Former Vice President Joe Biden wrongly claimed President Donald Trump has “yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis.”
Trump drew criticism for his condemnation of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” after a rally organized by a white nationalist in Charlottesville in 2017, and for saying there were “very fine people on both sides.” But, contrary to Biden’s claim, the president twice specifically condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and he has repeated that condemnation since.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Biden was asked what the consequences would be of a Trump victory in 2020. Biden responded that Trump would “go on dividing us based on race.”
Biden, Feb. 9: George, I, honest to God believe, they’re going to change the nature of who we are for a long, long time. Our children are listening. The idea — the man who can belittle people, go on dividing us based on race, religion, ethnicity, based on all the things that, in fact, make up America is just incredibly divisive. You see these white supremacists coming out from under the rocks. He’s yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis. He hasn’t condemned a darn thing. He has given them oxygen. And that’s what’s going to continue to happen. That’s who this guy is. He has no basic American values — he doesn’t understand the American code.
Biden has said that Trump’s comments in the aftermath of the Charlottesville rally convinced him to run for president. In a video announcing his candidacy, Biden said Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” comment “assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it” and “shocked the conscience of the nation.”
Trump has said his “very fine people” comment referred not to white supremacists and neo-Nazis but to “people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee — a great general, whether you like it or not.” Some have argued that explanation doesn’t hold up, because Trump referred in that statement to a protest “the night before” when — it was widely reported — white nationalists burned tiki torches and chanted anti-Semitic and white nationalist slogans. We’ll leave it to readers to make up their minds on Trump’s remarks, but Biden’s comment that Trump has “yet once to condemn white supremacy” is not accurate.
Let’s revisit Trump’s comments in the days after the Charlottesville rally. That rally turned violent, and one person, Heather Heyer, was killed and many others injured, when a man with a history of making racist comments plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters.
The day of that incident Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.” Trump said he had spoken to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and “we agreed that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection — really — and I say this so strongly — true affection for each other.”
Two days later, on Aug. 14, 2017, Trump issued a statement from the White House, and referred to “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Trump, Aug. 14, 2017: As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It 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. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.
Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.
During a press conference the following day, Aug. 15, 2017, Trump explained his initial “many sides” comment.
“You had a group on one side that was bad,” Trump said. “And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.” He added, “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
Here’s the relevant portion when the president said some in the group protesting the removal of the Lee statue were “very fine people”:
Reporter, Aug. 15, 2017: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides …
Trump: Well, I do think there’s blame – yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville. …
Trump: Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo — and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name. …
It’s fine, you’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people – and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally – but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats – you had a lot of bad people in the other group too.
Reporter: I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? …
Trump: No, no. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly, the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know, I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: There are two sides to a story.
So, contrary to Biden’s claim that Trump has “yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis,” in the course of two days, Trump did it twice.
Trump, Aug. 14, 2017: Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
Trump, Aug. 15, 2017: I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.
Nor was that the last time Trump condemned white supremacy by name.
After nearly two dozen people were killed on Aug. 3, 2019, in a shooting at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Trump said: “The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul. We have asked the FBI to identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism — whatever they need.”
Biden said that since Trump took office, “You see these white supremacists coming out from under the rocks.” Last March, we looked into that issue, and experts told us there are a number of indicators that suggest white nationalism and white supremacy — and violence inspired by them — are on the rise, in the U.S. and around the world.
It’s Biden’s opinion that Trump’s comments have “given them oxygen,” as he said. But Biden went too far when he said Trump has “yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis. He hasn’t condemned a darn thing.” He has, although perhaps not as often or as quickly as Biden would like.