Two days apart, President Trump issued two different statements about the violence that engulfed Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white supremacist rally over the weekend.
Shortly after a car drove through a crowd of counterprotesters on Saturday, killing one and wounding dozens, Trump released a statement criticizing violence “from many sides.”
Facing criticism over the vague wording of his initial response, Trump released a second statement on Monday that divided his white nationalist supporters. Some heard the diluted words of a man forced to bow to media pressure, while others found winking encouragement in between the lines.
When he says ‘all sides,’ they hear vindication
As violence spread across Charlottesville, Trump spoke from a podium in Bedminster, New Jersey. The statement, seemingly strong in its tone but vague on the intended subjects, worried career politicians and anti-racists who sensed a President unwilling to rebuke white nationalism by name.
Nazi, alt-right and white supremacist groups, however, were emboldened by the condemnation, which they saw as a defense, or even as a tacit approval.
Andrew Anglin, the creator of the Nazi site The Daily Stormer, praised Trump’s response. “He didn’t attack us,” he wrote in a blog post on the site. “(He) implied that there was hate … on both sides. So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us all.”
The devil was in the details — or lack thereof. By refusing to name the white nationalist groups at the center of the conflict, the President left the definition of both “hatred” and “violence” up to interpretation and handed the groups a rhetorical victory.
When he says ‘other hate groups,’ they hear their enemies
After nearly two days of heavy criticism, the President made more detailed remarks on Monday afternoon.
Though he answered the public request to call white nationalist organizations by name, many of his supporters were focused on the more general parts of his statement.
“He said EVERYONE INVOLVED will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. that includes Antifa and BLM,” one Reddit user posted on the site’s pro-Trump subreddit.
“He left the door open and clearly said we are all equal under the law,” added another.
His addition of “other hate groups” led some white nationalist supporters to believe he was intentionally implicating Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist activists.
“I think (and hope) by ‘other hate groups,’ he means the real hate groups in America, the Anti-White ones,” wrote one denizen of Stormfront, the infamous white supremacist community.
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This type of secret messaging, some of these supporters said, was a way for Trump to signal his continued support without playing into “MSM (mainstream) media” narratives.
“Remember, it’s never going to be enough. They will blast him for not saying this sooner and not being harsh enough,” one user cautioned.
When he says their names, they hear injustice
Some supporters were dismayed that Trump had seemingly capitulated and tamped down his fearless “tell-it-like-it-is” persona.
“I’m sick of defending Trump. Now that he is anti white pride but doesn’t say anything about BLM of Antifa it’s clear he’s just another (expletive),” one 4chan user wrote.
David Duke, a former leader of the KKK, whom Trump denounced by name, was also not happy about the statement.
“It appears the First Amendment doesn’t apply to White Americans just like racial discrimination laws don’t protect White Americans,” he wrote after Trump’s statement.
Stormfront boards on the subject were littered with calls of “turncoat” and worse.
It’s sort of ironic. A good chunk of online alt-right commenters accurately pointed out that, at this point in time, there was no way Trump was going to please all of his opponents with a speech.
It turns out, not all of his supporters are pleased either.