One day after declaring racism to be "evil," U.S. President Donald Trump has once again blamed "both sides" for violence that broke out at a weekend rally staged by white supremacists in Virginia.
"You had a group on one side that was very bad and you had a group on the other side that was very, very violent," Trump told reporters on August 15 as he visited his home in New York's Trump Tower.
Trump said there were "troublemakers" among what he called "alt-left" counterdemonstrators at the rally, which was organized by neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and white supremacists, and that those leftists went to the rally armed with clubs and seeking violent confrontation.
Images of clashes between the two groups showed people on both sides were armed with baseball bats and shields and exchanged blows. Antifascist protesters had said they planned to disrupt the right-wing rally.
"They came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible," Trump said. Left-wing protesters "came violently attacking the other group."
Trump's comments on August 15 echoed his initial statement after the rally on August 12 that "many sides" contributed to the violence.
His initial failure to blame right-wing groups had sparked a storm of criticism that led to his statement on August 14 explicitly condemning the rally organizers for racism and hatred and saying that such groups are "repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
Trump said he held back condemning the right-wing groups because he was taking time to investigate the facts. He leveled the most blame on the suspected neo-Nazi sympathizer who drove his car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators at the rally, killing a woman and injuring 19 others.
"I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family, and his country. You can call this terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want," he said. "The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing."
But Trump said he sympathized with right-wing demonstrators who went to the rally to oppose the city of Charlottesville's plans to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who was the commander of the pro-slavery Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.
"They were there to protest the taking down of a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name," Trump said.
Trump noted that both former Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers of the United States, owned slaves and asked whether they would be the next to be condemned.
"So, this week it's Robert E. Lee," Trump said. "I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?"
"Are we going to take down statues to George Washington...? How about Thomas Jefferson?" Trump asked.
Trump's latest remarks were welcomed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth."
But Democrats and liberal groups were stunned at Trump's reversal.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said on Twitter that the Charlottesville violence "was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts."
With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters