At home and abroad, US President Donald Trump has been condemned for blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and for saying some “fine people” took part in a rally where violence left one person dead over the weekend.
Read: White supremacy and neo-Nazis in the US – what you need to know
In Germany, politicians expressed their shock at seeing people carrying flags with swastikas and chanting anti-Semitic slurs.
Leaders around the world have condemned the violence in Charlottesville
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s condemned the “racist, far-right violence,” while her main election challenger called Trump’s comments the “confused utterances” of a dangerous man.
“We should not tolerate the monstrosities coming out of the president’s mouth,” Martin Schulz told the RND newspaper group.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas criticized Trump’s latest response to the violence, saying that there’s no way to relativize anti-Semitism and racism.
“It is intolerable how Trump is now glossing over the violence of the right-wing hordes from Charlottesville,” Maas said in Berlin on Wednesday.
“No one should downplay anti-Semitism and racism from neo-Nazis. There’s nothing to relativize when it comes to radical right-wing propaganda and violence,” he added.
Read: A history of Donald Trump’s racist comments
On Monday, Merkel had told public broadcaster Phoenix that clear action was needed to combat far-right extremism. She noted that Germany had “quite a lot to do at home” to address a recent rise in anti-Semitism.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has fostered close ties with Trump, condemned him for equating the gun-toting white supremacists with those who opposed them.
“There’s no equivalence, I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them and I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them,” May said.
White supremacy and neo-Nazis in the US
Both groups to blame, says Trump
At a dramatic press conference held at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday, Trump equated the actions of white supremacist groups in Charlottesville with those protesting against them, claiming that both groups were to blame for the violence.
“As far as I’m concerned that was a horrible, horrible day. (…) You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it now,” Trump remarked.
Confederate flags were seen alongside swastikas in Charlottesville, yet Trump claimed that there were extremists at either end of the political spectrum
In his comments, Trump also appeared to show sympathy for the white nationalists’ efforts to preserve Confederate monuments – the issue that had started the confrontations, as a monument depicting Civil War General Robert E. Lee was being removed in Charlottesville.
“Not all of those people were neo-Nazis. 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 president said.
Trump had earlier condemned the white supremacists in Charlottesville as “criminals and thugs” following a public outcry over his initial silence on the issue. His comments on Tuesday sparked renewed criticism, especially from Republicans.
Read more: Three things that make the Charlottesville violence unique
Justice Minister Maas strongly criticized Trump’s shift in rhetoric
Mixed response from Israel
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin expressed his shock Wednesday at the anti-Semitism on display in the US, but said American leaders would succeed in dealing with “this difficult challenge.”
Rivlin wrote to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to convey his “support and solidarity for the American Jewish community.”
“The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag – perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism – paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy, and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is almost beyond belief,” he said.
“We have seen manifestations of anti-Semitism again and again arise across the world; in Europe and the Middle East.
“I know that the great nation of the United States of America and its leaders will know how to face this difficult challenge, and prove to the world the robustness and strength of democracy and freedom.”
His comments came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned “neo-Nazism and racism” after Trump had called the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis “repugnant”.
White nationalists, neo-Nazis praise Trump
Trump’s comments gained him support from the far right in the US, who saw his ambivalence as an endorsement.
“This man is doing absolutely everything in his power to back us up and we need to have his back,” Andrew Anglin wrote on the neo-Nazi outlet the DailyStormer, which was booted off its domain by various hosts this week.
“It’s going to be really, really hard to have any bad feelings towards Trump for a long, long time after this,” he said.
Richard Spencer, the white nationalist organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, hailed Trump’s statement as “fair and down to earth.”
“Trump cares about the truth,” said Spencer, who added he was “proud of” the president.
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth.”
Republicans and Democrats react
House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a tweet that “White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida addressed Trump in a six-stage tweet, saying he could not allow white supremacists to share only part of the blame, arguing that their ideology had cost “the world so much pain.”
Democratic Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, meanwhile, referred to Charlottesville as a “terrorist attack,” denying there were many sides to it.
Former Vice President Joe Biden simply tweeted “There is only one side.”
Trump and his White House
While it was unclear why Trump had reconsidered his stance on the violence in Charlottesville, it highlighted his relationship with his political strategist Stephen Bannon once more. One of the first individuals to be appointed to Trump’s team, Bannon has been a divisive figure from the start, helping Trump attract support from so-called alt-right circles.
White House strategist Steve Bannon
Bannon, who used to lead Breitbart News, is believed to have consulted with the president on the language he might want to use with regard to the Charlottesville protests.
However, Bannon’s role within the White House has also come under increased scrutiny, with moderate Republicans putting pressure on Trump to distance himself from his strategist. Bannon has already been removed from the National Security Council, shrinking his sphere of influence considerably.
Asked by reporters about his strategist’s future, Trump said: “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” he told reporters at Trump Tower in New York. “I like Mr Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. (…) He is a good man. He is not a racist.”
Trump had asked for questions contrary to the wishes of his aides, including John F. Kelly, his new chief of staff
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News, the TV channel which Trump often watches, reportedly urged Trump to fire Bannon just before Trump went on his working holiday at his New Jersey golf club.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is also friends with Murdoch and has been at odds with Bannon since the spring, according to reports.
rs, ss/sms (Reuters, AP)