Trump's comments on Charlottesville ignite firestorm

Elected officials respond


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  • U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11)




  • U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5)



By Joseph Picard and Meghan Byers

President Donald Trump has stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy and drawn criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle for his statements on the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend that culminated in violence and death.

On Saturday, Trump evoked a storm of protest when, after criticizing “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence”, the president added “on many sides.”

For the next two days, Trump took heat from all over the political spectrum (with the notable exception of the alt-right) for not specifically naming white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan and holding them responsible for the provocative rally, the ensuing violence and the death of a counter-protester.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a supporter of candidate Trump, was among the Republican critics of the president’s initial statement.

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

Like many of those from his own party who criticized Trump’s Saturday statement, Christie did not mention the president by name.

Neither did Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11), whose legislative district covers part of Sussex County.

“The hatred and violence by White Supremacists in Charlottesville must be condemned. Such views and actions have no place in America,” Frelinghuysen said on Monday.

Sussex County’s other representative in Congress, Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5), also did not name the president when he tweeted on Saturday: “The anti-American, white supremacists in #Charlottesville have no place in our society. I stand with all working to end this intolerance.”

But many Democrats showed no such reserve, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“On Saturday, President Trump demonstrated a hateful hypocrisy in failing to name the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Alt-Right hate for what it is: not only the cause of the horrific violence in Virginia, but the evil enemy of our Nation’s hope and promise,” Booker said.

By saying “on many sides” Trump “not only fuels a misleading account of what actually happened but shamefully puts the counter-protestors on the same moral level as those carrying Nazi flags and chanting vile racist rants,” Booker said.

On Monday, Trump issued his second statement, wherein he condemned “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists” for the violence and called them “thugs and criminals.”

Many voices said the statement was late in coming, yet many also conceded that the president had rightly placed the blame and the administration and the nation could now move on to other important issues.

But the president addressed the issue again on Tuesday and re-ignited the firestorm.

“I think there is blame on both sides,” he said. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

Again, Republican and Democratic voices denounced what many called a “false equivalency,” lumping neo-Nazis in the same group as people protesting them.

“The President of the United States just went on TV & defended people attending a white supremacist rally of neoNazis & klansmen. Just sickening,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)tweeted on Tuesday.

“Disgracefully, today Trump was not the Commander-in-Chief but the Alt-Right-Apologist-in-chief,” Booker said. “Trump showed himself to be more of an ally of the Alt-right/white supremacists than our country and our most cherished common values.”

He added, “We cannot surrender America to Trump.”

Gottheimer attended a vigil in Glen Rock Tuesday night protesting the violence in Charlottesville.

“We need to stand up against intolerance, stand up against bigotry, stand up against racism and anti-Semitism,” Gottheimer told the gathering.

The people cheered when he said, “What I’ve seen in the last few days is not what this country is about.”

Frelinghuysen also updated his criticism after Trump’s Tuesday remarks.

“The hatred and violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville must be condemned,” he said. “There is no comparison between those on the side of bigotry and hate, and those who manned the barriers to protest them! The views and actions of white supremacists have no place in America!”

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