sought as earnestly by loyal white men as by loyal blacks, and is needed alike by both. Let sound political prescience but take the place of an unreasoning prejudice, and this will be done.
Men denounce the negro for his prominence in this discussion; but it is no fault of his that in peace as in war, that in conquering Rebel armies as in reconstructing the rebellious States, the right of the negro is the true solution of our national troubles. The stern logic of events, which goes directly to the point, disdaining all concern for the color or features of men, has determined the interests of the country as identical with and inseparable from those of the negro.
The policy that emancipated and armed the negro—now seen to have been wise and proper by the dullest—was not certainly more sternly demanded than is now the policy of enfranchisement. If with the negro was success in war, and without him failure, so in peace it will be found that the nation must fall or flourish with the negro.
Fortunately, the Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it know any difference between a citizen of a State and a citizen of the United States. Citizenship evidently includes all the rights of citizens, whether State or national. If the Constitution knows none, it is clearly no part of the duty of a Republican Congress now to institute one. The mistake of the last session was the attempt to do this very thing, by a renunciation of its power to secure political rights to any class of citizens, with the obvious purpose to allow the rebellious States to disfranchise, if they should see fit, their colored citizens. This unfortunate blunder must now be retrieved, and the emasculated citizenship given to the negro supplanted by that contemplated in the Constitution of the United States, which declares that the citizens of each State shall enjoy all the rights and immunities of citizens of the several States,—so that a legal voter in any State shall be a legal voter in all the States.
The results of the Alabama U.S. Senate special election primaries are in. In the Republican primary, former Alabama attorney general Luther Strange and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will advance to a runoff election in September after none of the GOP candidates won a majority of the vote. Whoever wins the runoff will face off against Democrat Doug Jones, who won the Democratic primary outright on Tuesday night.
Political observers predict that whoever wins the GOP primary in the deeply conservative state will ultimately win the general election, so the Republican race is seen as the more important contest. Strange won 32.5 percent of the vote to Moore’s 40.1 percent of the vote as of 10:06 p.m. ET, not long after the Associated Press projected that the two Republicans would advance to a runoff.
Republican primary results:
Democratic primary results:
During the primary campaign leading up to Tuesday night’s vote, Moore, Strange and Republican Representative Mo Brooks, another GOP candidate in the race, all rushed to embrace President Trump, a sign of the enduring popularity of the president in Alabama. Only one, however, won Trump’s endorsement. The president has tweeted his support of Strange, who was temporarily appointed to fill Sessions’ Senate seat by then-Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in February. Strange has also benefitted from advertising from political groups allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The primary stood as a test the power and influence of Trump’s endorsement in a Republican primary. But even with Trump’s help, Strange wasn’t a clear-cut favorite to win. Moore fared better than Strange in most of the available public polling ahead of the vote, with Brooks in a close third place. My colleague Molly Ball recently traveled to Alabama to report on the Republican race.
On the Democratic side, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones started off as the establishment favorite with endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden and civil rights icon and Democratic Representative John Lewis. Jones made a name for himself prosecuting KKK members for the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham. Some polling ahead of the primary on Tuesday showed him leading the Democratic field. When I spoke to Jones earlier this week, he refused to define himself as either a liberal, moderate or conservative Democrat. He has talked about the importance of “kitchen table” issues like jobs, the economy and healthcare.
The wildcard in the Democratic race, however, was a man that AL.com labeled a “mystery candidate.” Robert Kennedy Jr. is a virtually unknown political entity in the state, but some polls had showed him beating out Jones all the same ahead of the primary. That may be because of his famous last name, though he is not actually related to the Kennedy political family. Kennedy Jr. describes himself, via his website, as a “fiscally responsible Democrat.”
Updated at 9:33 p.m. ET
If President Trump’s belated denunciation on Monday of white supremacists, racism, and neo-Nazism brought congressional Republicans a brief period of relief, his press conference on Tuesday gave the party a whole new—if all too familiar—headache.
Trump seemed to return to his rhetoric from Saturday, when after the death of a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, he blamed “many sides” for the day’s strife—a reaction that drew criticism from his fellow Republicans. During his remarks Tuesday, the president defended the white nationalists who’d demonstrated in the small city, and said they included “some very fine people.” He laid some of the blame for the violence that broke out at the feet of “alt-left” counter-protesters, and he equated the Confederate General Robert E. Lee with America’s Founding Fathers.
After Trump finished speaking, the rebukes from congressional Republicans started rolling in all over again. Some, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Will Hurd of Texas, criticized the president directly in tweets and statements. Others, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, withheld Trump’s name even if their target was obvious. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” Ryan tweeted. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Lawmakers who followed Ryan’s style—the subtweet over the frontal, specific denunciation—included Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip still recovering from being shot at a congressional baseball practice in June. “I was clear about this bigotry & violence over the weekend and I’ll repeat it today: We must defeat white supremacy and all forms of hatred,” Scalise wrote. So, too, did House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a now-frequent Trump critic.
In a series of tweets, Rubio countered Trump by saying the organizers of the white-nationalist rally were “100 percent to blame” for the terror attack that followed, a reference to the death of Heather Heyer after James A. Fields allegedly drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism demonstrators. (Trump equivocated on whether the attack, whose alleged perpetrator had marched with a fascist group, constituted terrorism.)
Mr. President,you can't allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain 5/6— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 15, 2017
The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win.We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected 6/6— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 15, 2017
In an appearance on CNN, Hurd urged Trump to apologize. “Racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism of any form is unacceptable, and the leader of the free world should be unambiguous about that,” he said. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who is retiring next year after more than two decades in Congress, called out Trump on Twitter for his use of the term “both sides” to divvy up blame, just as she did on Saturday.
Blaming "both sides" for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) August 15, 2017
Democrats, meanwhile, were unsparing in their attacks on a president with whom they have found virtually no common ground. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called Trump’s remarks “sick.” Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii went even further: “As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment,” he tweeted. “This is not my president.”
Yet in a ritual that has repeated itself many times over during Trump’s first seven months in office, it was Republicans who felt the pressure to separate themselves from his latest diatribe. With Congress on recess, the rhetorical handwringing was initially more a trickle than a flood. As Tuesday evening wore on, critical statements both direct and indirect came in from senators John McCain of Arizona, a Trump target himself for his vote on health care; Jerry Moran of Kansas; James Lankford of Oklahoma; Thom Tillis of North Carolina; and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who had been among the first Republicans to slap down Trump on Saturday.
However unified, the GOP oppobrium might not amount to much. Even those Republicans who did call out Trump suggested little remedy or punishment for a president who, again, has deviated wildly from the message many in the party’s establishment want to send to the country. The GOP legislative agenda is already sputtering, with the president showing little ability to steer it back on course. What Trump retains is the ability to shock if not surprise with his outbursts, and the Republicans, practiced now in the art of politely scolding their party’s leader, respond in increasingly predictable ways: He speaks, they criticize, and everyone waits a few days to do it once again.
Every day, the White House communications office sends official talking points to Republican members of Congress. These communiqués help the GOP stay on the same page (and, in the Trump era, help the embattled president’s allies come up with arguments in his defense).
On Tuesday evening, a few hours after the president’s inflammatory press conference defending white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, the office issued an “evening communications briefing,” which was passed along to me by a Republican congressional aide. It encourages members to echo the president’s line, contending that “both sides … acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility.”
You can read the talking points in their entirety here. The links in the text are the White House’s. The briefing goes on to include a transcript of the president’s question-and-answer session with reporters at Trump Tower, followed by commentary on other issues.
NEWS OF THE DAYCharlottesville
- The President was entirely correct -- both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility.
- Despite the criticism, the President reaffirmed some of our most important Founding principles: We are equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal under the law, and equal under our Constitution.
- He has been a voice for unity and calm, encouraging the country to “rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that brings us together as Americans.”
- He called for the end of violence on all sides so that no more innocent lives would be lost.
- The President condemned - with no ambiguity - the hate groups fueled by bigotry and racism over the weekend, and did so by name yesterday, but for the media that will never be enough.
- The media reacted with hysteria to the notion that counter-protesters showed up with clubs spoiling for a fight, a fact that reporters on the ground have repeatedly stated.
- Even a New York Times reporter tweeted that she “saw club-wielding "antifa" beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”
- The local ACLU chapter also tweeted that
- We should not overlook the facts just because the media finds them inconvenient:
- From cop killing and violence at political rallies, to shooting at Congressmen at a practice baseball game, extremists on the left have engaged in terrible acts of violence.
- The President is taking swift action to hold violent hate groups accountable.
- The DOJ has opened a civil rights investigation into this weekend’s deadly car attack.
- Last Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it had completed the largest prosecution of white supremacists in the nation’s history.
- Leaders and the media in our country should join the president in trying to unite and heal our country rather than incite more division.
Transcript of President's Q&A:
Q Mr. President, why do you think these CEOs are leaving your manufacturing council?
THE PRESIDENT: Because they're not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country. And we want jobs, manufacturing in this country. If you look at some of those people that you're talking about they’re outside of the country, they're having a lot of their product made outsider. If you look at Merck as an example, take a look where -- excuse me, excuse me -- take a look at where their product is made. It's made outside of our country. We want products made in the country.
Now, I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they're leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside. And I've been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you're referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can't do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That's what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.
Q Let me ask you, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to blast neo-Nazis?
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t wait long.
Q You waited two days --
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t wait long.
Q Forty-eight hours.
THE PRESIDENT: I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct -- not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me, and it's a very important statement.
So I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to --
Q So you had to (inaudible) white supremacists?
THE PRESIDENT: I brought it. I brought it. I brought it.
Q Was it terrorism, in your opinion, what happened?
