Trump's first official statement on the demonstration––which resulted in three deaths and injuries of numerous others––came three days after they first began.
“Racism is evil,” the president said after two days of unequivocal statements. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Human rights activists greeted the president's statements with skepticism, noting that nationalists––led by Stephen Bannon, the president's chief strategist––currently exercise power in the West Wing.
“The president should make sure that no one on his staff has ties to white supremacists, nor should they be on the payroll of the American people," said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, adding that the Department of Justice and the Office of Government Ethics should “do an investigation and make that determination” if any members of the White House have ties to hate groups.
Trump spoke after meeting with newly installed FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and acknowledged that the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed after she was struck by a Dodge Challenger driven by James Alex Fields, who had traveled to the city from Ohio to protest at the rally with fellow white nationalists.
Trump's statements were widely condemned as too little, too late across social media.
Trump did not take questions. He was asked by reporters why he waited so long to condemn hate groups. He did not respond.— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 14, 2017
How hard would it have been to issue this statement days ago?— Jim Swift (@JSwiftTWS) August 14, 2017
A: Not hard at all.
The Southern Poverty Law Center described the “Unite the Right” rally as “the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States,” attracting “a broad spectrum of far-right extremist groups – from immigration foes to anti-Semitic bigots, neo-Confederates, Proud Boys, Patriot and militia types, outlaw bikers, swastika-wearing neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Ku Klux Klan members – all of whom seem emboldened by the Trump presidency.”