President Donald Trump’s refusal to single out white supremacists for criticism during a weekend of violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, put him out of step with even the likes of Breitbart News and Infowars, hard-right sites that support him and routinely stoke white resentment.
A Breitbart account of the white supremacist gathering described it as “a torch-wielding, Nazi-flag waving dereliction of American values” and “a disgusting and unwelcome throwback to segregationist ideas.”
In an online video, Infowars founder Alex Jones said “the white nationalists who hate people who aren’t white are idiots, and I decry it.”
Trump has declined to deliver similarly specific condemnations. Instead, he has seemed to suggest that the white supremacists who assembled to protest the removal of a Confederate statue are no more contemptible than the counterprotesters who showed up to oppose them.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said Saturday. “On many sides.”
The White House said in a statement Sunday that “of course” the president’s denunciation “includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups,” but Trump still has not said the same, in his own voice.
Breitbart and Infowars have nevertheless defended Trump’s response. “Trump was right to condemn violence on ‘many sides’ in Charlottesville,” read a Breitbart headline Sunday.
“Two groups who have been fighting all over the country — white supremacists and so-called ‘antifascists’ — went to Charlottesville to do the same, just as they did last summer in Sacramento, and just as they have elsewhere,” the accompanying article said. “Condemning one side alone would essentially have given the other side a pass for its tactics — and a political victory that neither deserved.”
Jones credited Trump for “actually [saying] in his statement that we should love each other. That’s beyond saying be tolerant, but we should love each other.”
In his signature conspiratorial fashion, Jones in another video spun an elaborate theory in which the entire Charlottesville episode was “staged” to justify future suppression of conservative speech. Without evidence, he claimed that the Southern Poverty Law Center had deployed actors to join the otherwise small group of “crazies on the right” to artificially worsen the scene.
Jones also complained about what he described as a culture in which “universities say whites are inherently evil.” The notion that white Americans now face greater oppression than racial minorities is a recurring theme in news coverage on Infowars and Breitbart, and a widely held — though factually unsupported — belief among Trump supporters.
A June poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost half of Americans who strongly approve of Trump say that “whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics” is a bigger problem than the reverse.
It seems likely that Trump had these people — the target audience for Breitbart and Infowars — in mind when he made his muted remarks over the weekend. Yet he appears to have overcompensated.
While Breitbart and Infowars promote the idea that white Americans are the true victims of racial discrimination, even those sites felt compelled to explicitly denounce white supremacy. That is more than could be said for the president.