Trump has been roundly criticized by blaming both sides for the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, both immediately after the events on August 12, and again on August 15, when he backed away from his August 14 statement focusing blame on the far-right. He was not only criticized by Democrats — we can expect that. He’s been criticized by Republicans as well, for instance the Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Cory Gardner. Fox News had articles focusing on Republican criticism of Trump.
Yet such criticism of Trump is not fully fair. It’s not simply the far-right protesters who came with guns, sticks, shields, helmets, and torches. Some counterprotesters also had sticks, helmets, and shields. A minority of counterprotestors came from the antifa movement, which endorses violent tactics to oppose extreme conservative ideologies, known as Nazi punching. Indeed, video evidence of the Charlottesville events, along with firsthand accounts, demonstrates both sides participated in the violence.
Such violence occurred at previous rallies between far-right supporters and counterprotesters. What made the Charlottesville events uniquely horrible was what Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried as an act domestic terrorism. A man apparently holding neo-Nazi beliefs deliberately rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring 19.
While we may vehemently disagree with various forms of white nationalism, racism, and neo-Nazism — all of which I personally find reprehensible — we need to acknowledge that both sides participated in the violence. Trump is right on that one.
Where Trump is wrong is in his failure to condemn strongly the act of domestic terrorism, both initially in his August 12 remarks, and in his backtracking during the August 15 remarks, where he glossed over this uniquely terrible aspect of the Charlottesville violence. Members of both sides went beyond the line in Charlottesville, and deserve proportionate criticism and punishment to the extent they crossed the line. Commentators who fail to acknowledge this reality will lose credibility from those who care about the facts, as opposed to just scoring political points. Of course, the much more egregious crossing of the line came from the neo-Nazi supporter who deliberately rammed his car into counterprotesters. In an ideal world — one where commentators both aimed to speak the truth and prevent future violence — their remarks would proportionately criticize both sides, and place the brunt of censure on the domestic terrorism incident.
Update on August 17
Well, we have now seen a terrorist attack using the similar car ramming tactics in Barcelona. Let’s see how Trump responds to this one.