U.S. President Donald Trump has denounced the white supremacists behind Saturday’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying their “racism is evil.”
For the first time since the violence, Trump mentioned by name neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs … repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
WATCH: ‘Racism is evil,’ Trump says
He vowed that anyone who committed “racist violence” in Charlottesville would be held accountable. “Justice will be delivered,” he said.
Trump said the hatred and bigotry on display in Charlottesville “has no place in America and as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin we all live under the same laws. We all salute the same great flag. And we are all made by the same, almighty God.”
Trump’s comments followed intense criticism from across the political spectrum for failing for two days to explicitly use the words white supremacists and neo Nazis in condemning the violence.
Many critics say they are glad Trump directly criticized the racists, but also lamented that it took 48 hours for him to do it.
“It should not take two days and a national tragedy for the president to take action and disavow white supremacists,” said Kristen Clarke with the non-profit Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “When it comes to the safety and the security of our communities, too many of which now feel targeted by hate-fueled protestors, two days is too late.”
Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck Pharmaceuticals quit Trump’s advisory manufacturing council because of Trump’ first response to the violence. Frazier said the president initially did not “clearly reject expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
Trump, in the first of two Twitter responses, said that since Frazier had quit the manufacturing council, he would now “have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
Speaking at the White House Monday, Trump paid tribute to the three people who lost their lives, including Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who had gone to the rally to protest against the white nationalists. She was killed when she was hit by a speeding car driven into a group of counter-protesters.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, thanked Trump for denouncing “violence and hatred,” and vowed to continue her daughter’s activism against bigotry. “That’s what America is about, that’s what made America great to begin with. We are a melting pot of everybody coming together and working as one,” Bro said.
Two Virginia state police troopers who had been monitoring the protest from the air were also killed when their helicopter crashed.
Trump spoke after two of his top law enforcement officials — Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray — briefed him on the federal probe. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Saturday’s violence.
Sessions told ABC News, “You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation towards the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America.”
Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas said the far right groups broke their agreement with police and entered a city park form different directions instead of a single entry point.
The 20-year-old alleged driver of the car that hit Heyer, James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with murder along with other counts.
Fields is a longtime Nazi sympathizer. A Charlottesville judge refused to grant him bond during his first court appearance Monday.
The far-right groups held the rally to protest plans by Charlottesville to tear down a statue of General Robert E. Lee.
Lee was the leader of the Confederate forces that fought against federal forces in the U.S. Civil War from 1861 until 1865.
The war was essentially about slavery in the U.S. south. Statues of Lee and other Confederate generals have become the center of demonstrations in several U.S. cities.
(VOA’s William Gallo contributed to this report from the White House)