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Rural Trump Supporters Back His Comments On Charlottesville


When President Trump first spoke about the deadly violence in Charlottesville, he blamed the rioting on, quote, "many sides." That sparked a firestorm of criticism, but his words match a set of beliefs held widely in conservative culture and also in right-wing media. Many of Trump supporters think that much of America's political violence is now caused by the left. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports on rural culture and conservative media. He joins us now via Skype. Hi, Brian.


SMITH: Brian, you've been talking to people in rural upstate New York, where you live. How are Donald Trump's words and his framing of Charlottesville playing there?

MANN: Well, a lot of people here think President Trump got it pretty much right. I mean, in these areas where the population is largely white and rural, a lot of people think urban unrest and violence has more to do with liberal groups and groups on the left than it does with neo-Nazis and white supremacists I talked today with Christopher Lamothe. He's a Trump voter in Mineville, New York.

CHRISTOPHER LAMOTHE: I think he was right on. Of course, they want to condemn him because he didn't go specifically after the white supremacists. But I didn't hear anything from Barack Obama about Black Lives Matter, and that was another hate group.

SMITH: Well, Brian, I mean Black Lives Matter does not have a record of violence or terrorism or anything like the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups do. Where is this idea coming from?

MANN: It's actually really common in conservative media, places like Fox News and Breitbart and also a.m. talk radio for years. They've portrayed Black Lives Matter and now anti-fascist street groups that people often refer to as antifa. They describe them as being the equivalent of the KKK or Nazis, even though as you say, you know, these parallels just don't hold up factually. Here's an example of kind of a discussion today that happened on Fox News, where GOP strategist Evan Siegfried basically laid out this argument that everybody is equally to blame in Charlottesville.


EVAN SIEGFRIED: I think that we also have to see the president come out and condemn antifa. I haven't heard Democrats condemn antifa either because they go there, and their entire MO is to provoke violence and violent clashes with the extreme right.

SMITH: Brian, talk a little bit more about antifa. Conservatives have been focusing a lot of attention on them lately. Who are they?

MANN: Yeah. It's this loose coalition of anarchist and student protesters. They often wear masks. And police have identified them as a real problem during some protests. But again, the record of violence is much smaller than we've seen from, say, neo-Nazi militias in America. Here's antifa spokesman James Anderson.

JAMES ANDERSON: You know, who's really escalating this thing? Are we blowing up mosques and synagogues across the United States? Are we putting swastikas on places of worship? No, we're not.

SMITH: Brian, the president has gotten a lot of blowback for his comments yesterday, particularly for not specifically condemning white supremacy groups. The White House has come out with a statement today saying, of course the president condemns white supremacy. How is all that playing out among conservative groups?

MANN: Well, you know, one of the things that's complicating about this and that it sort of rings differently in rural conservative culture is that many people here think some white nationalist arguments have legitimacy. People here are angry about things like affirmative action programs. They also just think that Donald Trump doesn't get a fair shake. They think anything that he says is going to get attacked. And they point to the fact that he did call for unity here today and over the last couple of days. And so that's what people are focused on, not what he didn't say but what he did say.

SMITH: Brian Mann joins us from North Country Public Radio. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you, Stacey.


Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.