THE PRESIDENT: As I said on -- remember, Saturday -- we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. And then it went on from there.
Now, here's the thing --
Q (Inaudible) many sides.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. Excuse me. Take it nice and easy. Here's the thing: When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened.
Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman, who I hear was a fantastic young woman, and it was on NBC -- her mother wrote me and said through, I guess, Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine -- really, actually, an incredible young woman. But her mother, on Twitter, thanked me for what I said.
And honestly, if the press were not fake, and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you, and unlike -- excuse me, unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
Q Why do Nazis like you -- (inaudible) -- these statements?
THE PRESIDENT: They don’t. They don’t.
Q They do. Look --
THE PRESIDENT: How about a couple of infrastructure questions.
Q Was it terrorism, that event? Was that terrorism?
Q The CEO of Walmart said you missed a critical opportunity --
THE PRESIDENT: Say it. What?
Q The CEO of Walmart said you missed a critical opportunity to help bring the country together. Did you?
THE PRESIDENT: Not at all. I think the country -- look, you take a look. I've created over a million jobs since I'm President. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we've ever had in the history of our country. We're doing record business. We have the highest levels of enthusiasm. So the head of Walmart, who I know -- who's a very nice guy -- was making a political statement. I mean --
THE PRESIDENT: I'd do it the same way. And you know why? Because I want to make sure, when I make a statement, that the statement is correct. And there was no way -- there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. Unlike a lot of reporters --
Q Nazis were there.
Q David Duke was there.
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. And the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated. In fact, everybody said, "His statement was beautiful. If he would have made it sooner, that would have been good." I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts. Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts.
It was very important -- excuse me, excuse me -- it was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly. Because if I would have made a fast statement -- and the first statement was made without knowing much, other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made after, with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things -- excuse me -- there are still things that people don’t know.
I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts.
Q Two questions. Was this terrorism? And can you tell us how you're feeling about your chief strategist, Stephen Bannon?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family, and this country. And that is -- you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as "the fastest one to come up with a good verdict." That's what I'd call it. Because there is a question: Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.
Q Can you tell us how you're feeling about your chief strategist, Mr. Bannon? Can you talk about that?
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q I would echo Maggie's question. Steve Bannon has come under --
THE PRESIDENT: I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it.
Q Can you tell us broadly what your -- do you still have confidence in Steve?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll see. Look, look -- I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him, he's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he's a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.
Q Senator McCain has called on you to defend your National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, against these attacks.
THE PRESIDENT: I did it the last time.
Q And he called on it again, linking --
THE PRESIDENT: Senator McCain?
Q -- to the alt-right, and saying --
THE PRESIDENT: Senator McCain?
THE PRESIDENT: You mean the one who voted against Obamacare?
Q And he said --
THE PRESIDENT: Who is -- you mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good healthcare?
Q Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he's talking about. But when you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.
Q Well, I'm saying, as Senator --
THE PRESIDENT: No, define it for me. Come on, let's go. Define it for me.
Q Senator McCain defined them as the same group --
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at -- excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
Let me ask you this: What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I'm concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.
Q You're not putting these --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute. I'm not finished. I'm not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day --
Q Sir, you're not putting these protestors on the same level as neo-Nazis --
Q Is the alt-left as bad as white supremacy?
THE PRESIDENT: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely -- much more closely than you people watched it. And you have -- 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.
Q Is the alt-left as bad as Nazis? Are they as bad as Nazis?
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Do you think that what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?
THE PRESIDENT: Those people -- all of those people --excuse me, 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. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Q Should that statue be taken down?
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see -- and you'd know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you're not -- but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
But they were there to protest -- excuse me, if you take a look, the night before they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Infrastructure question. Go ahead.
Q Should the statues of Robert E. Lee stay up?
THE PRESIDENT: I would say that's up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located.
Q How concerned are you about race relations in America? And do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?
THE PRESIDENT: I think they've gotten better or the same. Look, they've been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that, because he'd make speeches about it. But I believe that the fact that I brought in -- it will be soon -- millions of jobs -- you see where companies are moving back into our country -- I think that's going to have a tremendous, positive impact on race relations.
We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced. We have Foxconn in Wisconsin just announced. We have many companies, I say, pouring back into the country. I think that's going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations. You know why? It's jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay, and when they have that, you watch how race relations will be.
And I’ll tell you, we’re spending a lot of money on the inner cities. We’re fixing the inner cities. We’re doing far more than anybody has done with respect to the inner cities. It’s a priority for me, and it’s very important.
Q Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
Q (Inaudible) both sides, sir. You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are the --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. If you look at both sides -- I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.
And if you reported it accurately, you would say.
Q The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest --
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves -- and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.
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.
Q George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same.
THE PRESIDENT: George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down --
Excuse me, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?
Q I do love Thomas Jefferson.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue?
So you know what, it’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. 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.
Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group.
Q Who are the good people?
Q 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.
THE PRESIDENT: 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 -- because I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country -- a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.
Does anybody have a final --
Q I have an infrastructure question.
THE PRESIDENT: You have an infrastructure --
Q What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill? You didn’t get healthcare --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I’ll tell you. We came very close with healthcare. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You’ll have to ask John McCain why he did that. But we came very close to healthcare. We will end up getting healthcare. But we’ll get the infrastructure. And actually, infrastructure is something that I think we’ll have bipartisan support on. I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.
Q Mr. President, have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car attack?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I’ll be reaching out. I’ll be reaching out.
Q When will you be reaching out?
THE PRESIDENT: I thought that the statement put out -- the mother’s statement I thought was a beautiful statement. I will tell you, it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And, really, under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache that she’s under, I thought putting out that statement, to me, was really something. I won’t forget it.
Thank you, all, very much. Thank you. Thank you.
* * * *
Q Will you go to Charlottesville? Will you go to check out what happened?
THE PRESIDENT: I own a house in Charlottesville. Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?
Q Where is it?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh boy, it’s going to be --
Q Where is it?
THE PRESIDENT: It's in Charlottesville. You'll see.
Q Is it a winery or something?
THE PRESIDENT: It is the winery.
I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days.
THE PRESIDENT: I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville.
Q Do you believe your words are helping to heal this country right now?
Q What do you think needs to be done to overcome the racial divides in this country?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think jobs can have a big impact. I think if we continue to create jobs -- over a million, substantially more than a million. And you see just the other day, the car companies coming in with Foxconn. I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact -- positive impact on race relations.
Q Your remarks today, how do you think that will impact the racial, sort of conflict, today?
THE PRESIDENT: The people are going to be working, they’re going to be making a lot of money -- much more money than they ever thought possible. But that’s going to happen.
Q Your remarks today.
THE PRESIDENT: And the other thing -- very important -- I believe wages will start going up. They haven’t gone up for a long time. I believe wages now -- because the economy is doing so well with respect to employment and unemployment, I believe wages will start to go up. I think that will have a tremendously positive impact on race relations.
Executive Order Streamlining Infrastructure Permitting
- On August 15, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order entitled, “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects,” which is a crucial step in fulfilling his commitment to eliminate the Federal bureaucracy attached to environmental review and permitting for major infrastructure projects.
- President Trump is a builder. With that builder’s mindset, he recognizes that the current sea of Federal red tape for environmental reviews and permitting unnecessarily hampers the delivery of major infrastructure projects and prevents the American people from enjoying the benefits of upgraded infrastructure.
- The President has heard the calls from other builders—project sponsors, infrastructure industries, and State and local governments—to break down the countless Federal Government obstacles that impede infrastructure progress. With this action today, help is on the way to build faster the major infrastructure projects that America desperately needs.
- The Executive Order directs agencies to take important actions that will fundamentally transform the way the Federal Government processes environmental review and permitting decisions for infrastructure projects—
- One Federal Decision: No longer will sponsors of major infrastructure projects be forced to spend time and money navigating a complex web of permitting and environmental reviews with multiple Federal agencies. The Executive Order requires the Federal Government to speak with one voice through One Federal Decision.
- 2-Year Goal: The Executive Order takes aim at the decade it can currently take the Federal Government to process environmental documents for major infrastructure projects and instead establishes a 2-year goal. Not only will this save time, it will save money and provide projects sponsors much-needed predictability in scheduling and delivering projects.
- Accountability: Private entities are routinely held accountable for achieving milestones in delivering projects, and with this Presidential action, the Federal Government will be held accountable, too. The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to track their achievement of milestones, report progress to the White House, and face penalties for poor performance.
- Importantly, this Executive Order will ensure the Federal Government will conduct environmental reviews more efficiently while still protecting the environment. Environmental laws have important objectives, but the Federal Government’s current inefficiencies needlessly impede delivery of infrastructure projects throughout the country.
- Accountability and reform of the Federal bureaucracy concerning environmental review and permitting of infrastructure projects is long overdue. The President’s action today will ensure more timely and efficient infrastructure investment that will strengthen the American economy, make our country more competitive, create jobs and increase wages for workers, and reduce the costs of goods and services for our families.
- Infrastructure Discussion and Executive Order Signing
OTHER TOP POINTS
Presidential Memorandum Addressing Chinese Intellectual Property Practices
- With this memorandum, President Trump is standing up for American companies and workers against China’s unfair trade practices and industrial policies, including forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft.
- China’s industrial policies stack the deck against American companies by forcing the transfer of cutting-edge technology and intellectual property.
- For example, U.S. companies can be required to enter into joint ventures with Chinese companies if they want to do business in China, resulting in Chinese companies forcibly acquiring U.S. intellectual property.
- Americans are the world’s most prolific innovators, creating the greatest technologies, products, and companies. They should not be forced or coerced to turn over the fruits of their labor.
