OPINION: Media, Politicians Now Say the Same Things That Trump Said Following Charlottesville
Nearly three weeks after widely condemning President Donald Trump’s statements on Charlottesville, media organizations and politicians are now saying the same things he said about the far-left Antifa extremist group.
Following the tragic events in Virginia, which saw dozens of people injured and one woman killed by a neo-Nazi sympathizer, Trump condemned the violent acts from both the far right and the far left.
At a press conference at Trump Tower in New York on Aug. 15, Trump said multiple times that the neo-Nazis and white nationalists should “be totally condemned.”
But the president also called out Antifa, saying they had shown up without a permit and had violently attacked the other group.
“You see them come with the black outfits, and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats,” he said, describing them by their signature clothing.
In his comments, Trump also made a distinction between the violent extremists on both sides and the people who had come to peacefully express their views on both sides.
However, his comments were quickly misrepresented by many media organizations and politicians as being an endorsement of white nationalists. Most of these media organizations selectively quoted from the president’s statement, omitting his strong and frequent condemnation of the far-right hate groups.
One such example was a business column published by The New York Times on Aug. 16, a day after Trump gave his press conference. The article framed his comments as having only blamed the left for the violence.
The article read, “But then he reignited the flames at a news conference on Tuesday at which he blamed club-wielding members of the ‘alt-left’ for the Charlottesville violence.”
The New York Times later corrected the error and published a correction saying, in part, “He said there was ‘blame on both sides,’ including club-wielding members of what he called the ‘alt-left’; he did not say that group was solely responsible.”
The Times also had to run corrections on two other stories for incorrectly stating that the president had blamed “all sides” for the violence in his initial statement on Aug. 12 following the violence. In fact the president had said “many sides” were responsible. While the difference in wording is small, its meaning can be interpreted very differently. “All sides” implies everyone at the protests was responsible, while “many sides” leaves the possibility that not everyone who attended the protests was acting violently—a statement consistent with others made by the president.
The inaccurate media reporting quickly took on a life of its own, with politicians—both Democrats and Republicans—condemning the president.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement on Aug. 16 that Trump had suggested that there was a “moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer.” Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a neo-Nazi sympathizer smashed into cars at an intersection filled with a crowd of left-wing protesters in Charlottesville.
This statement greatly distorts what the president said. Trump did not compare white supremacists to those who were protesting peacefully, but rather to violent groups like Antifa. Trump said both extremist groups were responsible for the violence.
When Trump was asked by a reporter during the press conference on Aug. 15 whether he was putting the “alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane,” he said:
“I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs—and it was vicious, and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.”
A Different Tune
Fast forward three weeks and The Washington Post, after publishing a number of articles critical of the president’s comments, published both editorial and opinion articles critical of Antifa. One such opinion article, published on Aug. 30, was headlined “Yes, antifa is the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis.”
The column read, “There is no difference between those who beat innocent people in the name of the ideology that gave us Hitler and Himmler and those who beat innocent people in the name of the ideology that gave us Stalin and Dzerzhinsky.”
This comes from the publication that just two weeks earlier suggested that Trump—because he called out both sides—was sympathetic to those carrying Nazi flags.
At the time, in a column headlined “Why It’s Right to Condemn Violence From the Far Right and Far Left,” I wrote that both fascism and communism are depraved ideologies that should be condemned and have no place in America or any place in the world.
The column also pointed out that Trump has shown great respect for Judaism. Accusing him of supporting the very ideology that saw an estimated 6 million Jews brutally murdered is shocking. Just several months ago, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of holiest sites in Judaism. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an Orthodox Jew; his daughter Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism in 2009; and their children are being raised as Jews.
The Washington Post column condemning Antifa also comes after the newspaper published an analysis that attempted to explain and justify the use of violence by the extremist group in an Aug. 16 article headlined “Who are the antifa?”
But following the violence in Berkeley on Aug. 27, numerous videos uploaded to social media showed Antifa members singling out and attacking Trump supporters and conservatives near a large-scale leftwing protest. Antifa members beat them in the face with fists and sticks, pepper-sprayed them, and threw urine-filled bottles at them
The incidents put on full display the violent nature of the group, which has openly called for violence against police and an end to the United States.
Since its inception in Germany in the 1920s as a front group for the Soviet Union, the group has used the label of fascism to oppose anyone who does not support its communist ideology. To date, the group has been made up mostly of communists who see violence as a means of achieving their goals.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin called for the group to be designated as a gang following the violence.
“They come dressed in uniforms, they have weapons, they’re almost a militia,” Arreguin told a local CBS affiliate on Aug. 28.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also came out and condemned the group.
“The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted,” Pelosi said in a statement on Aug. 29.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also condemned the violence in Berkeley, saying: “I denounce any individual who commits a crime, who commits violence on our citizens. We will get you, and we will arrest you, plain and simple. I don’t care what the group is.”
McAuliffe had previously ridiculed Trump for his similar statement on Charlottesville, claiming at the time that it was not “both sides.”
After weeks of public outcry to condemn the Antifa group, House Speaker Paul Ryan said through a spokesperson on Aug. 29 that Antifa are “left-wing thugs” and a “scourge on our country.” Ryan had previously criticized Trump at a CNN town hall for what Ryan said was a “moral equivocation or at the very least moral ambiguity” in condemning Antifa as well as the far-right extremists.
But much of the damage had been done by the time politicians and media outlets reversed course.
Tens of millions of Americans were bombarded with the false narrative that Trump was aiding white nationalists.
Tens of millions of Americans were led to believe that acts of violence by a far-left extremist group should not be condemned.
Ordinary Americans have been put on the defensive, and many are afraid to openly support the president for fear of being called a neo-Nazi.
Two White House economic councils had to be disbanded after members were pressured to distance themselves from the president.
Magazines ran covers painting the president as boosting white nationalism. The Aug. 28 cover of The New Yorker showed the president in a small boat with a Ku Klux Klan robe as his sail, and the Aug. 19 cover of The Economist showed Trump speaking through a megaphone that resembled a KKK conical hat.Trump himself reflected on the situation in a tweet on Aug. 29, by asking a question.
After reading the false reporting and even ferocious anger in some dying magazines, it makes me wonder, WHY? All I want to do is #MAGA!,” he wrote in a tweet, referring to his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”