Say the words, people on social media were demanding of Missouri and Kansas politicians: “White supremacists.” “Nazis.”
The violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., prompted universal condemnations of hate and violence, but also bared persistent political divisions when social media dissected politicians’ statements on Twitter.
A woman was killed and dozens were injured when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, setting off more chaos. Two died in the crash of a state police helicopter in the woods just outside Charlottesville.
President Donald Trump drew the first wave of anger when his tweet called for unity against hate and said “there is no place for this kind of violence in America.”
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Critics attacked the president for not naming the movement that set Charlottesville boiling: a rally of white supremacists.
Sunday, the White House issued a statement that said the president condemned all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred seen in Charlottesville, and “of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
After the Virginia violence, Missouri and Kansas politicians waded into the same turbulent water.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas made a clear step beyond the president’s statement, tweeting, “We must speak clearly and directly: white supremacy is an evil ideology that has no place in this world.”
Messages from other members of the Missouri and Kansas delegations drew criticism for either omitting — or avoiding — specific group condemnations.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri tweeted, “The hate on display in VA is ugly and morally repugnant. And it is the essence of anti-American. Shame on them.”
Yes, Twitter posters agreed, but, as one replied, “use the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘white supremacists.’ — your words should be stronger.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was more succinct but more vague.
“The hate and violence in #Charlottesville have no place in America,” he posted.
Replied one of many respondents: “Good job not condemning white nationalists…”
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas did blame a group in his condemnation:
“The hatred & ignorance displayed by the violent & pathetic group in #charlottesville is unacceptable,” Roberts posted. “Their values are not American values.”
But notably, to many respondents, the group is not named.
“Close, but not quite,” read one post. “Please name the group, Senator,” read another.
The driver charged in the Charlottesville car attack was James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio. He had been photographed earlier carrying the emblem of one of the hate groups that organized the “take America back” campaign, The Associated Press reported.
Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville died in the attack. She was crossing the street crowded with people in the second day of a counter protest against the white nationalist rally when the car plowed into the crowd.
Later Saturday, a Virginia State Police helicopter that had been monitoring the protests crashed several miles away near a golf course. The troopers killed were identified as J. Jay Cullen of Midlothian, Va., and Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va.
In the aftermath, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri took to Twitter to express dismay with Trump’s post.
“Over the past 7 months, in spite of everything to the contrary, I believed that Mr. Trump would adorn the coat of president honorably,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “When he failed to condemn the white supremacists parading as patriots in Charlottesville, I accepted the reality of what I have been waiting on is something that just won’t happen…”
And while Cleaver tweets that he will pray for Trump, he adds, “However, I must now admit that I just don’t like Donald Trump!”
Sunday afternoon, Kansas U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran joined in the condemnation of the Charlottesville violence, tweeting, “What happened in #Charlottesville is a sobering reminder of the hateful element that exists in America. Bigotry & racism have no place here.”
But he was also quickly critiqued.
“What happened…,” came one of the replies, “was radical white supremacist terrorism. Call it what it was please.”
Of course, Twitter and social media are an unforgiving venue.
Although Yoder was credited for being clear in his condemnation, several respondents took shots at the congressman for not holding town hall meetings and called on him to disavow Trump.
Other local politicians were noted for their lack of a social media statement on Charlottesville as of early Sunday afternoon, including Kan. U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins and Missouri U.S. Rep. Sam Graves.
Jenkins later responded to The Star’s story: Kansans know very well I don’t condone any form of hate or violence. White supremacy is a blight on our nation, she tweeted.