NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump has defended his response to Saturday’s racially charged protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in a winding, combative exchange with reporters that at times mischaracterized the message and purpose of the event.
Trump described the rally as largely over the removal of a Confederate monument, although an organizer billed it as pushback against the “anti-white climate.”
Trump also misstated his levels of political support in the 2016 election.
A look at Trump’s claims and the facts:
TRUMP: “But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”
THE FACTS: The organizer of the rally, a local right-wing blogger and activist, has said he initially was spurred because of the city’s decision to remove the statue. But he has also said the event, dubbed “Unite the Right,” came to represent much more than that.
Jason Kessler told The Associated Press last week before the event that it was “about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do.”
Those in the crowd included Ku Klux Klan members, skinheads and members of various white nationalist factions. Many were heavily armed. Some flew Nazi flags. They hurled racial slurs at counter-demonstrators and gave Nazi salutes.
White nationalist Richard Spencer — who popularized the term “alt-right” to describe the fringe movement mixing white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and anti-immigration populism — told the AP on Tuesday that the event was more than “just a Southern heritage festival.”
He said Confederate monuments are “a metaphor for something much bigger, and that is white dispossession and the de-legitimization of white people in this country and around the world.”
TRUMP: “In fact, the young woman, who I hear is a fantastic young woman and it was on NBC, her mother wrote me and said through, I guess Twitter, social media, the nicest things and I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually an incredible young woman. But her mother on Twitter thanked me for what I said.”
THE FACTS: Trump is correct. On Monday, NBC News tweeted that Susan Bro, the mother of the counter-protester killed on Saturday, had thanked Trump for “denouncing those who promote violence and hatred.” When asked in an AP interview Tuesday about her comments, Bro did not repeat the praise for the president.
“I was so tired I don’t remember saying something nice or derogatory about him,” Bro said, adding she did not want to criticize the president.
Kim Bro, her husband, said he didn’t think it was fair for the president to use a grieving mother for his own personal gain.
He added that he thinks the focus should be on his stepdaughter, “what she stood for and what will come out of it.”
TRUMP: “I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries.”
THE FACTS: Trump won most of the Republican presidential primary contests. He lost the Ohio GOP primary to John Kasich, the Ohio governor. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz bested Trump in primaries in Cruz’s home state and in Wisconsin. Trump also lost Puerto Rico’s primary to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Primary elections were also held on the Democratic side, none of which Trump would have won.