In a news conference, Trump denounced what he called an “egregious display of hatred and bigotry” displayed by antagonists “on many sides” — a seemingly noncommittal characterization that drew an immediate backlash on social media. The president also called for a “swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
In a statement issued after the president’s news conference, the White House defended Trump’s use of “both sides,” saying that he “was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”
Saturday’s confrontation sowed chaos in Charlottesville, a picturesque college town home to the University of Virginia—one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country—and two U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. It was the latest escalation of a conflict that arose earlier this year, when the city voted to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
Vice President Mike Pence echoed the president’s plea for calm, saying that the United States “is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us.”
Trump and Pence’s remarks came as politicians in both major parties denounced the rally’s intolerance. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 contender for the GOP nomination, posted on Twitter that there was “nothing patriotic” about the rally’s participants, adding that their beliefs stood in “direct opposite of what America should be.”
The conflict reached a crescendo on Friday evening, when supporters who identify as ‘alt-right’—a key constituency of Trump’s electoral base that helped usher him into the White House—took to the streets carrying torches. They clashed with counter-protesters, exchanging insults and at some points throwing punches and hurling water bottles.
–The Associated Press contributed to this article.