"Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?" President Donald Trump asked to defend Americans who want to keep memorials to the Confederacy. Days after deadly clashes rocked Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nation, the president echoed language used frequently by white nationalists.
"Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee," Trump said in reference to the protest last Saturday organized by white nationalists which saw widespread acts of violence and even the death of a woman who was there to protest against American fascism.
"So this week it's Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down, I wonder: is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?" Trump asked. "You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"
Trump continued, claiming that removing memorials to treasonous Confederate generals was the equivalent of attacking monuments to American founders who owned slaves. People who want to remove such monuments need to realize that to some people, the Lee memorial in Charlottesville was, according to Trump "a very, very, important statue."
"You're changing history, you're changing culture," Trump warned. He also argued that there were "many people" who attended the rally who were not neo-Nazis and white nationalists. While there may have been some attendees who did not fit that description, the only speaker's rally organizers mentioned in their final promotional materials were self-described racists. "If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee," Trump said of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists who stormed the University of Virginia Friday night.
The president's sentiments on the matter of Confederate statues and memorials to Founding Fathers were literally an echo of an article written earlier today by the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. (The website has since gone offline.) Referring to some demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina who took down a Confederate statue, Andrew Anglin, the site's owner wrote:
"I guarantee you, they are going to go to Washington, and they are going to demand that the Washington Monument be torn down. They might even try to pull it down. Because George Washington owned slaves. More importantly, he was a white man who built something."
A similar argument has been made multiple times on Fox News in recent days. On Monday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asked, "What if you weren't sensitive enough to the Holocaust, we should take down all the statues of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? You could make an argument for that."
Fox News host Matha MacCallum responded, "You could make an argument for Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. Are you going to change the name of the Washington Monument?"
Tuesday morning, on Trump's favorite show, "Fox & Friends," guest and rumored new Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked, "How long before they show up at Monticello, where I spent three years in law school at Charlottesville in Virginia? How long before they show up at Mount Vernon?"
"Or Mount Rushmore," added co-host Pete Hegseth.
Shortly before Trump's news conference, Politico reported that the president on Saturday had deliberately rejected pre-prepared remarks about the violence in Charlottesville which had specifically condemned white nationalists. Instead, he chose to condemn violence "on many sides."
Several news reports have suggested in recent months that Trump's defensive posture toward criticism of individuals many would perceive as racist is the product of a political calculus recommended to him by his top adviser, former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon.
During his Tuesday remarks, Trump argued that people should condemn the "alt-left," a collection of people who he said were "very violent" and who engage in acts of assault against conservatives.