Trump denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as criminals and thugs, bowing to mounting political pressure days after a white supremacist rally turned deadly in Virginia.
US President Donald Trump – under pressure to explicitly condemn a weekend rally by white supremacists in Virginia that ended in bloodshed – denounced racism as "evil" on Monday, singling out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as "repugnant."
"Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America," Trump said in nationally televised remarks from the White House, where he travelled early Monday to meet with his top law enforcement aides.
"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 everything we hold dear as Americans."
President Trump condemns KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as 'criminals and thugs,' says 'racism is evil.' #Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/32nd5lw4gH— Immigrants☆4☆Trump (@immigrant4trump) August 14, 2017
Trump had taken heat from Democrats and Republicans alike for his response to Saturday's violence in Charlottesville.
A woman died and 19 people were injured in the city of Charlottesville when a car plowed into a crowd of people after a rally by Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists turned violent. Two state police officers died in a helicopter crash near the area.
Earlier Monday, Sessions said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" program that the car attack "does meet the definition of domestic terrorism."
"You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation towards the most serious charges that can be brought because this is unequivocally an unacceptable, evil attack," he told ABC.
The Justice Department has launched a civil rights inquiry in connection with the incident, and the driver, a 20-year-old Ohio man who was said to have had a history of neo-Nazi beliefs, has been charged with second-degree murder.
On Monday, a judge denied bail for the suspected attacker, James Fields.
Merck CEO resigns from Trump council
After a weekend of criticism of Trump from both sides of the political aisle, a prominent African-American businessman quit a presidential advisory body Monday to protest what he deemed an insufficient response.
"Our country's strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs," Ken Frazier, chief executive of Merck Pharmaceutical, said in announcing his resignation from Trump's American Manufacturing Council.
"America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal," Frazier said.
"As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."
August 14, 2017
In response, Trump lambasted the African-American CEO on Twitter.
Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
In an appearance Saturday at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump faulted "many sides" for the violence. He made no mention of the far-right militia groups involved in the Charlottesville melee, some of whom were wearing Trump hats or T-shirts.
White House officials have since made explicit they oppose bigotry and white supremacy. Several top officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and White House advisor Ivanka Trump, have spoken forcefully against hate groups.
But Trump, whose presidential campaign was championed by prominent white supremacists such as David Duke, has come under fire from many in his own party for not speaking out clearly on the matter.