- The current trajectory is unsustainable. Innovation in the U.S. economy is put at risk by China continually forcing companies to turn over their proprietary technologies and IP.
- The President is also standing strong against the theft of American IP, including defense-related technologies.
- The costs of intellectual property theft alone to the U.S. economy are estimated to be as high as $600 billion a year.
- Such thefts not only damage American companies, they also threaten our national security.
- President Trump is committed to protecting American technology and ensuring our national security.
This Presidential Memorandum:
- Directs the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine, consistent with section 302(b) of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2412(b)), whether to investigate any of China’s laws, policies, practices, or actions may be unreasonable or discriminatory and that may be harming American intellectual property, innovation, or technology.
- Section 302(b) permits the USTR to investigate acts, policies, or practices of a foreign country to determine whether they are unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce
- Should the USTR decide to launch such an investigation, he will have, at his discretion, broad powers to use all applicable measures, including, but not limited to, Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, which provides a basis for addressing technology transfer practices that may be harming the U.S. economy, exports, and American jobs.
- If Americans continue to have their best technology and intellectual property stolen or forcibly transferred offshore, the United States will find it difficult to maintain its current technology leadership position and to remain one of the world’s most innovative economies.
- The U.S. government, industry representatives, and other experts have been raising substantial concerns about Chinese government pressure to transfer valuable U.S. technology to China. Examples of reported pressure include:
- China uses restrictions such as joint venture requirements, equity ownership limitations, opaque administrative processes, and other practices aimed at the transfer of U.S. technology to Chinese companies;
- China imposes non-market-based terms on contracts signed by U.S. firms with Chinese entities; and
- China funds and facilitates the acquisition of U.S. firms that possess advanced technologies.
- China has gained unauthorized access to the computer networks of U.S. businesses for commercial purpose and, on a number of occasions, has stolen firms’ commercial information.
- The types of sensitive information obtained included internal communications that would provide a competitor or an adversary in litigation insight into the strategy and vulnerabilities of the American entity.
- The consequences of China’s reported actions may include: lost or reduced U.S. sales, exports, and jobs in key technology sectors; loss of intellectual property or proprietary technology to Chinese companies; loss of competitive position in the marketplace or in business negotiations; and network security costs, legal fees, and other costs.
- President Trump is fulfilling yet another promise to the American people on trade. In June 2016, President Trump promised the American people that he would “use every lawful presidential power” to crack down on trade abuses in China, and this announcement is the first step in that process.
- Given the importance of this issue and widespread concern about Chinese practices, USTR Lighthizer will immediately review these issues to take prompt and appropriate action in response to this memorandum.
White nationalist and alt-right activists are cheering President Trump for defending white-nationalist protesters and placing equal blame on counterprotesters for the violence that ensued in Charlottesville this past weekend at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“Really proud of him,” the alt-right leader Richard Spencer said in a text message. “He bucked the narrative of Alt-Right violence, and made a statement that is fair and down to earth. C’ville could have hosted a peaceful rally — just like our event in May — if the police and mayor had done their jobs. Charlottesville needed to police the streets and police the antifa, whose organizations are dedicated to violence.”
Spencer said he didn’t necessarily view Trump’s remarks as an endorsement of the protesters’ goal; the Unite the Right rally was held to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. “He was calling it like he saw it,” Spencer, who was one of the leaders of the protest, said. “He endorsed nothing. He was being honest.” Spencer held a press conference in his office and home in Alexandria on Monday in which he said he did not believe Trump had condemned white nationalists in his comments on Monday, in which the president said “racism is evil” and specifically called out white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. Trump made those remarks after intense criticism for failing to specifically condemn white-nationalist groups in his initial response.
In his remarks on Tuesday, made during an appearance in Trump Tower that was supposed to be about infrastructure, Trump doubled down on his initial Charlottesville statement on Saturday in which he blamed “many sides.” The president said that some of the protesters were “very fine people,” blamed the “alt-left” equally with white nationalists for the violence, and compared pulling down Confederate monuments to removing monuments of the country’s Founding Fathers. At Saturday’s protests, a woman was killed by a rally attendee who rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, and dozens were injured.
Trump’s denunciation of the protesters who opposed the Unite the Right rally has been particularly popular among leaders on the alt-right.
“It is gratifying that there is at least one political figure who recognizes that not everyone who wants to keep the Lee statue is a neo-Nazi or white supremacist, and that many of the counterdemonstrators were violent thugs,” said American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor. “We live in astonishing times in which to state the obvious is revolutionary.”
Baked Alaska, another alt-right activist who had been given top billing at the rally, tweeted his support of Trump’s words.
“Thank you President Trump for condemning the alt-left antifa thugs who attacked us in Charlottesville,” he wrote.
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” tweeted the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, who also attended the rally.
The alt-right vlogger Paul Ramsey, better known as RamzPaul, tweeted that it was a “good statement” and that “I honestly think he watches some of us.”
Other activists in the pro-Trump right-wing media sphere who are adjacent to the alt-right, but don’t necessarily use the term to describe themselves, were also thrilled about Trump’s comments.
“The madman is back,” Jack Posobiec, the activist who played a central role in the Macron Leaks story and whose tweet about violence in Chicago Trump retweeted on Monday night, said in a text. “He is out of DC and getting back into offense mode, where he’s at his best by pushing back against fake news and calling out extremists who commit violence on both sides. Antifa should have been included in the initial statement.”
The blogger and twitter personality Mike Cernovich, who used to use the term alt-right but now favors “new right,” called Trump’s remarks “amazing.”
“It energized the base,” Cernovich said. “Losers like Richard Spencer and David Duke will try to dick ride it, but Trump specifically disavowed neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”
Cernovich was referring to a part of Trump’s remarks in which he said neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be “condemned totally.”
“But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay?” Trump also said. “And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
President Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville on Tuesday, saying they included “some very fine people,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a strikingly different message from the prepared statement he had delivered on Monday, and a reversion to his initial response over the weekend.
Speaking in the lobby of Trump Tower at what had been billed as a statement on infrastructure, a combative Trump defended his slowness to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis after the melee in central Virginia, which ended in the death of one woman and injuries to dozens of others, and compared the tearing down of Confederate monuments to the hypothetical removal of monuments to the Founding Fathers. He also said that counter-protesters deserve an equal amount of blame for the violence.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right?” Trump said. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” he said.
“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” Trump said. “The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
“You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said.
The “Unite the Right” rally that sparked the violence in Charlottesville featured several leading names in the white-nationalist alt-right movement, and also attracted people displaying Nazi symbols. As they walked down the street, the white-nationalist protesters chanted “blood and soil,” the English translation of a Nazi slogan. One of the men seen marching with the fascist group American Vanguard, James A. Fields, is charged with deliberately ramming a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Trump on Tuesday made an explicit comparison between Confederate generals and Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. “Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee. And I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
The substance of Trump’s unscripted remarks hewed more closely to his initial reaction to Charlottesville on Saturday, when he blamed “many sides” for what happened. On Monday, after two days of relentless criticism, Trump gave a stronger statement, saying “racism is evil” and specifically condemning white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis. Speaking to reporters shortly afterward, white nationalist Richard Spencer told reporters he didn’t see Trump’s remarks as a condemnation of his movement.
Tuesday’s appearance made it even clearer that those words had been forced on the president. Throughout his campaign, he was reluctant to disavow the white nationalists who have formed a vocal segment of his supporters. Asked if he had spoken to Heyer’s family in the days since her death, Trump said “we will be reaching out.”
Trump also addressed swirling rumors about the status of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who has come in for another round of speculation this week that his job may be in danger. Trump is reportedly angry about the recent book Devil’s Bargain, by the Bloomberg Businessweek writer Joshua Green, which portrays Bannon as the key reason for Trump’s election victory.
The president defended Bannon as having been unfairly attacked as a racist in the press, but declined to say if he still has confidence in him.
“I like Mr. Bannon, he is a friend of mine,” Trump said. “But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He is a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he is a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.”
The remarks echo what Trump told the New York Post earlier this year during a similar moment of uncertainty about Bannon’s position. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told the Post in April.
The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was ostensibly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was about asserting the legitimacy of “white culture” and white supremacy, and defending the legacy of the Confederacy.
So why did the demonstrators chant anti-Semitic lines like “Jews will not replace us”?
The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” one demonstrator told Vice News’ Elspeth Reeve during their march. As Jews prayed at a local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, men dressed in fatigues carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across the street, according to the temple’s president. Nazi websites posted a call to burn their building. As a precautionary measure, congregants had removed their Torah scrolls and exited through the back of the building when they were done praying.
“This is an agenda about celebrating the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, and celebrating those that then fought to preserve that terrible machine of white supremacy and human enslavement,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL. “And yet, somehow, they’re all wearing shirts that talk about Adolf Hitler.”
For these demonstrators, though, the connection between African Americans and Jews is clear. In the minds of white supremacists like David Duke, there is a straight line from anti-blackness to anti-Judaism. That logic is powerful and important. The durability of anti-Semitic tropes, and the ease with which they slide into all displays of bigotry, is a chilling reminder that the hatreds of our time rhyme with history and are easily channeled through timeless anti-Semitic canards.
The University of Chicago historian David Nirenberg has spent his career studying anti-Jewish movements and beliefs. Recently, he spoke to a group of students about anti-Semitism on college campuses. “At the end of the … talk, I said, ‘I wouldn’t rush from all this material to thinking that this anti-Semitism is as dangerous as its early 20th-century predecessor,’” he told me. “Seeing the images of the Virginia protest, I must admit, I kind of felt otherwise. … It certainly made me feel that books and ideas that I had treated as very marginal in our society are not as marginal as I might have hoped.”
