What a discouraging weekend for the country. Hundreds of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday night, carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The next day, police mostly stood by while racists (some displaying swastika flags or calling out the Nazi slogan “blood and soil”) clashed with counter-protesters during “the largest public gathering of white supremacists in decades.” One of those anti-fascist protesters, Heather Heyer, was killed after a car struck her while driving into a crowd, allegedly intentionally. Virginia state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates died in a helicopter crash while assisting in the law enforcement response to the “Unite the Right” rally.
Many Republican officials, including Iowa’s top GOP leaders, condemned this weekend’s acts of domestic terrorism and racist hatred. But President Donald Trump–long an inspiration to white nationalists and neo-Nazis–deliberately avoided calling out the instigators in Charlottesville.
Politicians who enthusiastically campaigned for Trump and continue to support him must demand much more.
Trump posted nothing on Twitter about Friday night’s march of torch-wielding racists, who looked like Ku Klux Klansmen minus the hoods and sounded like Nazis while shouting “blood and soil” and “one people, one nation, end immigration.” Early Saturday afternoon, he alluded to the mayhem in Charlottesville in a tweet that didn’t name the source of the trouble: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
Saturday afternoon, he gave a short press conference to address the protests that by then had prompted Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency in Charlottesville. Key excerpt:
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play, or be with their parents and have a good time.
So weak. White supremacists came to Charlottesville ready to fight and provoked the violent scenes, but Trump sees “many sides” contributing to the problem. Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama, commented, “Condemning Nazis marching in the streets should be the easiest thing a President ever does and Trump still managed to screw it up.”
In a statement provided to reporters later in the same day, the administration doubled down on the “many sides” frame: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter-protesters today.” A senior White House official told journalist Gabriel Sherman that the “leftist mob” in Charlottesville had been “Just as violent if not more so.” Who would tell such an easily disproved lie? Probably one of the white nationalists Trump has picked for high-ranking jobs.
The lede of Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman’s latest New York Times story summed it up well: “President Trump is rarely reluctant to express his opinion, but he is often seized by caution when addressing the violence and vitriol of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists, some of whom are his supporters.”
The neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer hailed the president’s remarks: “Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us […] Nothing specific against us. […] No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.”
Some prominent Iowa Republicans weighed in on the national disgrace. Senator Chuck Grassley:
What " WhiteNatjonalist" are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can't be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) August 12, 2017
Senator Joni Ernst:
The violence in #Charlottesville that is fueled by racist hatred has no place in our society. (1/2)
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) August 12, 2017
We are one nation, under God, and indivisible. We cannot stand for this terrorism. (2/2) https://t.co/kCm6xs7Ln9
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) August 12, 2017
Governor Kim Reynolds:
We must forcefully condemn ugly, vile, racist hate. My prayers are with the victims of these despicable acts #Charlottesville
— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) August 12, 2017
Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann:
The racism & bigotry on display in Charlottesville is stupid, shameful and destructive. These charlatans led by David Duke sicken me.
— Jeff Kaufmann (@kaufmannGOP) August 12, 2017
For his part, David Duke (who was on the scene in Charlottesville) chided the president: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
I didn’t see any public comments over the weekend from Rod Blum, David Young, or Steve King, the Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House.
Calling out racism, bigotry, and domestic terrorism is a good start.
Now Iowa Republicans who campaigned for Trump, joined him at rallies, and attacked his critics need to demand that he fire the white nationalists he has appointed to senior positions, like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka. Then they can call on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop undermining enforcement of civil rights law.
Grassley, Ernst, Reynolds, and Kaufmann have known for a long time that Trump is a hero to white supremacists. A white separatist paid for pro-Trump robocalls to reach hundreds of thousands of people before the Iowa caucuses and tried to place radio ads to make the racist case for Trump at that time. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and beyond, bigots and neo-Nazis have rallied behind Trump and credited him with helping “to grow their movement.”
Speaking out against terrorist acts and extremist hatred is not enough, especially when Grassley and Ernst have been rubber-stamps for the White House in Senate votes. Grassley in particular has been giving Trump cover over possible collusion with Russians and obstruction of justice.
Time for Republicans to start walking their talk.
P.S.- The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified four hate groups operating in Iowa. Three are neo-Nazi: Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance, National Socialist Movement, and The Daily Stormer. The other is anti-Muslim: ACT for America.
UPDATE: An unnamed White House official clarified on Sunday that “Trump condemns all forms of hatred, ‘and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis…’”
Two questions: why doesn’t the president say this himself? And why didn’t this official want to put his or her name to the quote?
Meanwhile, unnamed aides to unnamed Republican members of Congress are telling Bloomberg journalist Kevin Cirilli “They feel Pres. Trump botched a major moment to unite country.” Talk is cheap. It speaks volumes that the politicians putting this word out to friendly reporters aren’t willing to say this out loud, under their own names.
I should have mentioned that Steve King’s in an awkward position, since his views on “somebody else’s babies” and white people’s contributions to western civilization have made him a hero to many white supremacists. He’s said to be popular on websites like the Daily Stormer. That wouldn’t explain why Blum and Young have been silent all weekend about what happened in Charlottesville, though.
Chris Arnade commented, “I believe (contrary to most) the best way to defeat fringe nasty minority, like white nationalist, is to deny them airtime & attention.” I support that approach toward the Westboro Baptist Church, a family cult with little following. But neo-Nazis represent a social movement–fringe for now, but sizable and growing. They must be confronted and denounced.
