President Trump on Tuesday defended some of the protesters who rallied this weekend against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statute from a park in downtown Charlottesville, Va.
In a contentious back and forth with reporters, Trump argued with the logic of removing Confederate statues by pointing to the slave-owning history of Founding Fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
“You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name,” Trump said during one spat with a reporter.
“George Washington as a slave owner,” he continued. “So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?”
“Are we going to take down his statue because he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue?”
Trump posed those questions after being pressed by reporters about his comments on Saturday after learning that 32-year-old Heather Heyer had been killed by a white nationalist who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. In a statement then, Trump decried violence from “many sides” of the protests.
Trump’s critics pounced, accusing him of comparing neo-Nazi and white supremacists to anti-fascist counter-protesters.
Saturday’s violence touched off a movement across the U.S. to remove other Confederate statues.
On Monday, a crowd of protesters tore down a statue of a Confederate soldier in Durham, N.C. Other statues are likely to be removed in the near future, either because of decrees by local and state politicians or by crowds of protesters.
The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was recently ordered removed by city leaders.
On Monday, Trump issued a statement condemning the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who attended the “Unite the Right” rally. And in his remarks on Tuesday, he repeated that condemnation. But he also said that he believed that some of the people who showed up for the protest were “fine people.”
“You also had some very fine people, on both sides,” he said.
He also doubled down on his remark that both sides of the fight deserve blame.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said.
“You look at both sides, I think there is blame on both sides. I have no doubt about it; you don’t have doubt about it either. If you reported it accurately, you would say that.”
“You had a group on one side and the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. It was a horrible thing to watch. There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left…that came violently attacking the other group.”