President Donald Trump insisted on Friday that his Nazi-coddling comments about “very fine people on both sides” at the infamous Charlottesville rally in 2017 were a terrific response to the white supremacist violence that killed protester Heather Heyer.
Claiming that he’d answered that question “perfectly,” Trump insisted that he was “talking about people that went [to the Unite the Right rally] because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.”
Here, for the record, is what Trump actually said shortly after the Charlottesville rally:
They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, 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 – excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures 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.
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Of course, the Unite the Right rally attendees did, in fact, put themselves down as neo-Nazis: The rally itself was organized by a host of white supremacist groups, including the Traditionalist Workers Party, Vanguard America, and the League of the South, and was promoted by Nazi websites like the Daily Stormer.
Nevertheless, Trump continued to insist on Friday that the event was simply about a statue, saying that “Whether you like it or not, [Lee] was one of the great generals”—which is like saying that it’s fine to memorialize Nazi general Hermann Göring because he won a lot of battles. (Also, lest we forget, Lee lost.)
In the nearly two years since Unite the Right and Heyer’s death, Friday’s comments are Trump’s most explicit defense of his initial response to the rally, although he has tried to push back on criticism in the past. At a rally in Phoenix, AZ, several weeks after his initial comments, Trump read a redacted portion of his post-Charlottesville remarks in which he did condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He did not, however, include his “very fine people on both sides” line.