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Conservative commentators spent the weekend and Monday unpacking the violence in Charlottesville, where a white supremacist allegedly killed a counterprotester following a rally in defense of a Confederate monument. President Trump initially issued statements about the incident that condemned “many sides” for their actions, a stance that was criticized by conservatives like National Review’s David French. “America is at a dangerous crossroads,” he wrote. “I know full well that I could have supplemented my list of violent white supremacist acts with a list of vicious killings and riots from left-wing extremists—including the recent act of lone-wolf progressive terror directed at GOP members of the House and Senate. There is a bloodlust at the political extremes. Now is the time for moral clarity, specific condemnations of vile American movements—no matter how many MAGA hats its members wear—and for actions that back up those appropriately strong words.”
In an editorial published Sunday evening, National Review called for Trump to directly condemn white supremacists:
Of course President Trump is correct that there has been violence on both sides during the current season of protest theater, from the black-shirted rioters and arsonists in Berkeley to the white-shirted white supremacists in Charlottesville. In the latter case, the president’s denunciation of hatred and bigotry, while welcome, fell short. It is important that he join Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, et al., and call this what it is: an act of terrorism conducted under the auspices of a white-supremacist movement that has embraced terrorism and political violence.
This is somewhat awkward for President Trump because the cracked and malevolent young men raging about “white genocide” are his people, whether he wants them or not. Let us be clear about what we mean by that: President Trump obviously has defects and shortcomings as a political leader, but we do not believe for a second that those failures include a sneaking anti-Semitism or a secret taste for neo-Confederate revanchism. At the same time, he has made common cause with those who have flirted with those elements for political and financial gain.
“Trump’s response to the racist rally has been—how to put this?—underwhelming,” the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher wrote. “No, I’m sorry, it’s not ‘underwhelming’. It’s disgusting. And given that professional racist David Duke invoked Trump’s name favorably at Friday night’s rally, Trump has every reason in the world to condemn this rally and its attendees in no uncertain terms. But he didn’t do it.”
The Daily Wire’s John Nolte defended Trump’s comments. “My opinion is not the popular one but what I saw in Charlottesville Saturday is what President Trump saw—hate, violence and bigotry from ‘many sides,’” he wrote. “And when you are the President of the United States attempting to do the most important thing, which is to restore law and order, what you cannot do is be seen as taking sides, even if doing so will appease the [mainstream media] and those in the GOP who foolishly seek to appease the [mainstream media].”
Trump’s subsequent statement from the White House on Monday, in which he explicitly condemned “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups,” was endorsed but criticized for coming too late:
That was a strong statement. Would have been better on Saturday, but still important that he did it— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) August 14, 2017
Nothing can undo the last 72 hours.— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) August 14, 2017
In another post, Rod Dreher argued that Charlottesville “is the kind of America that identity politics is calling into being”:
As I keep saying here, you cannot have an identity politics of the Left without calling up the same thing on the Right. Left-liberals who want conservatives to stigmatize and denounce white nationalism, but conservatives who do so will be sneered at by white nationalists as dupes and fools who advocate disarmament in the face of racist, sexist forces of the Left.
When the Left indulges in rhetoric that demonizes whites—especially white males—it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left punishes white males who violate its own delicate speech taboos, while tolerating the same kind of rhetoric on its own side, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left obsesses over ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, but ignores the plight of poor and working-class whites, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson characterized Charlottesville as a fight between the “tribal left” and the “tribal right.” “The Left’s damnatio memoriae campaign to tear down Confederate statues shares something in common with the white supremacist impulse to stage tiki-torch rallies in defense of those statues: the ultimate goal isn’t to re-litigate the Civil War but to polarize the American body politic, to force the mainstream into a kind of crude tribalism,” he wrote. “The fact is, neither the extreme left or the extreme right are representative of any significant constituencies in American politics. They do not wield actual power, but they have realized a way to exert out-sized influence through the instigation of publicly staged violence.”
Dinesh D’Souza appeared on Fox & Friends to argue that the alt-right ideologically belongs on the Democratic Party’s side:
The Democratic Party invented white nationalism and the Democratic Party invented black nationalism. Now interestingly today, the way that the progressive Democrats constructed their sort-of multicultural totem pole, they encourage every form of ethnic nationalism except white nationalism. And so they encourage black nationalism and Hispanic nationalism, Asian nationalism, but somehow the white guy’s not welcome at the multicultural picnic. This, I think actually explains why these white nationalists, who really belong in the Democratic Party, are, in a sense, politically homeless.
RedState’s Andrea Ruth wrote that Trump was quicker and more explicit in his criticism of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier’s resignation from the White House’s manufacturing council than he had been in condemning the alt-right and white supremacists. “Frazier’s statement is unobjectionable for anyone who found Trump’s response and lack of calling out white supremacists over the weekend’s violence, but particularly as Frazier is one of the most prominent black male CEOs in the world,” she wrote. “The president, however, sunk further beneath the dignity of the office he holds to go after Frazier on Twitter.”
Other conservative voices took aim at the argument that the conservative movement has ties to the alt-right. “One of the hottest takes from the Left is that the alt-right represents the entire right—that what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia represented conservatives broadly,” the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro wrote. “That’s factually incorrect, and intellectually dishonest. The alt-right is not just conservatives who like memes or who dislike Paul Ryan. The alt-right is a philosophy of white supremacy and white nationalism espoused by the likes of Vox Day, Richard Spencer, and Jared Taylor.”
RedState’s Josh Kimbrell agreed. “My message to the alt-right is clear: you don’t speak for me or American conservatives,” he wrote. “Conservatives stand for freedom, but you stand for racial fascism. Conservative ideas aren’t just for white people, but are the principles needed for all Americans to prosper.”
On Facebook, Tomi Lahren admonished “social media warriors” who criticized Trump and conservatives in the wake of the rally.
You should be ashamed of yourselves. That kind of nonsense is uncalled for, especially when we’ve made it crystal-clear we do not support, condone, or associate with hate groups or white supremacists! What good do you think you’re doing? It’s this phony identity politics that lost you the election. The average Trump supporter is not a Nazi or white supremacist. The average Trump supporter is a hard-working American who believes in limited government, personal responsibility, a strong military, a strong border, American jobs and America first. The fact that you can sit behind your keyboards and continue to demonize us and write us all off as deplorables, bigots, racists, and white nationalists might be a funny joke to you. It might make you feel big inside, but it’s bullshit and you know it.