President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he condemns in “the strongest possible terms this degree of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides” of the ongoing violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., between white supremacists and counter-protesters, adding that he found the situation “very, very sad.”
“This has be going on for a longtime in our country, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time,” Trump told reporters, during a previously scheduled bill signing ceremony for Veterans Affairs legislation. “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
Trump added, “There are so many great things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it is very, very sad.”
Trump said he just spoken to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whom the president said agreed with him that the hate and division in the U.S. needs to stop “right now.”
“We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation, and really I say this so strongly, true affection for each other,” the president said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he “stands behind the President in condemning the violence,” adding he stands opposed to “any message of hate and intolerance.” Sessions also said the Department of Justice personnel is assisting at the scene.
“This kind of violence is totally contrary to American values and can never be tolerated,” Sessions said.
Before making his public statement, Trump wrote about his feelings on Twitter.
“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!,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Though the president did not specifically mention Charlottesville in his original tweet, he followed-up later by calling the situation in Virginia “sad!”
“Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Less than an hour prior to the president’s initial remarks, first lady Melania Trump similarly spoke out against the violence in Virginia.
“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence,” she wrote on Twitter.
McAuliffe declared a state of emergency late Saturday morning and the Associated Press reported that police dressed in riot gear have ordered people to disperse after violent confrontations between white supremacists and counter protesters ensued.
The White House said it has been in contact with McAulliffe’s office and has spoken with the governor’s chief of staff, according to a press pool report. Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, is in contact with local authorities, the report added.
Bossert condemned the violence in Charlottesville in an earlier tweet.
“The violence and hate in Charlotte [sic] are unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter. “Protests must not undermine law and order. Confidence in state/local law enforcement.”
According to the report, Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally to protest Charlottesville’s plan to remove of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a downtown park. The decision is a part of the city’s efforts to change public places named after Confederate figures.
Nancy Cook contributed to this report.