Ms. Emily Blout is the wife of Mike Signer, a Jewish man who was the mayor of Charlottesville, Va., when the infamous and deadly riot of 2017 erupted in that city. She’s written a post for ToI, in which she deplores the fact that, after that violence, her husband was “the victim of a concerted disinformation campaign centered around his Jewish identity.”
Every fair-minded person would condemn the vicious antisemitic, racist online attacks made against Mr. Signer, and Ms. Blout is also obviously correct in condemning murderous attacks on synagogues, schools, etc. But, while making her case against dangerous, even deadly antisemitism and racism from the far right, she finds it necessary (how could she not?) to drag into the narrative one Donald J. Trump.
This is what she says about the former president, in the context of the Charlottesville violence: “You may remember, in the ash and rubble of that day, President Donald Trump’s shameful remarks about there being ‘very fine people on both sides’ of the rioting.”
I’m sorry but, even if there are a huge number of people who hugely disapprove of the former president, I just can’t let that comment slip by. As I’ve said (and demonstrated) many times before in this blog, it is flat out false that Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the rioting that occurred between white nationalists and those who were opposing racism. What he said was something entirely different: that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a controversy over whether Robert E. Lee’s name and statue should be removed from a public park in Charlottesville.
So, dear reader, here we go, one more time.
Trump used the now-historic phrase “very fine people on both sides” in a press conference. The video of the press conference is here. What follows is my transcript (which begins at 9:53 and runs to 13:14 in the video) of part of that conference. I would ask every fair-minded person to please watch the video and check this transcript for accuracy. Four passages in the transcript are in bold, solely for ease of reference.
Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: you had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs, and it was vicious and it was horrible, and it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side—you can call them the left; you’ve just called them the left—that came violently attacking the other group. So, you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
Reporter: Sir, you said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides….
Trump: Well, I do think there’s blame, yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this thing; they showed up in Charlottesville, they showed up in Charlottesville to protest….
Trump: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-, and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group—excuse me, excuse me—I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from “Robert E. Lee” to another name.
Trump: No, George Washington was a slave-owner. Was George Washington a slave-owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Okay, good. Are we going to take down the statue? ‘Cause he was a major slave-owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So, you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally—but you had many people in that group, other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay, and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also you had some fine people, but you also had trouble-makers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad, you had a lot of bad people in the other group, too.
Reporter: Sir, I just want to understand what you’re saying. You’re saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just want to understand what you’re saying.
Trump: No, no. There were people in that rally—and I looked the night before—if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people—neo-Nazis, white nationalists—whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because—I don’t know if you know—they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So, I only tell you this: there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.
Everyone knows that Donald Trump does not speak extemporaneously with perfect clarity; very few of us do. But here, any fair-minded person would understand that, when he refers to “very fine people on both sides,” Trump is obviously referring to very fine people on both sides of the issue of whether to remove Robert E. Lee’s name and statue from a public park.
We know that Trump is referring to very fine people on both sides of the controversy around Robert E. Lee’s name and statue because, a few seconds after referring to “very fine people on both sides,” Trump specifically refers to people who were protesting the re-naming of the park and the removal of Lee’s statue. Moreover, precisely fifty-two (52) seconds after he refers to “very fine people on both sides,” he states: “I’m not talking about neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.” The only other people (besides neo-Nazis and white nationalists) he mentions are those who were protesting the removal of Robert E. Lee’s name and statue. So, in Trump’s mind, the “very fine people” are clearly among the people demonstrating in favor of retaining Robert E. Lee’s name for the park and statue in the park..
I don’t believe that protesting the removal of Robert E. Lee’s name and statue makes one a racist, a white nationalist or a neo-Nazi. People participating in that kind of protest can, I think, be very fine people. You may disagree. Nevertheless, whether you agree or disagree, it is indisputable that Trump was expressing only his own opinion that among the supporters of Robert E. Lee’s memory were very fine people. He never said–in fact, he explicitly denied– that there were very fine people among the neo-Nazis and white nationalists. What he did say about neo-Nazis and white nationalists is that they should be “condemned totally.” Does any rational person disagree with that sentiment? Does Ms. Blout disagree with that sentiment?