Donald Trump has repeatedly made the argument that international terrorism by jihadists will not be defeated unless we are free to name the enemy responsible: radical Islamist terrorism. But when an act of domestic terrorism by neo-Nazis, the KKK, assembled members of the alt-right, and white supremacists took place, his response was a tepid few lines read at a scripted news conference dedicated to honoring veterans, in which he said there was violence on “many sides.”
On Monday, three days later, Trump finally issued a pointed condemnation of these groups — only after major Republican political figures had already done so. “Racism is evil,” Trump stated. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white-supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” It is too little and too late. Trump made Monday’s remarks only because there was nothing else he could do.
That the rioting caused by the white nationalists resulted in the death of a young woman rammed by a car driven by a neo-Nazi only compounds the tragedy of the situation. Condemning “violence on many sides” is not sufficient. The event in Charlottesville was organized by the racist white nationalists; many of them came in military gear, fully armed with AK-47s or the equivalent, wearing camouflage uniforms as if prepared for battle. They had legal permission for a peaceful rally; what they wanted and got was mayhem and rioting.
That Trump’s initial words were not sufficient was appreciated by those racists and neo-Nazis who support him. The Nazi website Daily Stormer tweeted the following from its chief, Andrew Anglin:
Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.
He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate…on both sides!
So he implied the antifa are haters.
There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.
He said he loves us all.
Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him.
No condemnation at all.
When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.
Anglin’s statement reveals a disquieting fact: these white nationalists were and are part of Donald Trump’s base. They represent a small but vocal group of white working-class voters who, in despair, saw the Trump campaign as something they hoped would, if Trump won, alleviate their suffering. That they were Trump supporters is not in dispute. Many of them wore Trump “Make America Great Again” red hats. They marched alongside those bearing both Nazi swastikas and KKKK and Confederate flags. Is there any other reason Donald Trump hesitated to attack them until today, other than that he did not want to alienate some of his base?
Yes, I know the refrain: on the extreme left, the so-called “antifa” engage in violence, as they did Monday in Seattle. Conservatives have no problem condemning them, but the left generally has not. At the same time the left condemns Nazism and the KKK, they use the “fascist” charge loosely to attack anyone whose policies they disagree with. For instance, anyone making the case that affirmative action in the universities has outlived its usefulness is branded by them as no better than the Klan.
Because today’s alt-right has endorsed and supports Trump, they were given a place of honor in the web pages of Breitbart.com by Steve Bannon when he was running it and were part of the demonstrations and violence engaged in by those who ran the Charlottesville event. Conservatives and Republicans must condemn them. They must make the effort to drum these people out of any movement or party they are part of. To placate or appease them is to acknowledge they have a legitimate role to play in the conservative movement and the Republican Party. There is a precedent for doing this. William F. Buckley Jr. expelled The John Birch Society from the conservative movement in the 1950s. On the Democratic side, Bill Clinton did this during his presidential campaign when he criticized the rap singer Sister Souljah for making an anti-white statement.
That is why the editorial appearing Monday in National Review is important. Rich Lowry and his colleagues got it right:
We categorically repudiate not only the specific acts of violence but also the broader cause in which this violence was deployed. The rally in question was advertised as a project to “Unite the Right.” We flatter ourselves that we have a little something to say about that, and our answer is: No. We do not wish to be united with Jew-haters, bigots, racists, and the morally and intellectually defective specimens on such sad display in Charlottesville, waving their Nazi banners and Confederate flags.
As Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News, neo-Nazi groups “seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House.”
To fail to condemn these thugs is to legitimize the alt-right’s dangerous argument: we are all part of the same movement. And that is precisely what the left is trying to do. Just take a look at the column in today’s New Republic by Bob Moser, who writes: “Trump will also be recognized henceforth for what he is: the chief recruiter and Dear Leader of a gang of domestic terrorists.”
Or look in TNR at this column by Brian Beutler, who writes:
Trump and many of his closest advisers aren’t making common cause with vile racists for political advantage. They are the vile racists, and are supporting fellow racists at substantial political risk because they want the racist vision to prevail.
It is not enough for these two leftist writers to argue that clearly, the reason Trump did not step up to the plate is that he thinks he cannot win again without the vote of these elements. They try to prove that it is because he personally is a racist.
Trump is not, however, without blame. Jennifer Rubin writes:
Trump did not tell the white nationalists to go to Charlottesville or to commit violence. But his campaign and presidency have given white nationalists cover, oxygen and the dream of respectability….
With Trump’s statement Monday, he and his administration clearly hoped that was sufficient to put the entire thing behind him. It isn’t. This coming weekend, the same white nationalist alt-right groups will convene at Boston Commons, trying to show they are the patriotic descendants of those who fought in the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass., one of the largest left-wing communities in the country (comically called The People’s Republic of Cambridge by conservatives), is sure to have thousands of residents appearing in protest marches that will be far larger than that coming in from neo-Nazi and KKK groups. The police will be out in force, but if the alt-right has its choice, violence will again take place.
Should that occur, the president must immediately condemn their platform, their racism and their claim to be part of his movement. Indeed, while he should stand up for their right to be there, he should strongly dissociate himself from all they stand for. Our nation cannot afford a second Charlottesville.
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