(USA TODAY) - President Trump publicly denounced a deadly eruption of violence at a Virginia rally of white nationalists Saturday, declaring that the "hatred and division must stop.''
Trump, interrupting a signing ceremony for legislation benefiting veterans at his New Jersey golf club, called the street clashes, ending with a car plowing through a group of counter-protesters, "very, very sad.''
"I condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of violence and bigotry,'' Trump said, calling for a "swift restoration of law and order.''
But white nationalist leader David Duke quickly seized on Trump's comments, calling on the president to "to take a good look in the mirror (and) remember it was white Americans who put you in the presidency.''
Duke's remarks were a reminder of the challenge Trump faces when addressing issues of race, as members of the alt-right often rallied to the side of Trump's contentious campaign.
Although he offered a condemnation, Trump did not single out the hate-fueled white nationalist movement. Rather, he suggested that "many sides'' were responsible for Saturday's unrest.
He did not elaborate, other than to to say that such conflict "has been going on for a long time in our country.''
"Above all else, we must remember this truth," Trump said. "No matter color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first.''
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a one-time Trump rival, appeared to rally to the president's aid, tweeting that it was "very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists."
Trump addressed the unrest in Charlottesville, Va., where Gov. Terry McAuliffe earlier declared a state of emergency when the alt-right protest of the city's planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee turned unruly.
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
First lady Melania Trump joined the president, saying that "no good comes from violence.''
"Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts,'' the first lady said.
The fighting, featuring clubs and bottle-throwing, followed an unusually large demonstration Friday night with white-nationalists carrying lighted torches through the streets.
"The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant,'' House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted Saturday. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.''
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said the hate-fueled demonstrations were not representative of his state and the rest of the country.
"White supremacists chanting Nazi slogans aren't Virginia or America,'' Beyer said. "They are weak, ignorant, fearful people with citronella tiki torches.''
Beyer referred to Friday night's display in which demonstrators marched with torches generally used to illuminate summertime backyard gatherings.
"Free speech may give them the right to do this but also empowers us to unite to loudly speak out against it,'' said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.
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