Anti-Semitism often functions as a readily available language for all manner of bigotry—a Rosetta Stone that can translate animus toward one group into a universal hate for many groups. “Ever since St. Paul, Christianity and all the religions born from it—Islam, the secular philosophies of Europe, etc.—learned to think about their world in terms of overcoming the dangers of Judaism,” said Nirenberg. “We have these really basic building blocks … for thinking about the world and what’s wrong with it … by thinking about Judaism.”
In the world sketched by white supremacists, Jews hover malevolently in the background, pulling strings, controlling events, acting as an all-powerful force backing and enabling the other targets of their hate. That’s clear in statements made by people like Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who proudly marched with other white supremacists in Charlottesville. Jewish Zionists, he complained to a gathered crowd, control the media and American political system.
“The extreme right considers many people their threat. But it always, always, always comes back to the Jews.”
Anti-black and anti-Jewish sentiment have long been intertwined in America. When the Jewish factory worker Leo Frank was wrongfully convicted of murder and lynched in 1915, two new groups simultaneously emerged: the ADL, which fights against bigotry and anti-Semitism, and the second Ku Klux Klan, which began by celebrating Frank’s death. Later in the 20th century, Nazis became a natural model for white-supremacist movements in the United States, said Marjorie Feld, a professor of history at Babson College. The logic of white supremacy was similar: Hatreds became universalized through common archetypes. Jews were seen by white supremacists as capitalists undermining local businesses. Black Americans fleeing the South in the Great Migration were seen as taking away crucial labor. Catholics were seen as immigrants stealing American jobs.
After the Holocaust, neo-Nazi movements were largely consigned to the country’s political fringe, although they never fully left the American landscape. In 1978, for example, a Nazi group pushed to demonstrate in Skokie, Illinois, deliberately selecting an area densely populated by Holocaust survivors. The proposed march caused a national uproar, and the American Civil Liberties Union famously defended the group’s First Amendment rights in court. Eventually, they ended up demonstrating in Chicago.
The Charlottesville demonstration differed from the planned Skokie march in two important respects, Nirenberg said. First of all, there’s a political context for the “Unite the Right” demonstration. It fits into debates over free speech and college campuses as the front lines of cultural battle, he said. The Skokie march was also widely and vigorously condemned by political leaders. “That strong, clear commitment to certain values of inclusion from our political leaders is not present in the same way,” Nirenberg said.
On Monday, President Donald Trump held a press conference about the violence in Charlottesville. “Racism is evil,” he said. “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.” This statement came two days after his initial comments on the protests, in which he condemned the “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” The suggested equivalence between the white-supremacist demonstrators and their counter-protesters shocked politicians and public figures in both parties, who quickly criticized Trump’s unwillingness to condemn neo-Nazis and the KKK. “It’s very clear that the people marching in Charlottesville felt very supported by the shape of the public statements made by President Trump,” said Nirenberg. On Tuesday, the president held another press conference in which he reiterated his previous claims, saying, “What about the alt-left that came charging … with clubs in their hands? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Greenblatt argued that the backlash against Trump’s comments is not about politics—it’s about recognizing a pattern of anti-Semitism. There was the Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that didn’t mention Jews; the conspiratorial meme of Hillary Clinton and a Star of David that Trump retweeted during the campaign; the infamous Nazi salute and shouts of “Hail Trump!” at an alt-right conference following the election. In the past several days, a number of groups have renewed their calls for Trump to fire Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, in part based on Bannon’s role in heading Breitbart, which he called a “platform for the alt-right.”
To people like Greenblatt, these are all signs that, at best, the White House does not take anti-Semitism seriously enough. At worst, the Trump administration indulges bigotry so as not to alienate some supporters. “Heck, there’s Jewish grandchildren running around the White House,” Greenblatt said. “But make no mistake, the extreme right considers many people their threat, but it always, always, always comes back to the Jews.”
“You just can’t say this as a historian, but I feel like we’re at this critical juncture.”
As Nirenberg pointed out, the violence in Charlottesville was part of a broader political context. The fringe right is reacting to other political movements with nostalgia, Feld said—a yearning for people, including minorities like Jews and blacks, to “know their place.”
“It makes sense to me that just as … we’re seeing people of all backgrounds be brave enough to insist that these monuments about slavery” be toppled, Feld said, “these people would come out and say we would want to return to the way things were.”
The identity politics of the intersectional left are radically different from the generalized bigotry of the far-right fever swamps. And yet, they are in relationship: Universalized movements that aim to fight oppression against all peoples in all of their identities necessarily invite backlash from those who feel that they’re losing their place in society. “It would really reduce and impoverish debate to see this example as primarily an anti-Jewish rally … [or] as entirely an anti-African American rally. It’s all those things,” said Nirenberg. “To the extent that we separate those and claim, ‘No, it’s only about my identity,’ we fail to understand basic aspects of identity politics in the present.’”
Of course there are neo-Nazis in our time. There are those who hate Jews in every time. It’s a hatred that easily flickers between the universal and the particular, melding with the similarly particular hatreds of blacks and immigrants and other minority groups. “You just can’t say this as a historian, but I feel like we’re at this critical juncture,” Feld said. “I don’t feel like the world is unsafe for Jews. I really don’t. But I do feel like all social groups need to pay careful attention and speak out against what’s happening.”
Like Nirenberg, Feld was trained to look at the images coming out of Charlottesville and see not a freak occurrence, but the echoes of history.
“God,” she said. “It’s fucking scary.”
During a news conference, President Trump again asserted that there was “blame on both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, adding that the “alt-left” should also be held accountable. Earlier in the day, Trump blasted business leaders who have resigned from the American Manufacturing Council over his response to the weekend’s unrest. He also reaffirmed his support for Alabama Senator Luther Strange, as voters headed to the polls to cast their ballot in the state’s special election primary. Trump signed an executive order speeding up the approval process for the building of highways, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. The Congressional Budget Office projects that eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing subsidies would increase premiums by 2018 and increase the deficit by $194 billion in the next ten years.
‘From Trump Aide to Single Mom’: As a campaign aide, A.J. Delgado helped lead Donald Trump’s team to victory. But after an affair with another campaign staffer and an unexpected pregnancy, she’s ended up on the sidelines. (McKay Coppins)
‘They Took Old Faithful Down’: On Monday night, a group of protesters toppled a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. David A. Graham reports that when the monument fell, there was an “air of euphoria in the crowd.”
The Mooch Is Back: In an interview with The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert, Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, tried to restore his image by being charming and funny. But the audience wasn’t ready to laugh. (Megan Garber)
Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.
Johnny-Come-Lately: Political analysts say President Trump’s drawn-out response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend was a way to placate his base. (Eliana Johnson, Politico)
Who Are the Obama-Trump Voters?: Nate Silver explores why voters who supported former President Obama ended up voting for Donald Trump in 2016—and why it could be a challenge for Democrats to win them back. (FiveThirtyEight)
Sound Familiar?: The man accused of plowing his car into a group of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend has a history of domestic violence—“a common thread linking many mass killers and violent terrorists.” (Melissa Jeltsen, HuffPost)
‘Cut It Out or Be Destroyed’: While the American right has become seduced by the growing alt-right movement, the American left has ignored the escalating violence of the “Antifa” movement within its ranks. Both must be stopped. (Ben Shapiro, National Review)
A New Revolution: The unrest in Charlottesville prompted Robin Wright to ask five historians a question: Will there be another Civil War in America? (The New Yorker)
‘Justifiable’ Killings: In the United States, when a white person kills a black man, he or she often won’t face legal consequences. These graphics illustrate the deep racial disparity in homicide convictions in the country. (Daniel Lathrop and Anna Flagg, The New York Times)
Often in moments of public crisis, people turn to books or readings to make sense of it. What books or readings do you turn to for comfort or reflection in uncertain times?
Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.
-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)
Turns out that cost-sharing reductions actually reduce costs. That’s the conclusion of the Congressional Budget Office, which on Tuesday released a report estimating the effects of terminating federal payments to insurers, which the White House currently sends on a month-to-month basis. After failing to repeal Obamacare, President Trump has repeatedly threatened to end those payments in order to harpoon the law. But the CBO’s analysis finds that such a move would be as counterproductive as it would be spiteful.
Cost-sharing reductions are an important piece of the framework of the Affordable Care Act. In order to make the exchanges—the insurance marketplaces where private coverage is offered to people without employer coverage, Medicaid, or Medicare—work, the law had to provide different funding mechanisms to stabilize individual risk and make the insurance plans affordable.
The most widely-known method that the ACA does this is to shield low-and-middle-income enrollees from the true cost of premiums by providing tax credits, which are provided up front via the exchanges against the cost of insurance. But cost-sharing reductions, commonly known by the acronym CSRs, operate a bit differently. Federal laws prevent plans on the exchanges from raising deductibles, copays, and coinsurance beyond certain thresholds in order to actually cover costs, and in exchange the federal government sends those insurers direct payments to offset losses.
In a strange arrangement, the executive branch pays for the CSRs directly from the Department of Health and Human Services—to the tune of about $7 billion a year. In 2014, Republican legislators sued the Obama administration for those payments, since they allegedly violate separation of powers and the funds have never been appropriated by Congress. But the suit dragged on, even as judges allowed HHS to continue making the payments in order to keep markets stable and people with insurance.
That put Republicans in an awkward spot when Trump won the White House, and also inherited the lawsuit, which now pits Republicans against Republicans. The administration has won a delay in the suit, during which it has made the payments on a month-to-month basis. But even before the spectacular collapse of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, Trump has always considered ending the payments, threatening that “if you know if I ever stop wanting to pay the subsidies, which I will.” Those threats have increased in volume since that failure, both in statements and on Twitter.
