WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Donald Trump has denounced the white supremacists behind Saturday’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying their “racism is evil.”
For the first time since the violence, Trump mentioned by name neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs ... that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Trump Declares 'Racism is Evil,' Citing 'White Supremacists,' Ku Klux Klan, Others
He vowed that anyone who committed “racist violence” in Charlottesville would be held accountable, and said what happened in the city was an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.”
Trump’s comments followed intense criticism from across the political spectrum for failing for two days to explicitly use the words white supremacists and neo-Nazis in condemning the violence.
“It should not take two days and a national tragedy for the president to take action and disavow white supremacists,” said Kristen Clarke with the non-profit Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “When it comes to the safety and the security of our communities, too many of which now feel targeted by hate-fueled protestors, two days is too late.”
Late Monday, Trump lashed out at the media for its coverage of the last two days.
“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the Fake News Media will never be satisfied ... truly bad people!” the president wrote on Twitter.
Images of the violence in Charlottesville and the fiery debate over racism also resonated around the world, particularly in European capitals where leaders are grappling with an upsurge of xenophobia.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said she condemns “racism, hatred and violence” as well as “the far right.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also criticized what she called “racist, right-wing violence,” saying it must be dealt with forcefully.
At the United Nations, spokesman Farhan Haq said the world body condemns the violence in Charlottesville.
“We believe that there must be no place in our societies for the violence racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and discrimination that we have seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, in recent days,” he said.
In New York, Trump made a rare visit Monday to his home in Trump Tower, an area that drew some of his supporters but many more protesters who gathered to chant against the president and white supremacist groups.
Business leaders respond
Also Monday, three members of the American Manufacturing Council, the president’s advisory board of chief executive officers, resigned over the president’s reaction to the violence.
Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck Pharmaceuticals, said the president initially did not “clearly reject expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
Trump, in a Twitter response, said that since Frazier had quit the manufacturing council, he would now “have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank tweeted that he is quitting the council because he would rather unite people and promote diversity through the power of sports, not politics.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said he was resigning to highlight the “serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues.”
“I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them,” Krzanich said. “We should honor — not attack — those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values.”
Speaking at the White House Monday, Trump paid tribute to the three people died Saturday, including Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who had gone to the rally to protest against the white nationalists. She was killed when she was hit by a speeding car driven into a group of counterprotesters.
Victim’s mother speaks out
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, thanked Trump for denouncing “violence and hatred,” and vowed to continue her daughter’s activism against bigotry.
“That’s what America is about, that’s what made America great to begin with. We are a melting pot of everybody coming together and working as one,” Bro said.
Two Virginia state police troopers who had been monitoring the protest from the air were also killed when their helicopter crashed.
Trump spoke after two of his top law enforcement officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray, briefed him on the federal probe. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Saturday’s violence.
Sessions told ABC News, “You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation towards the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America.”
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said the far right groups broke their agreement with police and entered a city park from different directions instead of a single entry point.
The 20-year-old charged with driving the car that hit Heyer, James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with murder along with other counts.
A Charlottesville judge refused to grant him bond during his first court appearance Monday.
The far-right groups held the rally to protest plans by Charlottesville to tear down a statue of General Robert E. Lee. Lee was the leader of the Confederate forces that fought against federal forces in the U.S. Civil War from 1861 until 1865.
The war was essentially about slavery in the U.S. South. Statues of Lee and other Confederate generals have become the center of demonstrations in several U.S. cities.
(VOA's William Gallo contributed to this report from the White House)