TIME

BIGOTS, BOOSTED BY THE BULLY PULPIT

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS Unite the Right activists from across the country gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue

Nearly alone among the nation’s elected leaders, President Trump saw a nobility of purpose in the fiery procession that began a weekend of street fights in Charlottesville, Va. White nationalists hoisted tiki torches that recalled the horrifying imagery of the Ku Klux Klan. They revived an old Nazi chant—“Blood and Soil”—which had been silenced in 1945 with American blood on German soil. And they mixed in a new anti-Semitic taunt, “Jews will not replace us,” meant to declare unity of the white race.

But to the President, those details did not tell the whole story. Marching with the racists, fascists and separatists, he argued, were some “very fine people” with a worthy mission. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” he said on Aug. 15 at a press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower. “Not all of those people were white supremacists. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.”

The Confederate general has sat on his horse in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) since 1924, when monuments were going up across the South in celebration of post-Reconstruction revival amid the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow segregation. To Trump, calls for the statue’s removal were the start of a slippery slope that threatened to undermine the nation’s history and culture. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” he asked

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.