But the CBO report finds that such a move would not actually reduce federal spending, and that although it might destabilize exchange markets in the immediate term enough to pressure lawmakers into acting—over the long term it wouldn’t have large impacts on the premiums people pay or on coverage. That’s largely because of the premium tax-credit subsidies, which are automatically adjusted by the federal government in order to limit individual exposure to premium costs beyond a certain percentage of income. Since the insurers themselves can’t raise cost-sharing limits, even if the White House stops paying its fair share, the CBO estimates that insurers would instead just raise premiums, knowing the federal government is basically on the hook for subsidizing all of those increases.
That would essentially create a boomerang, where the federal government would have to offer higher subsidies—high enough for some people to move up from silver tier plans to gold tier plans with no change in costs—in order to cover most or all of an expected 20 percent increase in premiums for silver plans. Most people on the exchanges wouldn’t be subject to any real increase in their personal spending on premiums. Because this system might entice some new people into the markets and might encourage plan switches to gold tiers, the CBO estimates it would actually cost Congress more money than HHS currently spends. The agency estimates that suspending the payments would cost $194 billion over a decade, or about $19.4 billion per year, more than double the $7 billion payment amount.
It appears that Trump’s goal is simply destabilizing the markets though, and if he carried out on the threat to suspend CSR payments, that would be a likely outcome. The CBO finds that several insurers would pull out of exchanges since they couldn’t absorb the risks, further thinning an already diminishing roster of options, and leaving as many as five percent of Americans without any insurance options over the next two years. While those effects would be small compared to the effects on deficit and tax credits, they could be large enough—with the addition of existing problems of choice and premium costs—to provide political pressure to make a new law.
Of course, one of the likely options appears at this point to just be Congress appropriating the cost-sharing reductions. One end-result of the disastrous push to repeal Obamacare was a series of bipartisan calls to fund the CSRs and end the legal limbo over their status. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has led the way on those talks, and might begin real movement towards legislation on that front soon. Such a deal would automatically improve the health of exchanges, premiums, and the likelihood of plan options being available for most Americans, since insurers decide participation based on the pot of money available, and often raise premiums to absorb potential risks of that pot suddenly shrinking.
That means the ace up Trump’s sleeve on health care isn’t quite as powerful as he expected, and indeed his own government would end up paying most of the expected “Trump tax” regardless. But perhaps the continued threat can galvanize a Congress that has grown increasingly distant from the president, and has now begun serious consideration of bipartisan action to improve health care. And that would be a remarkable accomplishment indeed.
According to research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has been increasing rapidly since 2000. Heidi Beirich, director of the Center’s Intelligence Project, links the rise in recruitment to the 2000 census that predicted whites would be a minority by 2042. Beirich says there’s been another spike following the election of Donald Trump, particularly among alt-right organizations who have attached themselves directly to the current president. In an interview filmed at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival, Beirich says that Trump’s limited commentary on hate crimes shows his lack of concern.
Will the real Donald Trump—or perhaps the @realDonaldTrump—please stand up?
It’s been several days of mixed messages from the president. Monday afternoon, he delivered a statement that condemned neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacists. It came two days too late for many observers, but it was still welcomed. But by Monday evening and Tuesday morning, Trump had reverted to his normal form on Twitter, retweeting a conspiracy-theorist alt-right figure, complaining about how the media received his statement, and retweeting an anti-CNN meme, though that retweet was later deleted.
Which is the real Trump? Is it the one who delivered the carefully calibrated remarks Monday declaring that “racism is evil?” Or is it the one who on Saturday blamed “all sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, on Sunday released an ad referring to the media as his “enemies,” and then lashed out on Twitter?
Determining which of these personas is genuine is difficult—who can know a man’s mind from afar?—but there’s enough evidence to make an inference. As I noted on Monday, the statement that the president delivered at the White House was uncharacteristically stiff and formal. He read carefully from prepared remarks, never diverging even to include the ad libs he tends to favor when working from a teleprompter. This was not the freewheeling, improvisatory Trump whom the nation has come to know and either love or detest. The substance of Trump’s words was peculiar too. He has in the past been slow or simply refused to denounce support from white supremacists and white nationalists, and has retweeted memes and tweets steeped in the movement.
The Twitter barrage on Monday and Tuesday also points that way. First, Trump got into a strange sniping match with CNN’s Jim Acosta, the TV pool reporter of the day, in which they called each other fake news (yes, this happened) and Trump claimed to have given a press conference he had not held. Next, he complained that the press hadn’t congratulated him enough for calling racism evil:
Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
Then he retweeted the alt-right figure Jack Posobiec, a leading exponent of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, about violence in Chicago:
Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that? https://t.co/9Crutnnrp8— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) August 14, 2017
The convoluted argument is that the media are biased by focusing on instances of racial violence by white nationalists and ignoring violence inside the black community. That conveniently ignores the ways in which mass rallies of white supremacists are different from ordinary crime, and it spreads the idea that African Americans are violent.
Tuesday morning, the president added in a retweet of a meme that showed a figure with a CNN logo on his head trying to stop a Trump train:
It’s not worth thinking too deeply about this image—the original tweeter noted the CNN figure isn’t really being run over, but is simply failing to stop the train—except as red meat to the CNN- and media-hating side of Trump’s base. He deleted the retweet, and the White House said he hadn’t meant to tweet it. This seems plausible, since he also accidentally retweeted someone calling him (or perhaps Joe Arpaio) a fascist around the same time, but it’s also in keeping with another, equally silly CNN meme he tweeted several weeks ago.
Adding more reason to believe that this is the more genuine Trump, the Associated Press reports that the president had to be cajoled into making a second statement on the Charlottesville attacks by advisers:
Loath to appear to be admitting a mistake, Trump was reluctant to adjust his remarks. The president had indicated to advisers before his initial statement Saturday that he wanted to stress a need for law and order, which he did. He later expressed anger to those close to him about what he perceived as the media’s unfair assessment of his remarks, believing he had effectively denounced all forms of bigotry, according to outside advisers and White House officials.
Several of Trump’s senior advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly, had urged him to make a more specific condemnation, warning that the negative story would not go away and that the rising tide of criticism from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill could endanger his legislative agenda, according to two White House officials.
Regardless of which Trump is real, his split personalities produce consequential disjunctures. On several occasions, the president has made a controversial statement, left advisers to try to defend it publicly, and then pulled the rug out from under them. This happened when Trump claimed he fired FBI Director James Comey after receiving a memo critical of his handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton; Vice President Pence and others dutifully repeated that until Trump himself told Lester Holt that actually he had already decided before he got the memo, and that the cause was the Russia investigation.
It happened again when Trump announced a joint cybersecurity effort with Russia. Amid heavy public mockery, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended it on the Sunday shows. That evening, Trump blew the effort up in a tweet. And after Trump’s comments on Saturday, Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and others insisted he’d been plenty clear. Then Trump implicitly admitted he hadn’t gone far enough. Then he apparently changed his mind back again.
Sowing this confusion creates various problems. As in international diplomacy, where no one knows whether Trump’s threats are credible, it’s hard to know whether to believe what Trump says at any given moment, lest he quickly reverse himself. It calls the president’s honesty into question, and could complicate his defense against any accusations that emerge from the Russia probe.
It also allows white supremacists to claim shelter and take heart from his words. What Trump is doing isn’t exactly dog-whistling, because the contradictory views are audible to all, but the effect is similar. White supremacists understand that Trump couldn’t full-throatedly embrace them if he wanted to, but they interpret his equivocation as a blessing. After Trump’s initial comments on Saturday, a post on the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer celebrated his remarks for not calling out racists. And after Trump’s Monday mulligan, the alt-right figure Richard Spencer dismissed the new statement as insincere. As my colleague Rosie Gray reported from a press conference Monday afternoon, Spencer called it “kumbaya nonsense.” “He sounded like a Sunday school teacher,” he said. “I just don’t take it seriously.”
Any of Spencer’s confederates who were still unsure could take reassurance from Trump’s amplification of Posobiec and complaints about the media, which made the tempered condemnation look ever more like an outlier. Those who disagree with Spencer could just as easily see the same pattern and draw a similar conclusion.
Updated on August 15 at 8:55 a.m.
DURHAM, N.C.—You could argue that the Civil War actually ended in this North Carolina city. Although Robert E. Lee’s more famous surrender took place at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s surrender to William T. Sherman two weeks later at Bennett Place, a farm on the outskirts of town, was larger and ended the war in the east.
You could also argue that, as in many places across the South, the war never totally ended here. Durham was the site of major battles over segregation and the home of Klan leaders, and a statue commemorating “THE BOYS WHO WORE THE GRAY” stood outside the old county courthouse on Main Street.
Until Monday night.
Around 7 p.m. Monday, a group of protesters, inspired by the violent riots over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided that if Durham County was in no hurry to take down the rebel soldier, they’d do so themselves. As Durham County commissioners met inside the building, which now houses county offices, a group of protesters wrapped a yellow rope around the statue and pulled. In what might seem a blunt metaphor for the fate of Confederate symbols in progressive Southern cities like Durham, the statue tumbled down with barely any effort, crumpling at the feet of its imposing granite pedestal. (Although the icon was allegedly made of bronze, one doubts.)
The statue had stood on the courthouse’s manicured lawn since 1924, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected it. At the time, it had been 59 years since the Civil War ended. The smell of tobacco wafted out of warehouses and factories and across downtown Durham, and a mile and a half down Main Street, tiny Trinity College hadn’t yet changed its name to Duke University. For 93 years, the Confederate picket watched over all who entered the building. And then, in a matter of seconds, he was gone, irreparably destroyed by his fall: his musket mangled, his legs bent forward, and a huge dent in his head from some zealous protester’s boot.
