'Racism Is Evil': Trump Denounces The KKK, Neo-Nazis And White Supremacists

Aug 14, 2017
Originally published on August 14, 2017 7:15 pm
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Two days after white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., President Trump said today that racism is evil, and he specifically denounced the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. As NPR's Geoff Bennett reports from the White House, the president delivered his unscheduled remarks after facing increasing pressure to single out and condemn the hate groups.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm in Washington today.

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: President Trump began his statement today by touting his economic record. And then reading from a teleprompter, he did what many wanted and expected him to do on Saturday. He named names.

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TRUMP: Racism is evil, 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.

BENNETT: Compare that to what he said two days ago.

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TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

BENNETT: The phrase many sides is what missed the mark. Trump was roundly criticized for implying that the counter-protesters shared the blame for Saturday's violence. Even key Republican lawmakers called him out.

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CORY GARDNER: Well, this is not a time for vagueries. This isn't a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines.

BENNETT: That's Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado speaking Sunday on CNN.

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GARDNER: This is a time to lay blame, to lay blame on bigotry and to lay blame on white supremacists, on white nationalism and on hatred. And that needs to be said.

BENNETT: Trump's handling of the issue fits a pattern, one that traces to the 2016 presidential campaign when then candidate Trump attracted the support of David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke said Trump's vision for America aligned with his own. When given the opportunity to denounce Duke in a February 2016 interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, here's what Trump said.

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TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know. I mean I don't know. Did he endorsed me? Or what's going on?

BENNETT: A month later in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Trump was less ambiguous.

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TRUMP: Just to put it clear, I disavowed him in the past, and I disavow him now. And it was very clear that I disavowed. But they - the press doesn't want to go with it.

BENNETT: That disavowal didn't deter David Duke's support for Trump. Duke attended the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville and linked the rally directly to the president.

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DAVID DUKE: We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump - because he said he's going to take our country back.

BENNETT: Trump's candidacy and presidency have energized white supremacist groups. President Trump says he doesn't harbor racist or anti-Semitic views, often pointing to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter Ivanka as proof. Kushner is Jewish. Ivanka converted to the faith.

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TRUMP: I have a son-in-law who is Jewish, Jared, who's a great guy. My daughter is Jewish. I have grandchildren that are Jewish, OK?

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TRUMP: And I love them. I love them.

BENNETT: The president aimed to strike that tone of inclusiveness at the White House today...

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TRUMP: And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws. We all salute the same great flag. And we are all made by the same Almighty God.

BENNETT: ...Leaving many to wonder what took so long. Geoff Bennett, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.