(JTA) – U.S. President Donald Trump said the media misrepresented his condemnation of white supremacists last week, but he did not address the controversial elements of his remarks blaming all sides for violence.
Trump, who unprecedentedly launched his campaign for re-election in 2020 almost as soon as he was elected, appeared Tuesday at a campaign rally in Phoenix.
He started by condemning racism and the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend before last when an alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters. White supremacists were in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America,” he said.
Trump quickly transitioned however into an attack on the media – he pointed to the media pen and called reporters “dishonest” and “bad” people – and he pulled out of his pocket transcripts of his remarks at various stages after the deadly attack.
“I hit them with neo-Nazi, I hit them with everything,” he said. “I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi, I got them all. Let’s see – we have KKK. We have KKK. I got them all.”
In fact, Trump did not name those groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, until he read a prepared statement two days after the violence. What he did not mention in Phoenix was that in his initial remarks within hours of the attack on Aug. 12 he blamed “many sides” for the violence. And then, at a press conference on Aug. 15, he once again blamed both sides for the violence and also said there were “very fine people” on both sides.
Trump has come in for criticism from Democrats and Republicans as well as a broad array of Jewish groups for placing on the same plane the white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counter-protesters.
Trump’s Phoenix appearance was meant to tout his proposals for tax reform, but he did not mention the issue until near the end of a speech that lasted well over an hour.
Instead, he used the bulk of his speech to settle scores with his perceived enemies, including the press, Democrats, and the two Republican senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake.
He said that the media were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville by having given the white supremacists a platform. He also questioned the patriotism of reporters.