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Charlottesville Reacts To Violence Following White Nationalist Rally


We return now to our main story, the bloodshed in Charlottesville. Yesterday, President Trump blamed the unrest on many sides. Following widespread criticism, the White House today issued a statement saying, the president condemns all forces of hatred and bigotry, including white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis. Before that statement came out, I spoke with Jamelle Bouie, the chief political correspondent for Slate, who was in Charlottesville yesterday. I asked him to describe the scene.

JAMELLE BOUIE: Sure. The rally was scheduled to begin at 12 o'clock - the rally for the white supremacists. But people began gathering there around 9:30 or 10 in the morning - probably even a little earlier. First, there were sort of militia-types coming in with weapons and sort of the full, you know, phalanx of people with flags and memorabilia and so on and so forth. And right from the beginning - and they were confronted early on by counter-protestors, too, from faith organizations, from, you know, ordinary political protesters - like, the counter-demonstrators were there. And from the beginning, there was just immediate tension, immediate clashes. It was very clear from the outset that the white supremacists weren't there so much to demonstrate for their speech but to provoke a response from counter-demonstrators.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to get your reaction to President Trump's statement yesterday. He said he "condemned the display of hatred and violence," unquote. Many sides you've been taking to Twitter to talk about this. What is your reaction?

BOUIE: So when I heard that, I was frankly taken aback. It's - by that point, we knew - by that point, the incident involving the car had happened. Someone - a male suspect - drove into a group of counter-demonstrators, injuring 19 people and killing one young woman. So that - we knew that by that time. And so to give a statement that many sides were responsible for violence yesterday in Charlottesville - it's just inaccurate. It doesn't really reflect what happened.

And it's, in a real way, disrespectful to the memory of the woman who passed away. She was not killed by many sides. She was killed by one particular side, these white supremacists. And it is both disturbing that the president could not bring himself to clearly state that but also not surprising, right? - that, looking at the president's close advisers - Steve Bannon has sort of known and concrete ties to the alt-right, to white nationalist - as does Stephen Miller, another White House advisor - as does Sebastian Gorka.

So it's not as if these ideas are foreign from the White House. It's not as if the president isn't aware to some degree that these movements form a part of his activist base. And so that - you know, that's also disturbing. But it also reflects how much none of this is fringe. There's a tendency to want to declare these things fringe movements. But I think the president's response shows us that they really aren't at all and that they do have some weight in politics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm curious for your view on this. You know, white supremacists have been around for a very long time. And there have been KKK rallies that have not ended in this kind of violence. What is different now, do you think?

BOUIE: I think what is different now gets back to my previous point, which is that these groups understood President Trump's election in November as being, in some ways, a vindication of their stance. Their argument - their sort of argument they make in public - the kind of argument that someone like Richard Spencer would make - is that they aren't a hate group. They simply want to preserve a kind of traditional vision of America.

They want to preserve the culture of sort of sort of a Anglo-European America - and that things like immigration - specifically, Hispanic immigration and Asian immigration or things that drives to integrate or desegregate - those things are threats to that traditional vision of America. And there isn't that much distance between that view and ideas and views expressed by the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. So their understanding that, in some ways, the Trump selection vindicates them isn't particularly far off the mark.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. We're going to have to leave it there.

BOUIE: OK. All right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jamelle Bouie of Slate, thank you very much for joining us.

BOUIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.