When it Comes to Charlottesville, Trump and Duke Sound Alike

Ryan Goodman

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

President Donald Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville during a news conference on August 15 received applause from white nationalists including David Duke and Richard Spencer. That is widely known.

What has not been reported is how closely some of Trump’s remarks tracked a video statement by David Duke the day before.

Trending: Rabbis Won't Call Trump for Jewish High Holidays Because of Charlottesville Response

Duke recorded his statement as a direct appeal to Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Duke was reacting to the president’s highly scripted remarks on that Monday, August 14, when Trump finally named neo-nazis and white supremacists and denounced violence committed by them in Charlottesville.

Following the president’s Monday remarks, Duke’s principal points were twofold:

First, the former Ku Klux Klan leader said he wanted to “beseech” the President that the media had misleadingly painted Duke, Spencer, and their associated groups as pro-violence when they instead principally came to Charlottesville to engage in free speech.

Second, Duke asked the president to go beyond denouncing violence coming from the alt-right and also “denounce” groups on the so-called left for their acts of violence. “That’s what we’re asking you, President Trump,” Duke said in closing his remarks.

Those two appeals track what the president did the following day in his news conference.

What’s also of significance are many similarities in the Monday remarks of David Duke and Tuesday remarks of President Trump, down to the details.

I am not suggesting here that somehow Duke’s comments made their way, directly or indirectly, to President Trump or that the president takes his talking points from such figures. It is enough to reflect on how an audience of alt-right listeners could see a host of similarities across the two sets of remarks, especially given the dangers of emboldening such armed hate groups.

This exercise may also assist members of the White House staff and the president’s supporters who are seeking ways to deescalate and counteract how the president’s remarks have played into the hands of white supremacists.

Just take a step back and look at the following 10 comparisons.

RTSJ9II

Former Ku Klux Klan chief David Duke leaves the Louisiana Secretary of State's office after filing to run as a Republican for United States Senate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 22, 2016. Bryn Stole/reuters

1. Very fine people

Duke (Aug. 14):

“And those courageous men that went to Virginia to stand at the statue of one of our great heroes Robert E. Lee, many of them paid a price. And they were very brave and wonderful people.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“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.”

2. Violence from the so-called “alt-left”

Duke (Aug. 14):

“When you’re under attack by somebody with baseball bats trying to bash your brains out, for God’s sakes, you panic ….”

“They were attacked unmercifully just as Trump supporters were attacked in Chicago”

“I have urged nonviolence, but I can tell you this. People do have a right to defend themselves.”

Don't miss: Mariah Carey Among Many Successful Women Who Suffer From Low Self-Esteem

“Mr. Trump, okay you’ve denounced us now. So denounce the Antifa and the Black Lives Matter terrorists. That’s what we’re asking you, President Trump.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“What about the alt-left that came charging at — Excuse me — What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this: What about the fact that they came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs?”

“You see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group too.”

“You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”

“But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group.”

3. Blame on both sides and rejecting violence on both sides, including by members of the alt-right

Duke (Aug. 14):

“No leader of the alt-right who came to Charlottesville advocates violence. In fact, the last thing that Richard Spencer wants … or that I want is violence.”

“I’ve always condemned violence.”

“Apparently some people went too far — obviously. Some people were under attack and got a little crazy, because when you’re under attack by somebody with baseball bats trying to bash your brains out, for God’s sakes, you panic and you do things that are stupid and you do things that are wrong.”

“Mr. President, you’re gonna condemn us? You’re not gonna condemn these same communists, who across the country-you’re not gonna condemn this media?”

Trump (Aug. 15):

In response to a reporter’s question, “You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides?,” the president said:

“Well I do think there’s blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.”

4. The alt-right had a permit

Duke (Aug. 14):

“The establishment had to shut this rally down. By the way, we had a legal permit.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“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.”

5. Media as fake news and lying (including specifically on reporting violence at Charlottesville)

Duke (Aug. 14):

Most popular: Even Dark Web Drug Traffickers Have to Help Their Parents With Computers and the Internet

“We also know that our fake news media will not give a true account of things just as they have not given a true account of the meeting and the planned meeting, the shut-down meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

“Mr. President, you’re gonna condemn us? You’re not gonna condemn these same communists, who across the country-you’re not gonna condemn this media? Don’t believe the narrative of the media.”

“We have a controlled, lying, fake news media. So, I just wanna set some of the record straight.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news.”

“I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say.”

“So — excuse me — and you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not.”

6. Slippery slope: George Washington

Duke (Aug. 14):

“They’re not only gonna tear down Robert E. Lee …. They’re gonna tear down George Washington.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down statues to George Washington?”

7. They were not (all) Nazis and supremacists

Duke (Aug. 14):

“They showed a few people with a forbidden symbol or with something then they call everybody Nazis or they call everybody whatever, you know. It’s just ridiculous. You know the media is a lying machine in this country, right?”

“There was not anybody at that meeting who calls themselves a white supremacist. At the most, they might be called separatist .… ”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“Excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis.”

“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. O.K.? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

“Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”

8. Importance of statues to history and culture

Duke (Aug. 14):

“They want to have a nation based on the values of their forefathers. They want reverence for their own heroes and their own ancestors like Robert E. Lee.”

“Every man who wrote the Declaration of Independence were Western Christian men. And our heritage, you know if you wanna make America great again you can’t make America great again unless you make the people who built America great again and at least be pretty fairly, right?”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue.”

“Are we going to take down the [Jefferson] statue? Cause he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You are changing history, you’re changing culture.”

9. Knowing the facts before drawing conclusions and the driver of the vehicle

Duke (Aug. 14):

“Look, the terrorists out there weren’t us. It was the Antifa and Black Lives Matter terrorists. Even in the incident with the car. I don’t know all the details, but I know I want to find out the details before I say that someone’s guilty.”

“I don’t think it was intentional. I don’t know! But there’s no way we can know, but we can’t rush to judgement in this in this case.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. … This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement.”

When pressed further on the driver of the vehicle, Trump said:

“You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. What he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”

10. Jobs and the economy – a non sequitur?

Duke (Aug. 14):

“You’ve also worked to restore American jobs. We’ve had a mass increase in labor across the South, across America. Wages have even increased, and more jobs are available for people who’ve paid taxes their whole lives, because of your presidency.”

Trump (Aug. 15):

“I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we have ever had in the history of our country. We are doing record business.”

At the outset of directing his remarks to President Trump, Duke began by saying, “I know they’ll say that you’re a bad guy because you have said the same things I’ve said.”

Ryan Goodman is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security and the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. He served as Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-16).

More from Newsweek

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes