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.”
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.
In response, Duke condemned the media as "fake news" and accused members of the media of coercing the president into making his statement.
In a Periscope video shortly afterward, Duke said, “President Trump, please, for God’s sake, don’t feel like you need to say these things. “It’s not going to do you any good.”
Duke also came to the defense of James Alex Fields, saying, “When you’re under attack ... you panic and you do things that are stupid and you do things that are wrong."
The president's statements were widely condemned as too little, too late across social media. Over the weekend, he condemned the violence in Charlottesville as the result of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” Many found his remarks inadequate, and senior lawmakers urged him to release a more forceful statement. In response, Duke publicly urged the president not to repudiate white nationalists, a group which had proven itself pivotal to his electoral win.
Trump's continued association with nationalists and hard-right populists led by Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist, has continued to draw criticism. He also refused to disavow Duke for many months after Duke endorsed him for the presidency during last year's election cycle. He eventually did, telling NBC's "Morning Joe" in March that Duke "is a bad person, who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years."
Duke never relinquished his support, and was one of Trump's most vocal well-wishers following November's election.
Over the weekend, Duke said that the "Unite the Right" rally would fulfill many of Trump's "promises."
“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,” Duke said. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”