BEDMINISTER, N.J. — President Donald Trump on Saturday blamed “many sides” for the violent clashes between protesters and white supremacists in Virginia and contended that the “hatred and bigotry” broadcast across the country had taken root long before his political ascendancy.
That was not how the Charlottesville mayor assessed the chaos that led the governor to declare a state of emergency, contending that Trump’s campaign fed the flames of prejudice.
Trump, on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club, had intended to speak briefly at a ceremony marking the signing of bipartisan legislation to aid veterans, but he quickly found that those plans were overtaken by the escalating violence in the Virginia college town.
He told reporters that he had just spoken to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., and “we agreed that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and… true affection for each other.”
The president said that “what is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
White nationalists had assembled in Charlottesville to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters massed in opposition.
A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car drove into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the rally. One person died and at least 26 were sent to hospitals.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said.
“It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time,” he said.
Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.
“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president,” he said.
Disturbances began Friday night during a march through the University of Virginia before escalating Saturday.
The White House was silent for hours except for a tweet from first lady Melania Trump: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts.”
Trump later tweeted: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for.” He also said “there is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., took to Twitter to denounce the scene.
“The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry,” he said.
In his remarks, Trump mentioned the strong economy and “the many incredible things in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very said.”