White House defends Trump's response to Charlottesville violence

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

President Trump is returning to Washington from a working holiday amid growing criticism of his apparent failure to single out white supremacists for condemnation when he responded to the Charlottesville violence.

The US president condemned the "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence" in the US city after violence erupted at a far-right rally, but was seen by some as having not done enough.

The White House tried to stem the damage on Sunday. Senior aides were dispatched to the morning news shows, yet they struggled at times to explain the president's position.

The US President tweeted on Monday that he was returning to Washington but did not mention the Virginia town, instead he wrote that there was "much work to do. Focus on trade and military".

A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car ploughed into anti-fascist protesters opposing a major white nationalist march held over the weekend in Virginia. Nineteen other people were injured.

Eyewitnesses said the driver had deliberately rammed pedestrians.

Following criticism from both Republicans and Democrats of President Trump's initial remarks, Vice President Mike Pence condemned the violence "in the strongest terms".

Speaking during a news conference in Colombia on his Latin American visit, Mr Pence added "these dangerous fringe groups" have no place in American public life.

Pence added, "We have no tolerance for hate and violence, white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK."

While Trump had condemned the violence on "many sides", he was accused of not going far enough and citing white nationalists.

The White House subsequently issued a statement insisting that the president's condemnation included white supremacists.

It said: "The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.

"He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together."

Violence erupted on Saturday after hundreds of white nationalists converged for a "Unite the Right" march, protesting against the removal of a statue of a general who had fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War.

Demonstrators included neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

An Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr, has been arrested over the death of the woman involving the car.

The 20-year-old has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of "hit and run attended failure to stop with injury"

He appeared in court on Monday via videolink and was not granted bail.

Officials have also announced the opening of a civil rights investigation into the killing.

The US president quickly appealed for calm at a press conference, insisting "the hate and the division must stop".

But he declined to blame either side, and has since been criticised for not singling out white nationalists.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. It has no place in America," he said.

Mr Trump called for Americans to come together "with love for our nation ... and true affection for each other".

"Above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our colour, creed, religion, or political party, we are all Americans first," he said.

The hit-and-run attack was by far the most serious incident Credit: PA

Charlottesville was struck by 15 other violent incidents, police said, as thousands of white supremacists arrived in the city for a "Unite the Right" march called by right-wing blogger Jason Kessler.

The march was described by civil rights groups as America's "largest hate gathering in decades".

Heather Heyer was killed in the violence.

They were met by anti-fascist protesters, with the two groups repeatedly clashing in street brawls.

Riot police used tear gas and armoured vehicles, with authorities declaring a state of emergency in the city as they struggled to cope with repeated violent clashes.

Two Virginia State Police officials were killed when a police helicopter assisting in law enforcement efforts crashed southwest of the city, but state police said that no foul play was suspected.

Emergency services help the injured after a car crashed into pedestrians. Credit: AP

The hit-and-run attack on left-wing protesters which left one person dead was by far the most serious incident.

The mayor of Charlottesville Michael Signer said via Twitter that he is "heartbroken" to announce that a "life has been lost".

A number of people videoing the scene captured the incident, recording the screams of horror as the vehicle ploughed into pedestrians.

Samantha Bloom, the mother of Fields, the man arrested in connection with the attack, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn't know it was a white nationalist rally.

"I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump's not a white supremacist," Bloom told the AP.

At least 19 people were injured in the crash. Credit: AP

Charlottesville has been a target for far right protesters since the city's authorities decided to remove a statue of Confederate forces commander Robert E Lee.

Among those expected at the rally were Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and "alt-right" activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Some of those attending were pictured waving Nazi flags while others were making fascist salutes.

White nationalists clash with counter-protesters in Charlottesville. Credit: AP

Rally organiser Mr Kessler said this week that the demonstration was partly about the removal of Confederate symbols, but also about free speech and "advocating for white people".

He said in an interview: "This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do."