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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Pressure grows on Trump to condemn white supremacists

Calls come after police continue to investigate the death of a 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protesters

A protester holds a sign reading 'No! The Trump/Pence regime must go!' in New York City on August 13, 2017, a day after the attack on counter-protesters at the 'Unite the Right' rally organised by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Joe Penney / Reuters
A protester holds a sign reading 'No! The Trump/Pence regime must go!' in New York City on August 13, 2017, a day after the attack on counter-protesters at the 'Unite the Right' rally organised by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Joe Penney / Reuters

The mayor of Charlottesville said he blamed Donald Trump for the hate swirling through America as pressure grew on Sunday for the US president to denounce the white supremacists who brought violence to his city.

Police continue to investigate the death of a 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protesters.

At least 26 people were also taken to hospital at the end of a second day of trouble in Charlottesville, where far-right protesters gathered to demonstrate against the removal of a statue commemorating a Confederate Civil War general.

Mr Trump is facing growing calls from his own Republican Party to go further in his condemnation after blaming “many sides” for the violent clashes. Opponents accuse him of protecting the alt-right elements who helped propel him to power.

On Sunday morning, HR McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, said the violence amounted to terrorism.

“Anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism,” he said.

Read more: Assad finds fan base among white supremacists in Charlottesville

And in a clear rebuke to the president’s equivocal language, Michael Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville, described it as “a terrorist attack with a car used as a weapon”.

He said he was disgusted that white nationalists had come to his city and said it was clear that blame lay with Mr Trump and a divisive election campaign that inflamed racial prejudices last year.

“I think they made a choice in that campaign,” Mr Signer continued. “A very regrettable one, to really go to people’s prejudices, to go to the gutter.”

White nationalists, including neo-Nazis, assembled in Charlottesville on Saturday for a “Unite the Right” rally against the city’s plans to remove a statute of Robert Lee, the Confederate general. David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and Richard Spencer, a leading figure in the so-called alt-right, were among their number.

Counter-protesters massed against them, and the day passed with a string of clashes as pepper spray filled the air.

As the rally dispersed, a grey Dodge Charger was caught on video driving at high speed into a crowd, sending bodies flying into the air.

Read more: Virginia state of emergency - Three dead, dozens injured after clashes at rally

Police said the driver, James Alex Fields Jr, a 20-year-old from Ohio, was charged with second-degree murder.

The victim was named as Heather Heyer, a paralegal from Virginia.

In a statement posted on a fundraising website, her mother said: “She died doing what was right. My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her.”

Mr Trump, on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club, addressed the violence at the Virginia college town on Saturday evening.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," said Mr Trump.

“It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time.”

Prominent Republicans also among those who demanded a more explicit denunciation of white supremacists.

Senator Marco Rubio, who was defeated by Mr Trump during the Republican primaries last year, wrote on Twitter: “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesumpremacists.”

Even Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a high-profile Trump supporter, added to the pressure.

“We reject the racism and violence of white nationalists like the ones acting out in Charlottesville,” he wrote. “Everyone in leadership must speak out."

The spectre of the far right has hung over Mr Trump’s candidacy and White House.

He frequently came under fire during the campaign for his reluctance to distance himself from white supremacists and his social media team was accused of spreading racist memes.

His White House chief strategist Steve Bannon once boasted he had made his news site Breitbart a “platform for the alt-right”.

However, the president’s reluctance to call out far-right extremists stands in contrast to his enthusiasm to use the label “Islamic terrorism”.

During a general election debate, he said: "Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name," Trump said in a general election debate.

American officials have opened a civil rights investigation in the circumstances that led up to the car attack.

In a statement, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said: “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice.”