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August 21, 2017

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Trump is on the defensive for his response to white supremacists

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump took heat Sunday for failing to cite the role of white nationalists during a day of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia that left three people dead.

Republican lawmakers and other members of Trump's party issued strong statements about Saturday's events, while Democrats criticized Trump outright for failing to single out white supremacists groups who were at the center of the chaos.

"We should call evil by its name," Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said on Twitter. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted: "White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated."

A 32-year-old Charlottesville woman, Heather D Heyer, was killed and 19 others injured when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters at the white nationalist rally.

Two police officers who were monitoring the scene by air died when their helicopter crashed in a loss of life that officials said was directly related to the demonstration. Investigators were working to determine the cause.

Fifteen other injuries were also reported as right-wing extremists clashed with protesters throughout the day.

Four people were arrested, including the man suspected of ramming a car into counterprotesters. James Alex Fields Jr of Ohio, 20, was charged with second degree murder and other crimes.

Crowds at the "Unite the Right" rally were dotted with Nazi and Ku Klux Klan insignia and protesters were seen carrying guns as well as makeshift shields and sticks.

Senator Marco Rubio, another top Republican in Congress, implored Trump to call the incidents a terrorist attack carried out by white supremacists.

Trump's said Saturday he condemned "in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides" after the violence in Charlottesville, a university city about 190 kilometers southwest of Washington.

The president's blaming of "many sides" for the violence quickly drew fire.

On Sunday the White House emphasized that his statement included the white supremacists who staged the rally to protest the city-ordered removal of a statue of a Confederate army general who led southern forces in the US Civil War.

"Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, newo-Nazi and all extremist groups," a White House spokesman said when asked to respond to the criticism.

His national security adviser also called the event an act of terrorism, although Trump himself has not yet labelled it that.

"Any time that you commit an attack against people to incite fear it is terrorism. It meets the definition of terrorism," HR McMaster told ABC's "This Week" in an interview on Sunday.

Among the Democrats criticizing Trump was Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer.

"What I did not hear in the president's statement yesterday, as well-intentioned as it may have been, is I didn't hear the words 'white supremacy,'" Signer said on CBS. "And I think that it's important to call this for what it is."

Signor also said Trump's divisive rhetoric was partly responsible for attack.

"I mean, he made a choice in his presidential campaign, the folks around with him, to, you know, go right to the gutter, to play on our worst prejudices. And I think you are seeing a direct line from what happened here this weekend to those choices."

Separate from the investigation by Charlottesville police, the FBI and the Justice Department have opened a civil rights probe into the fatal car-ramming.

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