One of President Trump’s most controversial statements about the Charlottesville riot was his comment that there were “fine people” on both sides of the fracas that left one woman dead. Now new information casts doubt on the president’s assumption that not all the participants in the rally were part of radical groups.
The president’s statement seems to hinge on his belief that some attendees at the rally were not members of the alt-right, but were merely there to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. In a press conference on Tuesday, Trump said, “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.”
A report by the Wall Street Journal casts doubt on the president’s claim that the protesters were not exclusively white supremacists. The Journal cites a source with knowledge of the Monument Fund, Inc., one of the groups that originally obtained an injunction against removal of the Lee statue, who said that their members did not participate in the rally.
“Nobody from our group attended the protests or counter-protests,” the source said. “We all stayed away. As everybody should have done. As President Sullivan of U VA urged people to do. Just stay home. But City Councilors and a coalition of leftist groups invited their followers to show up for counter protests. And show up they did, angry and spoiling for a fight.”
The narrative continued, “If City Council had just said: let the Nazis shout idiot slogans at empty air, ignore them, stay home — no violence would have happened. The police are unfairly criticized for not stopping the fighting. How could they? These two groups wanted to fight. They found ways to get at each other. These are public streets, they could not all be locked down and cleared of belligerents.”
Contrary to President Trump and some on the right, the Charlottesville rally was not about preservation of historic statues. The rally, as advertised, was a “Unite the Right” rally for white supremacists. Rather than mainstream historians or politicians, speakers included alt-right figures such as Richard Spencer, Mike Peinovich, Matthew Heimbach and David Duke.
On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe urged people to avoid the Charlottesville rally. McAuliffe asked in a statement for people “either in support or opposition to the planned rally to make alternative plans.”
Since President Trump claimed to wait until the facts were in to make a statement, he may have additional information of “fine people” in attendance at the alt-right rally. If so, the burden of proof is on him.