PHOENIX — US President Donald Trump tried to rewrite history Tuesday, defending his comments over the clashes in Charlottesville while leaving out the very words that ignited anger in the first place.
Speaking in front of thousands of supporters in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump pulled out copies of three of his own speeches and rehashed what he’d said about white supremacists gathering around a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Virginia university town on Aug 13.
One person was killed and 19 were hurt in Charlottesville when a speeding car slammed into a throng of counterprotesters to a “Unite the Right” rally. More than a dozen other injuries were reported in the violence surrounding the rally.
After the Charlottesville violence, Trump said this:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
Tuesday night in Phoenix, Trump quoted himself this way:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. That’s me speaking on Saturday.”
It was the last part of the quote, that “many sides” were responsible for the Charlottesville violence, that drew bipartisan rebukes for Trump equating neo-Nazis with those protesting against them.
It was also the part that Trump tried to airbrush from history in his speech Tuesday.
“I hit ’em with neo-Nazi, I hit ’em with everything. KKK? We have KKK. I got ’em all,” Trump said Tuesday night.
Then, he lambasted the “weak, weak people” allowing Confederate statues to be removed around the country accusing them of trying to take away “our culture” and “our history,” Trump said.
Dismissing critics who said Trump is exacerbating a racial and culture divide in America, Trump claimed his movement is “based on love.”
Once again, the President blamed the American media for “fomenting divisions” in the country.
Claiming the media was also trying to take away “our history and our heritage”, Trump lambasted them as being “for the most part really, really dishonest people”
“They’re bad people and I really think they don’t like our country.”
Political commentators immediately ripped into Trump.
James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, questioned Trump’s fitness for office, saying the 77-minute speech was “downright scary and disturbing.”
Clapper, in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, denounced Trump’s “behavior and divisiveness and complete intellectual, moral and ethical void.”
Lemon himself said Trump “came out on stage and lied directly to the American people.”
“He certainly opened up the race wound from Charlottesville,” Lemon continued.
“His speech was without thought,” Lemon said. “It was without reason, it was devoid of facts, it was devoid of wisdom, … there was no sanity there.”
In the streets outside the Phoenix Convention Center, violence erupted with officers using tear gas to manage thousands of Trump protesters.
“People in the crowd began fighting and throwing rocks and bottles at police,” Sgt. Jonathan Howard, of the Phoenix Police Department, said in a statement to CNN. “They also dispersed some gas in the area. Police have responded with pepper balls and oc (pepper) spray in an attempt to disperse the crowd and stop the assaults.”
Three people were arrested over the protests, police said.
Before the speech, anti-Trump demonstrators yelled chants including “Shame” and “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
“Trump saying people on both sides are to blame was the last straw,” Eva Spivey, 25, of Avondale, Arizona, told CNN. “Racism is a one-sided thing.”
Anna Ruiz, a teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, said she marched for her undocumented students who were “too afraid.”
“It makes me sad to have to be out here,” Ruiz, tearing up, told CNN. “Everybody who lives in this country has rights.”