White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert dismissed criticisms of the president's response to violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia in an interview on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday. Bossert asserted that President Donald Trump didn't issue explicit condemnations of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the Alt-Right because he did not want to "dignify" those groups by mentioning them.
"The president not only condemned the violence and stood up at a time and a moment when calm was necessary and didn't dignify the names of these groups of people but rather addressed the fundamental issue," Bossert told CNN's Jake Tapper. "What you need to focus on is the rest of his statement."
Bossert also dismissed claims that the vagueness of Trump's statement had served only to embolden white nationalists. When Tapper read Bossert a quote pulled from a neo-Nazi website, which praised the president for giving "no condemnation at all" to white nationalists and characterized his statement on Charlottesville as "really, really good," Bossert said, "the words of the ignorant bear little with me and should bear less with you in the media."
Although Bossert repeatedly defended the president's statement as being a clear denouncement of violence, he also, after some pressing, issued his own personal condemnation of white nationalist groups. "Let me say I condemn white supremacists, and nazis, and groups that favor this type of exclusion," Bossert told Tapper. "I can't be clearer."
In a statement issued to reporters Saturday after the deadly rally, President Trump said he condemned "in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides." But many on both sides of the aisle were quick to criticize the president for failing to declare the incident an act of domestic terrorism.
"Mr. President - we must call evil by its name," Republican Sen. Cory Gardner tweeted Saturday. "These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."
"What happened in Charlottesville is domestic terrorism," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden wrote in a tweet published Saturday. "The President's words only serve to offer cover for heinous acts."
On Sunday, the White House sought to defend the president's remarks in a statement that noted the president had "very strongly" condemned "all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred" in his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville. "Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups," political blog the Hill reported a White House spokesperson said.
In previous years Trump has been an outspoken critic of former President Barack Obama's hesitation to use the term "radical islamic terrorism," making his refusal to deem the attack in Charlottesville an act of domestic terrorism all the more awkward.