By the time I arrived, less than an hour after the statue had fallen, the street was blocked off by sheriff’s deputies’ cars. The protesters had marched a few blocks down Main Street, toward where the Durham Police Department is building a controversial new headquarters. A mix of young and old, black and white, graying hippies and black-clad anarchists, yelled “Fuck Trump” and held signs saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell.” “Street medics” stood to the side, ready if anyone was hurt. One man toted a guitar, seemingly more as prop than instrument.
There was still an air of euphoria in the crowd. Everyone seemed amazed how easily the statue had come down. For most Americans, the mention of a statue being toppled immediately conjures footage of the Saddam Hussein statue pulled down in Firdos Square in Baghdad in 2003, early in a war that had probably radicalized a few of the demonstrators in Durham. The Confederate soldier hadn’t required a long process or the help of a tank—just a good tug and he’d come right down. Even stranger, no police had intervened, even as the protesters brought out a rope and a ladder. Sheriff’s deputies had just watched.
Having reached the police station, the crowd seemed unsure what to do and went back to the courthouse. One particularly energetic man walked up to the police cars, carrying a “Cops and Klan Go Hand in Hand” placard taunting them. Deputies seemed determine not to so much as make eye contact, much less engage. When another man got too close, a deputy shooed him away. Meanwhile, several other deputies, wearing body armor, were filming everything. (“Get my good side!” the man with the “Cops and Klan” placard demanded.) The rumor in the crowd was that officers had decided it was easier to film the crowd and make arrests later than to try to intervene in the moment.
Finally, at about 8:30 p.m., a deputy demanded that everyone disperse. A few of the more hardened protesters, apparently members of a local anarchist group (they were, unsurprisingly, unwilling to give their names or declare an affiliation) herded the remainder away down the street, warned that people not so much as jaywalk lest they give officers a pretext for arrest, and then made sure that no one was walking back to a car alone, lest police quietly arrest them.
Back at the courthouse, a new crowd had gathered—mostly older and more heavily African American than the initial group. They, too, stood in wonder, taking pictures of the ruined statue.
For some, the meaning of the moment was immediately clear. “All those years, black people had to go to court, walk past this sign, and think you were going to get justice?” Tia Hall said.
Others were still grappling with disbelief.
“They took old faithful down. I just can’t believe it,” Jackie Wagstaff, a prominent local activist, said, laughing.
Wagstaff had been inside the county commission meeting when the statue came down, but she agreed with the protesters’ rationale that if officials wouldn’t act, they would.
“I love it. It should been done a long time ago,” she said. “I don’t even know why these five so-called progressive county commissioners—they should have had this taken down a long time ago.”
But even if the commissioners had wanted to remove the statue, their hands would have been tied. In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a preemption law that barred the permanent removal of historical monuments located on public property, except with prior state permission. Early Tuesday morning, the commission released a statement on the protest that read like a tacit endorsement of the toppling: It didn’t mention the statue or condemn the protesters.
I wrote in The Atlantic last year about my discomfort at walking past the statue on a regular basis. Durham, like Charlottesville, is a progressive bastion surrounded by a more conservative state. But unlike Charlottesville, a small town dominated by the University of Virginia, Durham is an old industrial city, dotted with red-brick tobacco buildings. The city has long had a strong black middle class, and just a block over from Main Street is Parrish Street, a center of African American business that earned the nickname “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. Yet the town is dotted with things named for Julian Carr, a one-time Confederate grunt who got rich in the tobacco trade, became commander-in-chief of the state’s Confederate veterans organization, and styled himself “general,” including on his tomb.
Today, major racial disparities persist in Durham County and city. Forty percent of the population of both the city and county are black, and inside city limits, black and white populations are about equal. But African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to be arrested for marijuana, and more likely to be poor. Gentrification is a growing problem here, as in many other midsize cities. As if it were not ridiculous enough for black taxpayers to be subsidizing the upkeep of a monument to a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved, a statue celebrating a war fought to maintain white supremacy seemed a contradiction too painful and incongruous to remain in today’s Durham.
Much has been written about the way that social-justice protests and demands to tear down statues, whether of Robert E. Lee or of anonymous soldiers like this one, can inspire a backlash among whites who feel that their country and heritage are being erased. Examples of that backlash include the 500 white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville this weekend, or the South Carolina gubernatorial candidate who says she’s proud of the Confederacy.
Less considered, so far, has been the backlash to the backlash. While the pace of removals of Confederate monuments has quickened over the last few years, the events in Charlottesville should, as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum wrote, make clear the importance of removing them faster, rather than dampening the movement. After the Durham protest, Governor Roy Cooper, a moderate Democrat whose election hinged on a few thousand votes in Durham County, tried to chart a middle path on the monument question:
The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments #durham - RC— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) August 15, 2017
It’s now clear that there are plenty of people in Durham who have no interest in this kind of gradualism. If white supremacists are being radicalized by the removal of Confederate monuments, there’s a coalition of leftists that is reacting to them with their own radicalization, deciding that if elected leaders—whether Cooper or county commissioners—won’t move fast, they’ll do so themselves.
And it’s hard to imagine that Durham will prove unique in this matter. Video of the statue coming down zoomed around the web, where it will inspire protesters elsewhere. There are plenty of potential targets. Just down the road from Durham is Chapel Hill, a quaint, liberal college town like Charlottesville. On the campus of the University of North Carolina stands a monument to alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy. “Silent Sam” has stood for more than 100 years, but he’s increasingly controversial, and has been repeatedly vandalized recently. If Silent Sam continues to stand watch over campus, will Carolina students and Chapel Hillians wait patiently for his removal through legal processes, or will they, too, turn to extralegal means?
Around 11 p.m., I decided to take one more swing by the courthouse. The police were gone, and so were the gawkers. All that was left were a few local news teams, brightly lit for segments on the evening news. In the darkness behind them loomed the 10-foot pedestal on which the statue had stood. But on the grass in front, there was only a small granite base to which the soldier had been bolted, looking mysteriously out of place. I could almost make myself believe there had never been any statue at all.
Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor running for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s special election primary for U.S. Senate in Alabama, sounds confident he can win in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in over two decades.
“The Trump administration has not only galvanized a lot of people out there who are truly opposed to a lot of [his] policies, but it’s also caused a lot of hesitation and second guessing on the part of a number of people who say, ‘we just really need that backstop, we need the checks and balances,’” Jones said in an interview. “That’s what we’re seeing.”
Tuesday’s primaries will decide which Republican and Democratic candidates face off in December’s general election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote, the top two vote getters advance to a run-off in September.
Although a majority of Americans disapprove of the president nationwide, in Alabama, the opposite is true. A majority approve of the job Trump is doing. That’s why Republican candidate former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who was temporarily appointed to fill the open Senate seat, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore are trying to one-up each other in proving who is more loyal to the president.
Trump’s enduring popularity in the state makes it unlikely that a critical mass of Republicans will peel away from their party to vote for a Democrat in December’s general election. That’s part of the reason the Alabama Democratic primary has received far less national attention than other races for seats vacated by lawmakers who went on to serve in the Trump administration. Still, special election outcomes are hard to predict, and it’s not out of the question that the Trump administration could energize Alabama Democrats.
“I think it’s going to be a very interesting test of how deep the Trump opposition runs,” said Richard Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama. “I have to think that the general election will be a low turnout election, and although Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 2-1 in this state, I would guess that Democratic voters are about twice as motivated to vote in this election as the Republicans to protest the Trump presidency. We could see something like we saw in Georgia—a closer than expected result but Republicans winning in the end.”
Tuesday’s special election primary offers a window into the messages Democrats are testing out in the hopes of gaining ground in a deep red state, even if winning outright isn’t an expected outcome.
Jones, who is known for prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan for the 1963 bombing of a black baptist church in Birmingham, is viewed as the Democratic front-runner. That’s in part due to institutional advantages like a string of high-profile endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis, and Alabama’s only Democratic Representative Terri Sewell. An Emerson College poll earlier this month showed Jones leading in the Democratic primary field with 40 percent of the vote.
In an interview, Jones resisted questions as to whether he considers himself to be liberal, moderate, or conservative. “I don’t engage in that. I think those labels are completely meaningless these days,” he said, telling me he wants to focus on “kitchen table” issues like healthcare, jobs, and the economy.
His campaign website calls for a “living wage,” without specifying what the minimum wage should be, and “supporting the growth of small and mid-sized business” in part by streamlining regulations, a pitch that might appeal to a conservative crowd. He added during the interview, however, that “we have got to have more dialogues in this country about race,” saying that what happened in “Charlottesville [Virginia] has to be a wakeup call for people of conscience, for people to understand we cannot let white supremacy continue to divide us.”
The few public polls conducted in the special election show a Democratic candidate named Robert Kennedy Jr. running either in second place to Jones or beating him. AL.com reported that Alabama Democrats were unfamiliar with Kennedy when he entered the race. And despite having no relation to the famous political family, the candidate may be benefitting in polling from the name ID all the same. The Kennedy campaign did not respond to requests for an interview. His website tagline describes him as a former Naval officer and a “fiscally responsible Democrat who leads with FAITH.”
A handful of other Democratic candidates will compete in Tuesday’s primary, despite not having gained much traction in public polls, including Will Boyd, who unsuccessfully challenged Mo Brooks for his House seat in 2016, and Michael Hansen, a candidate who describes himself as a “progressive Democrat.”
Hansen, who is running as an openly gay candidate, argued in an interview that if Democrats want to regain a foothold in Alabama, the party should stop running to the political center, and not be afraid to support liberal agenda items like universal healthcare and a $15 dollar minimum wage, both of which he backs in his campaign.
