The FINANCIAL — U.S. President Donald Trump strongly condemned racism on August 14 amid continuing protests prompted by the death of a woman demonstrating against white supremacists in the U.S. state of Virginia.
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs,” Trump told reporters on August 14.
He said that the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists were “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were hurt when a car rammed into people protesting against a far-right march in Charlottesville on August 12.
Trump had come under fire for not specifically denouncing extremists in his initial comments on the violence over the weekend, according to RFE/RL.
While Trump on August 14 sought to put to rest such criticism, his remarks did little to calm tensions across the country, with protests against right-wing groups continuing and intensifying in several U.S. cities.
Trump himself was dogged by protesters as he made his first return visit to his home in Manhattan since assuming the presidency in January. Thousands of protesters lined the route to Trump Tower carrying signs saying “Impeach,” “Stop the hate, stop the lies,” and chanting “Shame, shame, shame.”
In the state of North Carolina, antidiscrimination protesters toppled a nearly century-old statue of a Confederate soldier symbolizing those who fought to preserve slavery in the South during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.
Plans to remove a similar Confederate statue in Charlottesville is what sparked the confrontation between white supremacists and antidiscrimination protesters in that southern city.
Spurred on by the example of Charlottesville, governors and mayors in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and elsewhere came out in favor of removing Confederate statues still standing in their public places.
While protests continued against symbols of racism around the country, right-wing groups vowed to keep speaking out and holding rallies — gatherings that are considered legal and protected by the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech, unless they turn violent or threaten public safety.
The University of Florida said white provocateur Richard Spencer was seeking permission to speak there next month.
But Texas A&M University announced that it has canceled a planned rally dubbed “White Lives Matter” next month that was supposed to feature Spencer as a speaker. The prestigious Texas university cited safety concerns following the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
Earlier on August 14, the man accused of driving his car into the crowd in Charlottesville was formally charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene of an accident.
James Alex Fields, 20, was also denied bail during his appearance in court via video from jail.
Federal investigators said they had opened a civil-rights investigation into the incident.
Hundreds of white nationalists had convened in Charlottesville to protest against the city’s decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate military leader during the American Civil War.
They were challenged by antifascists and counterprotesters and the rally erupted into violent clashes.
Shortly after, Heyer and other demonstrators were struck by a car.
Video footage of the incident shows a car being driven at high speed, striking and injuring many people, before it slams into the backs of two other cars and then speeds away in reverse.
Fields was pictured at the rally earlier in the day with a white-supremacist group. A former high-school teacher of Fields said the 20-year-old was fascinated with Nazism and had been singled out by school officials when he was in the ninth grade for his “deeply held, radical” views on race.
Police officials said the deaths of two Virginia state troopers in a helicopter crash during the clashes were also connected to the protests. Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia state police, said the pilot and a passenger were killed in the helicopter crash.
The man who organized the right-wing rally attempted to hold a news conference on August 14, but he was booed by several hundred people who eventually forced him away from a lectern.
Jason Kessler, a blogger based in Charlottesville, was preparing to speak in front of reporters and news cameras when people chanted and made noises with drums and other instruments.
A video shows a man pushing Kessler, who asked police officers for help. The officers eventually escorted him away.
Immediately after the violence broke out, Trump urged people to unite and expressed condolences for the victims of the violence, but many Democrats and Republicans attacked the president for waiting too long to address the violence, and for saying “many sides” were involved rather than explicitly condemning white-supremacist marchers widely seen as sparking the melee.
The head of the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Merck said on August 14 that he was quitting a White House business council, saying that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
“As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” said Kenneth Frazier, who is African-American.
Frazier was joined in quitting Trump’s American Manufacturing Council later on August 14 by the chief executives of two other major American corporations — Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Under Armour CEO Kavin Plank.
With reporting by AP, AFP, CNN, and Reuters