Analysis Violence

Racial Justice Advocates Roundly Condemn Trump’s Charlottesville Remarks, White Supremacy in the White House

Auditi Guha

"There’s not many sides to this. There’s only one side and it’s the side of folks who stand for community justice and democracy."

Racial justice and human rights advocates have been outspoken about President Donald Trump’s comments following the racism and violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

“I think the response has been overwhelming and I think that all good people need to completely condemn white supremacy, white nationalism, the KKK and neo-Nazis. There’s not many sides to this. There’s only one side and it’s the side of folks who stand for community justice and democracy,” Glenn Harris, president of Race Forward, told Rewire.

The resurgence of white supremacy and the violence at Charlottesville were made possible by supporters in the White House, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.

“Make no mistake: we have a President who doesn’t just wink and nod to white supremacists and Nazis, but embraces them,” he said in a statement. “Enablers have made this moment happen and we will do all we can to hold them accountable for Trump’s actions.”

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This includes companies that process donations for white supremacists, legislatures that protect Confederate symbols, and members of Congress who allowed Steve Bannon to remain in the White House, he added, in a statement sent prior to Bannon’s removal Friday.

To that effect, Color of Change is running a national campaign calling for congressional leaders to remove statues of Confederates in the U.S. Capitol.

After blaming “both sides” and defending organizers of a white supremacist rally that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and 19 injured, Trump decried the “removal of our beautiful statues and monuments” in a tweet Thursday, fueling more public outrage.

In response, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, said Trump should be reminded that he is not the president of the Confederate states but of the United States.

“It is truly troubling that any national leader, let alone the president, would call monuments honoring those who sought to destroy America and to uphold the abhorrent institution of slavery ‘beautiful.’ Like the Confederacy, President Trump and his adviser Steve Bannon seem to favor dividing America,” Awad said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

White nationalists and other right-wing groups attended the “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally Saturday to challenge the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Lee himself was not in favor of erecting such statues and monuments because he considered them too divisive, Time magazine reported. Lee’s descendants have signaled their willingness to take down Confederate statues and monuments and put them where they belong—in a museum, CNN reported.

Since the mayor of Baltimore took down four Confederate monuments Tuesday night, several cities are removing similar structures in public spaces. There are 718 Confederate monuments nationwide, and 300 in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina alone, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

CAIR has created a template resolution for public bodies like state legislatures and school districts looking to remove all public Confederate symbols, including flags, statues and street names.

Meanwhile, Race Forward has called for a multiracial movement to oppose the resurgence of white nationalist violence. The organization is standing behind the folks risking their lives to oppose hate, racism, xenophobia, and violence.

Words matter, but policy reflecting our collective values matter more, Harris told Rewire.

Race Forward’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity is helping Grand Rapids, Michigan, with community engagement to counter structural racism and working with Philadelphia to create a racial equity action plan. This week the alliance welcomed Asheville, North Carolina, as its newest member.

“Local government is the best place for us to crack down on this,” Harris said. “At the local level, this is about local lives.”

After Bannon was removed Friday afternoon, the African American Mayors Association (AAMA) put out a five-point response plan to combat hate, urging governments to remove white nationalists like Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka and all Nazi-related or Confederate symbols, as well as to get out the vote for candidates supporting equality and justice in coming elections.

The SPLC has called on Trump to stand up and condemn white supremacy and racism in the wake of his statement that there are “many sides” to what happened in Virginia, while equating the efforts of white supremacists with those fighting racial injustice.

It is “bizarre and disheartening” that Trump is feeling sorry for himself at a time when the country is reeling from the effects of Charlottesville, SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement.

“Never mind that it took him two days to denounce white supremacy. Never mind that he still has not taken responsibility for the fact that his racist, xenophobic campaign has energized the radical right. Never mind that he’s a hero to the likes of David Duke. He’s the least racist person we know. Just ask him!” he said.

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called Trump’s response “Stunning. Terrifying. Unsettling. Pusillanimous. Irrational. Disturbing,” and, to use one of Trump’s frequently-used words, “Sad.”