“I think if we had the guts as progressives to take a stand and talk about Medicare-for-All and how it would improve the system, then we would move the needle quickly,” Hansen said. He was unsparing in his assessment of how weak the Democratic Party is in the state. “I’ll put it this way: Democrats in Alabama are losing badly across the board.”
But Hansen worries that Alabama Democrats won't embrace a progressive agenda out of fear they'll face criticism in the red state. He added that he's been surprised at the resistance to his candidacy from the state's established Democratic political network.
"Politics is a lot dirtier than I thought," Hansen said, claiming that he faced pressure from political allies of Doug Jones to drop out of the race. "I like Doug quite a bit, and I think this was without his knowledge," Hansen said, but he added "there was this narrative that it wasn't my turn, and I need to wait my turn." When I asked if he believes the state Democratic Party has remained neutral, Hansen said: "I'll bite my tongue."
For his part, Jones told me “we’ve certainly not been pushing back,” against other Democratic candidates in the race. Nancy Worley, the chair of the state Democratic Party, told me that “the state party has gone out of its way to be neutral in this primary,” adding that she’s “taken a world of flack, quite frankly, as the chair for not endorsing a candidate.”
Still, the accusations hint at the kind of tensions that Democrats across the country are confronting as different factions within the party compete to push their agenda to the front-and-center of national politics.
The Democratic candidate that prevails in the primary could help set the tone for future candidates running on the party ticket in the state. If the general election ends up as a competitive race, that alone would be a remarkable achievement for a party that has long been sidelined in Alabama.
A.J. Delgado and Jason Miller stood in the New York Hilton ballroom on the night of the 2016 election, watching the man they helped elect president deliver the unlikeliest of victory speeches. It was a heady moment for the small band of aides and operatives who had been working toward this dream for months—and few had worked harder than Delgado and Miller. As prominent spokespeople for Donald Trump, they had become key figures in his campaign, and that night they both looked poised to join the ranks of America’s most powerful politicos. They were also engaged in a romance that had been forged in the frenetic final weeks of the race.
Nine months later, their paths have diverged dramatically.
Miller lives with his young family near Washington, D.C., where he works at a high-powered consulting firm, offers political analysis on CNN, and reportedly speaks regularly with the president and his inner-circle. Delgado, meanwhile, is living with her mother in Miami, without a job in politics, largely abandoned by the movement she helped lead to victory—and raising her and Miller’s son on her own.
The secret relationship, and bitter breakup, between these two high-profile Republicans—both of whom became cable news stars in 2016 as Trump campaign surrogates—has been the subject of widespread speculation in Washington since last December, when the scandal first burst into public view, causing Miller to turn down the job of White House communications director. The story faded from view in the months that followed, but it resurfaced last week in the gossip pages of the New York Post—prompting a flurry of late-night tweets from Delgado, and a rash of national news coverage.
In a series of interviews, Delgado told me her full story for the first time. In some ways, her experience is emblematic of the tensions that define this political moment. It’s the story of a woman with working-class roots navigating a world dominated by rich and powerful men; of a conservative Catholic who carried her baby to term despite feeling pressured to have an abortion, only to be ostracized by parts of the pro-life movement; of a president’s most visible Latina supporter who ended up on the sidelines after helping him win office.
But it’s also a deeply human story—of two flawed individuals whose personal lives and private mistakes are now being splashed across the tabloid press; and of a single mom who says she’s fighting for her son.
Delgado grew up in a blue-collar home in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, a daughter of Cuban immigrants. Her father was a bus driver; her mother stayed home and took care of Delgado and her sister. Smart and driven, Delgado worked her way through college at the University of Florida and then went on to Harvard Law School. She spent several years at a white-shoe law firm in Manhattan, before returning home to Miami where she began building her profile as a political commentator.
Like many in South Florida’s Cuban community, Delgado grew up a conservative. But her particular brand of politics veered from Republican orthodoxy in ways that would, years later, come to define Trumpism. Writing in venues like National Review and The American Conservative, she railed against the “war-happy” interventionism of GOP foreign policy, and championed immigration restrictionism when much of the conservative pundit class, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat, was calling for moderation on the issue.
As the 2016 presidential primaries got underway, Delgado resisted the pull of the two Floridians in the field—Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—and instead found herself gravitating toward Trump. In a Breitbart column in October 2015, she wrote that her father used to praise Donald Trump as a “a living testament of … capitalism’s greatness in action” when she was growing up. Decades later, Trump’s populist message on the campaign trail resonated with her. “He speaks for us little people,” she wrote. “Hate to break it to ya—but we don’t have much of a voice … At the end of the day, all [politicians] do their donors’ bidding, and the bidding of Big Business rather than ours. Try speaking up and you will be flattened.”
Before long, Delgado was talking up her candidate on cable news, where her forceful but friendly on-air style—and her unique status as an outspoken Latina Trump supporter—made her a favorite among bookers and hosts alike. Fox News’s Sean Hannity heralded her “incredible communications skills,” while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called her “by far the most cogent, formidable surrogate for Trump of anyone who’s been doing TV appearances.”
The campaign took notice, and in September 2016 she was officially hired as a senior adviser. In an interview with Yahoo News, Miller—who was then serving as the campaign’s senior communications director—spoke glowingly of Delgado as a “triple threat” with ample “conservative street cred.” “The thing I love about A.J.,” he said, “is the range of audiences she can go and speak to.”
Delgado was assigned to work in the campaign’s press operation, coordinating outreach to Spanish-language media and appearing on national television to speak on the candidate’s behalf. She split her time between Miami and Manhattan, spending several days a week in Trump Tower. This is where she says her relationship with Miller began—working side by side to promote Trump’s message.
The two began dating in mid-October, Delgado said, adding that while she knew Miller was married, he told her at the time that he was separated from his wife. “Among other things, I was really drawn to his talent,” she told me. “He is the best at what he does.”
(Miller declined to discuss the details of his relationship with Delgado and their son, and responded to a series of questions with a statement from his attorney.)
Their relationship, as described by Delgado, was a far cry from the torrid fling that’s been recounted in gossip columns. She showed me text messages in which the two appear to be making dinner plans, affectionately calling each other “babe” and “bae,” and casually discussing how to leave the office together without provoking suspicion among colleagues.
After Trump’s surprise victory in November, Delgado and Miller both joined the transition team, where she says their relationship continued. But just a couple of weeks after Election Day, Delgado discovered she was pregnant. She held off at first on sharing the news, unsure of how Miller would take it.
“I finally told him one night when we were in bed and I couldn’t fall asleep,” she said.
Miller reacted calmly, Delgado recalled, but came back with some complicating news of his own. “Well this is going to be extra awkward for me to handle,” she remembers him saying, “because my wife is expecting.”
Not comprehending at first, Delgado replied, “Expecting what?”
“Obviously that floored me,” she told me. “It was a very rough thing to hear.”
Some women would have considered abortion. And according to Delgado, Miller asked her on two separate occasions if “there was any chance I’d terminate the pregnancy.” (Miller denied this.) But she told me she didn’t seriously entertain the notion. “The minute I knew I was pregnant, I knew I wanted him,” said Delgado. “I can’t explain it. This was somebody I wanted to meet, and wanted to have in my life. It was God telling me, ‘Hey, you should be a mom and I’m sending you this amazingly wonderful gift, so take it.’ There’s no way I was just going to say no thanks to God.”
But even as Delgado found happiness in her unexpected pregnancy, her relationship with the baby’s father deteriorated. The acrimony spilled into public view shortly before last Christmas, when Delgado chose to respond to Miller’s widely reported appointment as White House communications director with a series of cryptic tweets hinting at a sex scandal. “Congratulations to the baby-daddy on being named WH Comms Director,” read one.
Miller declined the job offer, citing a need to focus on his family. Delgado deactivated her account and went silent. The world moved on.
But the fallout from their affair didn’t take an equal toll on their lives and careers. After returning home to and reconciling with his wife, Miller joined the consulting firm Teneo, signed a contract with CNN as an on-air contributor, and has reportedly continued to advise the White House in an informal capacity.
Delgado did not join the White House staff, or land a plum appointment in a cabinet agency, and she stopped getting booked as a Trump surrogate on television. Instead, she moved in with her mother in Miami, and looked for work there.
In the months that followed, Delgado did her best to tune out the “haters” spewing invective on social media. “Every time I would even peek at Twitter, there would be comments calling me a homewrecker, an adulterer, a whore,” she told me. “I wanted to respond … but science says any stress you feel, the baby will feel. So I stayed quiet.”
Life on the political sidelines took some getting used to. She was forced to watch from home on her laptop when Trump got sworn into office. But she tried not to waste time on self-pity. She did nonprofit legal work, and channeled her energy toward getting ready for her baby's arrival. (“I put together the most gorgeous little nursery on a shoestring budget,” she boasted to me.)
At times, she said, preparing for single motherhood infused her with what she calls a “hear-me-roar” confidence. She recalled going to the post office one day when she was about eight months pregnant to pick up a bassinet she ordered on Amazon. The postal worker hesitated to hand over the heavy package, and asked, “Why didn’t you come with daddy? Where’s daddy?”
“I was like, ‘Lady, I’m about to pop and there is no daddy. Now give me the fucking bassinet so I can take it home.’”
But she also spent much of her pregnancy battling fear and loneliness. During those dark months, she said, she was buoyed by thoughtful words of encouragement from unexpected corners of the political-media class she once occupied. MSNBC’s Hayes reached out, as did the billionaire Shark Tank star Mark Cuban. She described one particularly low day: “I was sitting there crying at the dining room table, thinking, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this by myself.’” At that moment, she received a kind—and much-needed—email from the Fox News host Tucker Carlson telling her she was going to be a great mom.
