Trump's condemnation of Charlottesville was too little too late

Trump's condemnation of Charlottesville was too little too late
Comment: Even with empty gestures condemning white supremacy, these groups feel emboldened. For Muslims and other minorities, the damage has already been done, writes Dan Arel.
8 min read
15 Aug, 2017
Even Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan took to Twitter to denounce these attackers [AFP]
During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, then Republican candidate Donald Trump condemned President Barack Obama and the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for what he called their failure to call terrorism, carried about by Muslims, as "radical Islamic terrorism". 

"If it is radical Islamic terrorism, it's about time he [Obama] said so. If it's radical Islamic terrorism, he ought to say it. People would sigh with relief if he said that," Trump said in an interview on Fox News the morning of the Nice, France terrorist attack.

Trump made it a regular point on the campaign trail and during presidential debates of chiding those who would not use his language on the issue. Many pundits criticised Trump for this because they believe that using the word "Islamic" which covers all of those who follow the religion, puts Muslims around the world, especially in the US, in great danger.

Trump, however, defended his choice, maintaining it was critical to call this terrorism by name.

Yet, on 12 August when white nationalist James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, President Trump decided he would not call the murder an act of terrorism.

In his comments, Trump said that he stood against the "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides," failing to directly name white nationalism, Nazis, or any other far-right extremist group for the violence and murder of Heyer. In blaming "many sides," it appeared as though the president was trying to place blame on the victim herself, an avowed anti-fascist.

Trump's comments received criticism immediately as groups wanted to know why the president is so quick to blame Islam for all terrorist acts but refused to name white hate groups, in the same way, even avoiding calling the murder an act of terrorism altogether.

It then took two days before Trump took to the podium again to finally condemn these groups

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer seemed to believe this was because Trump "consorted" with these white nationalists on the campaign trail.

"Old saying: When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change. The devil changes you," Signer said the day after the attack on NBC's "Meet The Press". On the day of the attacks, Singer said that he hopes President Trump "looks himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with".

Even Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan took to Twitter to call these attackers what they are, bigots and white nationalists. Republican Senator Cory Gardner insisted the president must "call evil by its name".

This prompted the White House to try and amend the statement quickly by saying that of course the president's statement "includes white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups".

It then took two days before Trump took to the podium again to finally condemn these groups.

"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 all that we hold dear as Americans," the president said in a prepared statement.

Protestors in Illinois take a stand in reaction to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and demonstrate
against Trump and white supremacy [AFP]

This statement comes too little too late for most.

The dog whistle was heard by the white supremacists. They came away feeling empowered.

The Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, praised Trump's comments, calling them "good" in a statement posted by founder Andrew Anglin.

"No condemnation at all," Anglin continued. "When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him."

While the president has now backtracked on his original comments, the damage has already been done. It took 48 hours of public pressure for the President of the United States to feel it necessary to condemn these groups.

He would never have taken 48 hours to condemn "Islamic terrorists".

In the end, the president's comments only provide a shield to white nationalist extremists, taking the blame away from their ideology and making it sound like it was a few bad apples responsible for these horrific attacks. This kind of rhetoric actually serves to protect these groups from further attack.

Read more: New atheism's move from Islamophobia to white nationalism

Even in his follow-up statement, he attempted to place the blame on "many sides" saying that "Anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable".

This only works to further spread the false narrative that anti-fascist groups descended upon Charlottesville to carry out violence, and not as a self-defense measure to protect another community that the Nazi groups openly stated they planned on "taking back". 

This shield the president provided white supremacists will embolden these extremists

This shield the president provided white supremacists will embolden these extremists while at the same time sends a clear message to his own supporters that he finds Islamic terrorism to be a greater threat to the American people, continuing to make life for Muslims in the US unsafe.

Such a belief is, however, clearly unfounded. Since September 11, 2001, a study found that 48 people had been killed by white terrorists, while 26 were killed by radical Islamists.

And according to Time Magazine, the study also found that "the criminal justice system judged jihadists more harshly than their non-Muslim counterparts, indicting them more frequently than non-jihadists and handing down longer sentences".

These facts are inconvenient to the president who ran a campaign on the platform of keeping America safe from terrorism

These facts are inconvenient to the president who ran a campaign on the platform of keeping America safe from terrorism. Trump also uses this fear of Muslims to support his so-called "travel ban" which in the end is simply a religious ban meant to keep Muslims out of the US. 

The president is also slow to condemn violence in the US against Muslims, either waiting days or weeks or often ignoring the attacks altogether.

When two men were murdered in Portland, Oregon on 26 May for protecting a Muslim girl from harassment by an avowed white nationalist, it took Trump three days, to make any comment about the killing.

Instead of making a comment on his personal Twitter, the comment came from the staff run @POTUS account, reading, "The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them."

In contrast, when a Muslim terrorist carried out an attack at London Bridge in England, Trump took to Twitter immediately to condemn the "Islamic terrorism". When it comes to these condemnations of Muslim terrorists, Trump never fails to make them from his personal Twitter account.

It seems obvious that for Trump, the label "terrorist" only applies to Muslims, and using the word Islamic, instead of Islamist, puts a bullseye on all Muslims in the US. His message has been clear about who is an enemy of the state, even while right-wing, white terrorism is on the rise.

More so, Trump's actions go beyond US Muslims and place Muslims around the world in danger. His travel ban seeks to block refugees from reaching US shores, often leaving them in grave danger. The banning of Syrian refugees, writes columnist Tom Moran, is "the moral equivalent of turning away Jews on the eve of World War II".

It's not just Trump who espouses these dangerous views in the White House. Trump's former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn said Islam is "not necessarily a religion but a political system that has a religious doctrine behind it".

"The Judeo-Christian West is at war with Islam," Steve Bannon, Trump's senior advisor, said in 2014. Bannon himself, along with others in the White House have countless ties with white nationalist groups.

This anti-Muslim rhetoric, as compared to the softened language against white nationalists, tells his supporters who he believes the real enemy is. To the average American, it may appear that Trump is just sloppy in his condemnation of these white nationalist groups. The truth is far more dangerous.

These political dog whistles are obvious given the president's readiness to name all of his enemies. From the mainstream media to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and even going as far to attack the Khan family whose military veteran son, a Muslim, was killed in action.

Trump even attacked Nordstrom, a high-end department store, for its decision to stop carrying his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line. Trump will happily name and attack a department store but must be pressured into actually condemning the KKK, Nazis, and other white nationalist groups.

The White House has drawn their line in the sand.

Even with empty gestures condemning white supremacy, these groups feel emboldened. Trump's White House has named its enemies and pandered to its allies.

It's not a coincidence that groups such as the KKK endorsed Trump's bid for the presidency and that these same groups are now speaking out in support of his original statement on Charlottesville. 

America has a white supremacy problem, and that problem starts in the highest office of the United States.

Dan Arel is a political activist, award-winning journalist and the author of The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God. 

Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.