Trump has “publicly invited hate to take up residence in the White House. This follows by many months his introducing hate as a guest through appointing white nationalists to high-level posts in his administration,” Saenz said in a press release. “First, can any person of good conscience continue to serve this president? Second, can any congressperson or senator of good conscience accede to this president’s judgment in policy or appointment? Third, can any judge who adheres to the Constitution fail to strike down as intentional racial discrimination any policy initiated by this president?”

After his comments supporting racism and violence, human rights organization Amnesty International USA called on Trump to “abandon the bigoted agenda that he campaigned on” and “to completely change course, and commit to concrete steps that will prevent white supremacists from inciting discrimination, hate, or violence.”

The National Fair Housing Alliance also condemns the violence of white supremacists and their advocates. It is important that government stand on the right side of the law and send a clear message to those that threaten democracy, executive vice president Lisa Rice told Rewire.

“Our Constitution is clearly at odds with terrorism, white supremacy, racism. The way that our laws and our Constitution have unfolded or evolved over time makes that very clear. So in 2017, we are not where we were in 1817. And our government has to act like that,” she said.

While is it heartening that some leaders in Congress and local representatives like the Charlottesville mayor and Virginia governor have roundly condemned the Charlottesville rally, it needs to come from the top, Rice said.

President Trump “is a moral leader or he is supposed to be a moral leader for our country, our nation, our society, and, because of who we are as the United States of America, for the world. That’s very important and I hope President Trump is understanding that, that the context of what he says is viewed not just by American citizens but by the world through that lens. It is imperative that he exemplify the moral fiber or the moral character of our nation, that he exemplify the values of our nation, and our values are squarely against racism, they are squarely against terrorism, they are squarely against white supremacy and he has to convey that in everything he does and says,” she said.

Lise M. Dobrin, anthropology professor at the University of Virginia, said she spent much of this summer in Papua New Guinea, where many people asked her about Trump.

“What we must remember is that Trump’s words are being heard, read, and quoted not just in the U.S., but around the world, including in places where people have little context for interpreting them,” she told Rewire. “By refusing to condemn hatred and violence in his own country, he is condoning it abroad. The US is not the only place where the governing regime is inclined to be greedy and cruel. If the leader of the US is not prepared to insist upon justice and equality for his own citizens, why should they do so for theirs?”

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 45 Latino advocacy organizations, also condemned the racism and violence in Charlottesville and stands in solidarity with those who denounce and fight against the racism and bigotry that are driving such acts of hate. It called on Trump to remove all White House staff who have ties to white supremacist and extremist groups.

“As the president of the United States failed to react immediately to explicitly condemn white supremacy, the Latino community, communities of color and advocates across the country will remain united to engage in peaceful resistance to fight for a just and inclusive society,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, NHLA chair and director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, in the release.

The Ms. Foundation for Women criticized Trump for his “lackluster” response and spoke on behalf of women of color who have long sacrificed themselves in the fight for equality, according to a press release.

“White supremacists are mobilizing to take over cities across America—and we must act immediately to protect America’s values and lives. Based on his statement, it is clear that the President does not understand the gravity of his words, which resulted this weekend in the murder of an innocent woman and injuries to 19 other peaceful protesters,” said Teresa C. Younger, president and CEO, in a statement. “It’s past time for his administration to take responsibility and propose a plan to curb real domestic terrorism.”

A petition launched this week by MPower Change, a grassroots movement of Muslim communities, asks congressional leaders to tell Trump to remove white nationalists Bannon, Miller, and Gorka from his administration. As of publication, the White House had announced Bannon was out.

“We know that removing these men from the administration won’t end the deep-seated racism, Islamophobia, and bigotry that’s infected the White House,” MPower leaders stated. “But to honor the sacrifice of Heather Heyer and many others—especially Black people and people of color who put their lives and bodies on the line every day—we must commit to doing whatever we can to dismantle White Supremacy and its symbols wherever we find them: whether it’s Confederate monuments in our communities or White Nationalists in the White House.”

CORRECTION: Lise M. Dobrin’s quote has been updated for clarity.

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