When I asked Delgado how her former colleagues and friends from the Trump campaign had treated her, she declined to comment. (Campaign employees were reportedly made to sign extensive nondisclosure agreements.) But she allowed that not everyone in the political world has been as supportive as she’d hoped. She said she was especially disappointed with many in the conservative movement that she helped marshal in 2016.
“There were some … very high-profile people who are supposedly pro-life, who knew me and heard about what happened, and who didn’t reach out,” she said. “I thought it was very telling … You see these people saying, ‘Oh, we should reach out to women with unexpected pregnancies and let them know they’re not alone’—and I’m like, ‘I’m right here!’”
One leading pro-life figure with whom Delgado worked closely during the election was Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager. In a speech at the March for Life rally last January, Conway declared, “Our message and our positive action must also reach those women who face unplanned pregnancies. They should know they are not alone. They are not judged. They, too, are protected and cared for and celebrated.”
I asked Delgado if she heard from Conway during her pregnancy. “No,” she said.
But if there’s one person whose absence most roils Delgado, it’s her baby’s father. According to Delgado, she and Miller haven't spoken since December, and he has yet to provide any child support. In fact, she said, he only resurfaced through an attorney—after months of silence—a few weeks before their son was due.
“Jason Miller disappeared on the pregnancy, on his child, until June," Delgado told me. “I did it all myself. He never once called, texted, emailed to find out if I was receiving proper prenatal care, to find out the baby’s gender, to see if I had health insurance, or if there was anything he could help with. He never even inquired whether there was a baby registry so that he could send something.”
In July, Delgado gave birth to her son—21 inches long, just under 8 pounds, with auburn hair—and named him William.*
In a statement, Miller’s attorney, Ana Martin-Lavielle, said, “Jason’s sole desire and focus, which has been repeatedly expressed to Ms. Delgado and to her attorneys, even prior to William’s birth, is to be involved in all aspects of his son’s life. This includes being supportive of William emotionally and financially, as well as sharing time with William and jointly making decisions for his health and well-being. Jason remains ready and willing to provide financial support for his son, and, in the absence of any cooperation from Ms. Delgado, has offered to do so through the appropriate legal channels.”
Delgado said she continues to hold out hope that she and Miller will find a way to be successful co-parents. (She said she recently obtained the services of Evan Marks, a heavy-hitting Miami attorney, in an effort to reach a resolution.) But so far, she told me, Miller isn’t making things easy.
She was particularly hurt when Miller demanded a paternity test shortly after William was born. She thought the test was unnecessary, but agreed anyway, asking only that they wait until after the baby received his two-month vaccination shots. She wanted to mitigate the risk of the newborn getting sick from his exposure to the lab tech performing the test. But, she said, Miller's lawyer insisted that it couldn't wait.
The lab tech came to Delgado's home, swabbed the baby's mouth, and then—following protocol—made her pose for a picture with William, holding up a numbered sign. "One of the first photos my son took was ... like a mug shot," she told me, her voice breaking. “I hated seeing that picture of my son. That was a very ugly thing to do.”
From the moment Delgado decided to keep her baby, she said, she has had to ward off a persistent feeling that she is somehow being unreasonable by standing up for herself. “You feel like you’re being stubborn; that you’re supposed to kind of acquiesce to what everyone else’s requests are—and if you don’t, you’re just this crazy girl,” she said. “I’ve actually had people ask me, ‘Are you sure you’re not just overreacting to this whole thing because you’re hormonal?’”
She was reluctant at first to publicly share news of William’s birth because she dreaded the scandal coverage that would inevitably follow. But her maternal pride eventually won out. “I felt like I was acting ashamed of his birth, and that’s not true at all.”
She announced the birth on Twitter last week, and was met with a deluge of unexpectedly warm messages. “Everyone kept it incredibly positive,” she said. But the next day, she was blindsided by a New York Post gossip item headlined, “Ex-Trump staffers reveal love child after campaign trail sex scandal.” The article included a statement from Miller saying he and his family were “excited to welcome William into the world.”
Among the factual inaccuracies Delgado said the article contained, she was most upset by the suggestion that her baby was conceived during a one-night stand in Las Vegas. She decided to grant me an interview, she said, because she didn’t want a tabloid story to be the final word on the matter.
“[William] could someday read that and think he was conceived in some Vegas nightclub bathroom, when it couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said. “He came out of what was a really nice, sweet relationship between two people who met on the campaign trail and liked each other a lot … I won’t allow you to say he came out of a boorish, vulgar, scandalous night. It’s a matter of defending my son.”
I asked Delgado why it was that she seemed so preoccupied with how her son would read the news coverage of his birth.
She thought about it. “He came out of a very tumultuous, crazy time in the country’s history,” she told me. “He has this eccentric, unique story behind his creation.” Maybe it was strange, she said, but she hoped he might someday come to find that inspiring—and she wanted to make sure there was an accurate record of how it happened.
So, I asked, what do you want William to know when he reads this story someday?
“That even sitting here in a nightgown, past midnight, while your grandma’s watching you—” she stopped herself, and began to cry. “Just that all of this has been worth it. This is grueling now, and it’s annoying to have to deal with the public’s viciousness but I’d do it all day every day if it means I get to have you.”
* This article originally stated that Delgado's son was 26 inches long when he was born. We regret the error.
The white nationalist leaders who helped organize a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia two days ago that turned bloody gave a press conference in Virginia in which they refused to condemn the man suspected of driving his car into a crowd of protesters and dismissed President Trump’s statement disavowing white supremacists earlier that day.
White nationalists have been struggling to distance themselves from the outbreak of violence Saturday, which lead to national media coverage and angry condemnations not just from the local mayor and governor but from world leaders like Germany's Prime Minister Angela Merkel. The violent images from the protest, organized to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, have badly damaged the white nationalists' movement attempt to rebrand itself as the more respectable and sophisticated "alt-right."
Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo, two leading figures of the white nationalist alt-right movement who had participated in Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally , spoke to reporters at Spencer’s office and apartment in Alexandria. The press conference was also supposed to include white nationalist social media personalities Baked Alaska and James Allsup, but Spencer said Baked Alaska couldn’t make it because his eye had been injured in the melee and Allsup was with him. Spencer had initially tried to hold the conference at two different hotels in Washington, before having to resort to the Alexandria location after the hotels cancelled on him.
Spencer associates functioning as security checked journalists in at the door and led them upstairs to where Spencer and Damigo stood in front of a bookshelf and a screen where they showed slides and photos of the protest area in Charlottesville.
Spencer blamed the authorities for what happened in Charlottesville, saying the city’s mayor and governor of Virginia have “blood on their hands” for not policing the situation properly. The alt-right, he said, is “nonviolent;” he waxed nostalgic while speaking about the hundreds of white nationalists marching through Charlottesville with torches on Friday night, calling the event “really beautiful.” Some fighting between them and counter-protesters reportedly took place during the Friday event; Saturday’s rally attracted militia members with guns, and descended into all-out street violence.
But one person who didn’t come in for unequivocal criticism was Charlottesville suspect James Alex Fields, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who had come to protest the Unite the Right event. Fields was photographed earlier in the day at the rally with Vanguard America, a self-identified white supremacist and fascist group that attended the rally. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called the incident an act of terrorism. Videos of the incident show a vehicle authorities have said was driven by Fields accelerating into a crowd of protesters, injuring more than a dozen and killing Heyer.
“I am not going to condemn this young man at this point,” Spencer said. When he first saw the video, he said, he saw it as a “malicious act of violence”; but he’s now less sure that it was a purposeful act and won’t come down on one side or another until an investigation is complete.
The press conference came just a few hours after Trump, whose initial reaction to Charlottesville had been muted and blamed “many sides” for the violence without singling out white supremacist groups, gave a grudging statement at the White House explicitly naming them after two days of criticism for not having done so. Photos from Charlottesville show Confederate and Nazi symbols among some of the demonstrators.
“Racism is evil,” Trump said. “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.”
Spencer dismissed Trump’s statement as “kumbaya nonsense” and said he didn’t view it as a repudiation of his movement, which he defended as “non-violent.”
“He sounded like a Sunday school teacher,” he said. “I just don’t take it seriously.”
Speaking to me afterwards, Damigo agreed that he didn’t take Trump’s words as an unequivocal denouncement of their movement.
“I don’t know exactly what he meant by that statement,” Damigo said. “People in his position, they’re not stupid, they make these very ambiguous statements with words that are very loaded and hard to interpret.”
But Damigo is “very disappointed that he would present himself in a way, appearing to jump to conclusions as to what happened, because simply, we don’t know the facts yet. They’re going to be coming out. An investigation hasn’t even been done yet. But he already knows the intent of what happened?”
Spencer has been critical of Trump over time, though “We were connected with Donald Trump on a kind of psychic level,” he said of the alt-right. Trump is the “first true authentic nationalist in my lifetime.”
Asked who in the White House he views as a fellow traveler of the alt-right, Spencer named top policy advisor Stephen Miller and chief strategist Steve Bannon, though he didn’t say they themselves were alt-right.
“They at least are connected with identitarian ideas in a way that the rest of them are not,” Spencer said.
When I spoke to Spencer after the events of Saturday, he seemed keen to distance himself from what had happened, saying he hadn’t organized the event (despite the fact that his name was on the flyer) and that his events would be more tightly controlled going forward.
Spencer repeated the same sentiments on Monday. But he seemed less than cowed, promising to return to Charlottesville.
“There’s no way in hell I’m not going back to Charlottesville,” he said.