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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Trump condemns racism on Charlottesville anniversary

US president's refusal to apportion blame for violence at far-right rally one year ago caused outrage

President Donald Trump meets members of Bikers for Trump outside his golf club on August 11, 2018. AP Photo
President Donald Trump meets members of Bikers for Trump outside his golf club on August 11, 2018. AP Photo

It marked a low point of Donald Trump’s first year in office, perhaps even of his presidency, and a moment that few of his allies were able to defend.

Confronted with tragic images of violence when a woman died as white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters, Mr Trump shied from condemning the far right who had shouted anti-Semitic slurs as they marched through Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I think there is blame on both sides,” he told reporters in the gold-trimmed lobby of Trump Tower in August 2017.

One year on his stance on race, white supremacy and competing visions of America is back in the spotlight. He and his daughter sought to soothe growing tensions as Washington braced for a white nationalist rally on Sunday to mark that bloody anniversary.

“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation,” he tweeted as both sides began assembling in Washington. “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”

Too little, too late, was the consensus of his critics, who again pointed out that he had failed to differentiate between the two sides. But his daughter, Ivanka, went further in her comments, specifically calling out white supremacists.

“While Americans are blessed to live in a nation that protects liberty, freedom of speech and diversity of opinion, there is no place for white supremacy, racism and neo-Nazism in our great country,” she wrote, as she called for unity.

“Rather than tearing each other down with hatred, racism & violence, we can lift one another up, strengthen our communities and strive to help every American achieve his or her full potential.”

They sent their messages hours before the “Unite the Right” rally was due to gather in Lafayette Square, just across the street from the White House, on Sunday evening. Several counterprotests had also been permitted to assemble nearby.

The location, close to the president’s seat of power could not be more symbolic – even if Mr Trump himself was weekending at his New Jersey golf club.

Despite – or perhaps because of – following Barack Obama (who was meant to create a post-racial America) into the White House, Mr Trump is a president with a deeply divisive record on race. He was propelled to power in part by a white working-class political base, and analysts say he returns to that core when confronted with political peril.

Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, said: “He has calculated that any straight out condemnation may turn his base another way so he is walking this line where he condemns racism on both sides - as if there were two sides to this.

“Is he racist or not? I don’t know. But he does seem to use race to divide and to amp up his base.”

During the past week Mr Trump has again flirted with racial rhetoric, condemning African-American football stars who refuse to stand for the national anthem, questioning the intelligence of NBA star LeBron James while in the same tweet dismissing Don Lemon, a CNN anchor, as “the dumbest man on television”.

“One of the oldest strategies is to call into question the intellect of African-Americans,” Mitch Landrieu, the former Democratic mayor of New Orleans, told the Associated Press.

In a new memoir, Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former Apprentice contestant and one of the few African-Americans to work in the Trump White House, claimed the property mogul had used the N-word repeatedly while filming his hit TV reality series.

She was scheduled to appear on America’s Sunday morning talk shows yesterday even as police were putting up barricades in Washington.

Organisers expect up to 400 people to take part in the Charlottesville anniversary rally. That number is expected to be dwarfed by counterprotesters.

Authorities have promised an enormous security presence to avoid a repeat of the street brawls that broke out last year in downtown Charlottesville after neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and other hate groups marched through the city.

Heather Heyer, 32, a local woman, was killed when a car careered into a crowd of counterprotesters.

James Fields, from Ohio, last month pleaded not guilty to a slew of federal hate crimes charges.

Police were out in force as early as Saturday night while members of the Washington chapter of Black Lives Matter also strolled through the park, as if on patrol.

Organizers of #OccupyLafayettePark, a civil rights group that holds nightly protests in the square, held up posters reading "Love America, Hate Trump" and "Defend The District From White Supremacy".

Any repeat of last year’s violence is certain to put Mr Trump’s stance on race back in the spotlight.

Mark Warner, a Democratic senator for Virginia, said the president shared responsibility for the violence in Charlottesville last year.

“These purveyors of hate and bigotry were emboldened to take their message public by a president who has refused to categorically and unequivocally condemn their message and actions in clear terms,” he said ahead of the anniversary rally.

Ms Omarosa, the reality-TV star turned White House aide, put it more bluntly when questioned by reporters at a Virginia airport.

“If he wants to start a race war, he’s succeeding,” she said.