Another point Arnade made is unquestionably true: “These ugly groups, as bad as they are, are not primary threat to racial equality in America.” The greater threat “is the quieter & pervasive racism accepted in our legal system, education, housing, banking, etc.” Arnade, who worked in the finance sector for two decades, discussed those problems in this 2014 commentary for The Guardian.
SECOND UPDATE: Blum posted on his Congressional Facebook page on Sunday evening,
This weekend’s events in Charlottesville have saddened Karen, Sophie and me to our core. Violence is never the answer, and this terrorist act must be dealt with justly and swiftly.
There is no place for a cowardly act like this or racist supremacy groups in civil society. Just two months ago my colleagues were playing baseball when a would-be assassin opened fire and nearly killed my good friend Congressman Steve Scalise over political differences, and now a young peaceful protestor has lost her life. This must end, we must come together as Americans first, and forget the labels we assign ourselves over politics. My prayers go out to Heather Heyer’s family, Lt. H. Jay Cullen’s family and Berke M.M. Bates’s family – and everyone affected by this senseless tragedy. Thank God for our Law Enforcement who are there to protect and serve all of us.
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Gandhi
THIRD UPDATE: Also on Sunday evening, Young posted on his Congressional Facebook page,
It is just after 2:00 am here in Israel where I am wrapping up my travels and meetings and will begin my journey home to Iowa tomorrow. From a land that has seen the pain and deep divisions hatred has caused throughout history I wanted to acknowledge and condemn the hate and pain we have seen this weekend at home. Political discourse is something we can pride ourselves on in America – but hate is disgusting and must be condemned to the core.
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” – 1 John 2:9-11
King has not commented on his social media feeds.
Iowa Democratic Party chair Troy Price released this statement on August 13:
“Words cannot describe the anger and sadness all of us are feeling after the senseless acts by white supremacists and and neo-nazis in Charlottesville this weekend.
One of the defining beliefs of America is that our country is a place where everyone should be able to achieve their greatest potential and create a better life with each generation.
Unfortunately, as we saw yesterday, there are those who wish for the American Dream to be open to a few and leave the many behind. There is no place in our country for those who wish to keep people down, especially those who use hateful words and violence to do it.
This is not a partisan issue. All Iowans and all Americans – including our President – can and must be united against the acts of terrorism we saw perpetrated by white supremacists yesterday. We must constantly work to hold up all Americans, regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, where they are from, who they love, or how much they make.
As we work to make sense of this senseless tragedy, let us honor the memories of those who lost their lives yesterday by fighting back against the hateful rhetoric and actions we saw in Charlottesville and do everything we can to ensure it never happens again.”
Forgot to include the comment Iowa’s only Democrat in Congress, Representative Dave Loebsack, posted on Saturday:
The vile hatred displayed by white supremacists in #Charlottesville is unacceptable & un-American. I mourn the loss of those who were killed
— Dave Loebsack (@daveloebsack) August 13, 2017
MONDAY UPDATE: Trump took a Mulligan, announcing at an impromptu press event, “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” He added, “Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.” The president took no questions after he finished his statement.
Trump spoke a few hours after Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier resigned from the President’s American Manufacturing Council, saying he did so as “a matter of personal conscience” because “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
The president responded to Frazier in less than an hour: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” It took him days to denounce white supremacists.
Meanwhile, GoDaddy banned The Daily Stormer website, saying a post disparaging Heather Heyer “violated our terms of service.”
LATER UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, King posted on his Twitter feed.
I agree w\Lt. Col. Allen West's Charlottesville article. American history is to be learned & understood not erased. https://t.co/wBfp68DKQQ
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) August 14, 2017
In that article, prominent African-American conservative Allen West argued, “The statues of long since deceased leaders of the Confederate Army do not stand to remind anyone of oppression.” He went on to defend the free-speech rights of those who organized the rally and question the motives of counter-protesters. West criticized law enforcement for not keeping the two groups far apart. He went on to draw false equivalencies: “If we want to condemn groups such as the neo-Nazis and others, then we must also condemn groups such as BLM [Black Lives Matter] and Antifa.”
There’s plenty of guilt to be passed around here, but the progressive socialist left will sadly exploit this for all they can. They will horribly believe this will provide them some sort of electoral advantage. They fail to realize they’re just as complicit in what happened in Charlottesville. Let me ask that age-old rhetorical question: “if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there, does it make a sound?”
If we were to go back and ponder this incident and just let a small group of disaffected individuals hold a rally to protest the possible taking down of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, and no one had showed up…Instead a call went out and trouble, violence ensued. Or maybe, if we had courageous elected officials who would just say, those statues aren’t offending anyone; they’re part of American history, and they stay. Imagine that, would there even be a story, any rally, and violence?
What happened in Charlottesville must not be allowed to happen again.
Ernst held a town-hall event in Fort Dodge on August 14. Thomas Beaumont reported for the Associated Press,
“Finally!” the Iowa Republican told reporters, referencing Trump’s condemnation of white nationalist groups — including the Ku Klux Klan — two days after a woman protesting the groups was killed in Charlottesville.
Speaking to about 100 people at a middle school in northwest Iowa, Ernst called Trump’s latest statement “strong” but added, “I wish he would have been right out of the game with that.”
The freshman Republican, a rising national figure in the party, said Trump has been quick to voice his opinions on Twitter but shouldn’t have taken so long to denounce what the Justice Department is investigating as an act of domestic terrorism.
“We do want a quick response,” said Ernst, whom Trump met with in 2016 as he was weighing his choice of running mate. “I’m hopeful that — should anything like that ever occur again — that the president would be right out there saying, ‘this is not OK.’”
Top image: Screen shot from President Donald Trump’s remarks in Bridgewater, New Jersey on August 12.