WASHINGTON — President Trump’s comments about violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend have been condemned by Democrats, Republicans, business leaders and even athletes. But white nationalists were pleased by Trump’s reaction.
“I think he’s speaking to the fact that a nation should respect its heritage, its identity, its heroes, and we shouldn’t engage in antiwhite multicultural political correctness,” Matthew Heimbach told Yahoo News on Thursday.
Heimbach, who was in Charlottesville last weekend, is the chairman of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which he describes as a “national socialist organization.”
The clashes took place last Saturday before a planned rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the college town. Heimbach was scheduled to speak at the event, which attracted supporters from white supremacist, “alt-right” and neo-Nazi groups. It was canceled when rally attendees clashed with police and counterprotesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when an alleged neo-Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, and two state troopers died in a helicopter crash as they attempted to respond to the violence. Numerous others were injured.
Trump’s response to the Charlottesville chaos has veered back and forth. On Saturday, as the terror unfolded, Trump spoke out against the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence — on many sides, on many sides.” Both Democratic and Republican critics attacked his remarks, noting he included no specific mention of the racist groups that organized the rally. On Monday, Trump made another statement in which he declared “racism is evil” and denounced “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”
But, in a heated press conference on Tuesday, Trump returned to the idea there was “blame on both sides” and said there were some “fine people” who went to Charlottesville for the rally and had valid concerns that removing Confederate memorials was “changing [the] culture.” And on Thursday morning, Trump posted a set of tweets in which he decried the removal of Confederate monuments.
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“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” the president wrote. “You … can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also … the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
Each stage of Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville drew praise from prominent white supremacists.
Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, posted a blog praising Trump’s initial statement that criticized “many sides” for the clashes.
“He didn’t attack us. … [Trump] implied that there was hate … on both sides. … There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all,” Anglin wrote.
When Trump made his follow-up statement on Monday denouncing white supremacists and calling racism “evil,” Anglin published another Daily Stormer piece in which he described the president’s condemnation as “half assed” and forced by the “whining Jew media.” When Trump followed the denunciation with the press conference criticizing liberals for their behavior in Charlottesville, Anglin rejoiced. He wrote a post on his website that suggested Trump had white nationalist sympathies and labeled the president “/ourguy/.”
“He uses our talking points — that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are next after the Confederate monuments and that they’re trying to destroy our history,” he wrote.
Anglin’s post included a series of epithets aimed at Jews and fellow white nationalists who don’t support Trump.
“This man is doing absolutely everything in his power to back us up and we need to have his back,” Anglin said of Trump.
Pastor Thomas Robb, a Klan leader who heads his own church and a political organization called the Knights Party, also said he wasn’t concerned about Trump’s Monday condemnation of white supremacists.
“It doesn’t bother me at all for two reasons. One is, I know he is under pressure,” Robb told Yahoo News on Thursday. “Then also, it doesn’t bother me because I’m not under any misconception. I’m quite aware that Donald Trump isn’t a white nationalist.”
Even though Robb doesn’t believe he has a fellow traveler in the White House, he cited Trump’s economic nationalism and hard line on immigration as reasons for support the president.
“Overall, I like Trump’s policies. I like his nationalistic views,” Robb said.
Robb also repeatedly praised Trump’s use of the slogan “America First,” which was previously employed by American groups that opposed the country’s entry into World War II. The “America First” organizations of the 1930s and early 1940s were widely viewed as anti-Semitic.
“I like the fact that he wants to put America first. That was a campaign slogan,” explained Robb. “When he said ‘America First,’ some people bristled [about] that comment because it hearkened back in their minds to the Silver Shirts [an American Nazi group] of the 1930s.”
Though Robb was not in Charlottesville, he said, “Some of the people that attend our church went.” He was pleased with Trump’s Tuesday press conference, in which the president essentially said, according to Robb, “There’s good people in the white nationalist movement.”
“I don’t know that he was trying to send a signal to anybody, but the comment is true,” Robb said of Trump.
David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who was in Charlottesville during the weekend, was displeased with Trump’s Monday comments rebuking “all that hate stands for.” Duke warned the president not to go further.
“I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” the former Klan leader tweeted.
But Duke was pleased with the Tuesday press conference in Trump Tower. Duke posted a series of tweets praising Trump for also assigning blame to liberal counterprotesters in Charlottesville.
“Thank You Mr. President & God Bless You for setting the record straight for ALL AMERICANS,” Duke wrote.
Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist leader who was scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville rally, also expressed support for Trump’s subsequent comments. “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth,” Spencer tweeted of the Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday.
Neither Spencer nor Duke responded to requests for comment on this article.
Heimbach, the “national socialist” leader who was in Charlottesville, described the president’s reaction as a “roller coaster.” He praised Trump’s comments from the press conference as a recognition that liberals were “the agitators, instigators and the violent thugs in Saturday’s events.” While Heimbach doesn’t see Trump as a white nationalist, he believes they share common ground.
“I don’t think he’s a white nationalist. I genuinely do not, but I do think that he opposes radical multiculturalism and political correctness,” Heimbach said of Trump.
Heimbach thinks Trump can help white nationalists achieve some of their goals even though he doesn’t expect the president to lead to “salvation for white America.”
“Mr. Trump, of course, if he can slow down demographic changes and resist the radical push of the left, that is something that we should respect,” said Heimbach. “But I don’t think salvation for white America is going to come from a New York billionaire. I think it’s only going to come from a movement that is built for us and by us.”
Heimbach also suggested Trump’s presidency is evidence of a “new age of American politics” with growing white anger over the economy and diversity that had made the country lack a “defining ethnicity, religion, culture, or identity.” He was also pleased to see the president tweet support for Confederate monuments on Thursday.
“He is speaking to, I think, his base when it comes to defending our heritage and our identity,” he said.
Robb, the Klan leader, was similarly happy Trump spoke out in favor of keeping Confederate memorials. He said it seemed to be a change from 2015, when Trump said he would take down the Confederate flag that flew over the South Carolina State Capitol building.
“To find him now maybe reverse himself a little bit I think is heartening to people because, like David Duke tweeted the other day, it was white people that put Donald Trump into office,” Robb said. “There’s a growing anger among white people who feel that their culture is being changed,” he added.
Robb is 71 years old and said he has “been involved in the white nationalist movement” since he was a teenager. Overall, Robb said he never expected to see a man like Donald Trump in the White House in this day and age.
“Not in my lifetime. I didn’t think I’d ever see it again,” Robb said.
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