Wed Aug 16, 2017 04:23AM
US President Donald Trump speaks following a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017, in New York City. (Photo by AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks following a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017, in New York City. (Photo by AFP)
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US President Donald Trump has defended his initial response to last week's bloody rally in Charlottesville, suggesting that the counter-protesters were just as violent as the white supremacists.

On Saturday, thousands of white supremacists, KKK members and neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally. The march soon turned violent. A 20-year-old man plowed a vehicle into a group of anti-hate demonstrators protesting against the white supremacist rally, killing a woman and injuring 20 others.

Trump first blamed the violence "on many sides", but after pressure against him piled up, he declared Monday that “racism is evil,” singling out white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan for the violent rally.

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However, on Tuesday, the president returned to his highly criticized initial response.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis, I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me, not all of those people were white supremacists,” Trump told reporters at a press conference at Trump Tower.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”

The president’s remarks raised questions about his own personal views of racial tensions in the US, provoking bitter criticism from members of his own party.

'There is only one side' 

"We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.).

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks to the media about issues before the House, during his weekly media briefing on Capitol Hill, July 27, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

"Blaming 'both sides' for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no." Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Fla.), tweeted.

Also, Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said Trump "must stop the moral equivalency! AGAIN."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also slammed Trump's response, saying, "There is only one side to be on when a white supremacist mob brutalizes and murders in America.”

US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on July 27, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

'Trump on the wrong side'

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also said President Trump is on the wrong side of the issue.

"Great and good American presidents seek to unite not divide," the New York Democrat wrote. "Donald Trump’s remarks clearly show he is not one of them."

Schumer adds, "By saying he is not taking sides, Donald Trump clearly is. When David Duke and white supremacists cheer, you’re doing it very, very wrong."

White supremacists '%100 to blame'

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said the white supremacists who organized the Charlottesville rally "are 100 percent to blame."

Senator John McCain also took to Twitter to criticize Trump's response to the deadly white nationalist protest.  

The Arizona Republican wrote that as president of the United States, Trump should make clear that there was "no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) leaves the the Senate on July 28, 2017. (file photo)

Obama's tweet most liked ever 

Former President Barack Obama tweeted a quote from South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela that said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

The post became the most liked tweet ever on the social network. 

KKK leader thanks Trump

Meanwhile, former KKK leader David Duke praised the president for his "honesty and courage."

Duke was in Charlottesville on Saturday and called the demonstration a "turning point." The white supremacist leader said the protesters would fulfill the promises of President Trump.

Duke has been an early supporter of  Trump, and his continued praise underscored that association in a week when Trump's views on racism and white supremacy have once again come under the spotlight.  

Following the violence in Charlottesville, mass protests were held in cities across the country, criticizing the president for siding with white supremacists.

In New York, anti-Trump protesters, who were waiting for the president to arrive at Trump Tower on Monday, were shouting "Shame!, Shame! Shame" and "No KKK, No Fascist USA, No Trump!"

They also carried placards with anti-Trump slogans as they lined up across the street from the tower and the nearby blocks on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.  

Similar protests were also held in Salt Lake City, Utah; Durham, North Carolina; Toledo, Ohio; and other cities.

#ImpeachTrump becomes #1 trend on Twitter

Following the press conference, thousands of Americans took to social media to express their outrage. The hashtag #ImpeachTrump shot up to become the #1 trend on Twitter worldwide.

Critics say that Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies against immigrants and minorities before and after his election have emboldened far-right groups and promoted hate crimes across the country.