WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump, often accused of denigrating non-white people, said Saturday that he condemned racism as the nation marked the anniversary of deadly unrest triggered by a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That protest left one person dead and highlighted the growing boldness of the far right under Trump. Another far-right rally is scheduled for Sunday, right outside the White House.
Trump drew scorn after the Charlottesville violence for initially avoiding any condemnation of the torch-bearing white nationalists who took part in that rally.
On Saturday, as memorial ceremonies also got under way in Charlottesville, Trump wrote on Twitter: “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division.
“We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"
Officials had declared states of emergency for both the city of Charlottesville and the state of Virginia to help law enforcement mobilize state and local resources for security reasons.
Images circulating on social media showed a heavy security presence in the city, where concrete barricades and official cars encircled the downtown, with just two entry points for pedestrians.
Last year’s protests began August 11 and saw hundreds of neo-Nazi sympathizers, accompanied by rifle-carrying men, yelling white nationalist slogans and wielding flaming torches in scenes eerily reminiscent of racist rallies held in America’s South before the Civil Rights movement.
They had gathered to protest efforts to remove statues of Confederate leaders, including one of the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E Lee.
When the demonstrations continued on August 12, fighting broke out between neo-Nazi supporters and anti-fascists from a black-clad group called Antifa.
The violence culminated with a man driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring 19 people.
In the immediate aftermath, Trump drew broad criticism when he initially appeared to establish a moral equivalence between the two groups of protesters and refused to criticize the far rightwingers.
He did eventually yield to immense political pressure and condemn white nationalism.
But just a day later, Trump said there was “blame on both sides” for the violence in Virginia, condemning the anti-fascists who came “with clubs in their hands.”
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
Trump is constantly fending off charges that he is misogynist and racist. He denies the allegations.
Trump has retweeted white nationalist material; said Mexicans crossing the US border are rapists and drug dealers; once referred to a Hispanic Miss Universe as “Miss Housekeeping,” and employed Steve Bannon, central figure of the new “alt-right” in America, as his campaign chief and top strategist for a time.
In one of the most recent race-related flare-ups, a black former White House employee, Omarosa Manigault Newman, has written in an upcoming memoir that Trump was caught on mic uttering the N-word “multiple times” during the making of his hit reality TV show “The Apprentice” prior to his presidential run, and that there are tapes to prove it.
Manigault Newman is a former “Apprentice” star. She served as director of communications for the White House office of public liaison until she was fired in December.
While she does not write that she herself heard Trump use the taboo language, she cites three unnamed sources, and adds that she experienced “truly appalling things” with Trump, according to The Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book ahead of its publication next week.
The White House dismissed the book as riddled with lies and false accusations and the product of a “disgruntled former White House employee.”