President Donald Trump on Wednesday deflected a question about the rise of white supremacist violence in the U.S., suggesting without prompt that “antifa” and “other kinds of supremacy” are hate groups worthy of equal concern.
Trump, speaking to reporters on the south lawn of the White House, was asked what he was going to do about America’s ongoing white supremacy crisis. He replied that he was against “any group of hate,” under which label he included both white supremacists and anti-fascists.
“I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate,” he said. “I don’t like it. ... Whether it’s white supremacy, whether it’s any other kind of supremacy. Whether it’s antifa. Whether it’s any group of hate. I am very concerned about it and I’ll do something about it.”
The quote echoed his infamous 2017 speech after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia ― at which a neo-Nazi killed a counter-protester ― when he declared there were “very fine people on both sides” of the white supremacist gathering.
Both quotes were misleading attempts to suggest that anti-fascist protesters ― who, in the president’s mind, represent the entire political left ― represent as much of a threat as white supremacists, who on several occasions have invoked Trump’s own rhetoric and the names of right-wing commentators and conspiracy theorists after they’ve killed innocent people.
The groups are not equal by any metric. In 2018, domestic extremists in the U.S. ― the majority of whom were white supremacists ― killed 50 people, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The worst mass shooting in 2019 so far was also carried out by an avowed white supremacist, who killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, last week. As HuffPost’s Nick Robins-Early notes, white supremacists have been killing people all over the world ― in Christchurch, New Zealand; Munich; Quebec City; Birstall, England; Pittsburgh; Oslo, Norway; and elsewhere.
Trump and other conservatives have repeatedly attempted to equalize that threat with anti-fascist protesters, most recently by suggesting that the shooter who killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, was driven to violence by his anti-fascist leanings. The New York Post, noting that the Ohio shooter had previously tweeted “kill every fascist” and “Nazis deserve death and nothing else,” argued that “antifa’s violence goes far beyond the street hooliganism it has become infamous for.”
So far, there’s no evidence indicating that the Dayton shooting was politically or racially motivated. That gunman, however, reportedly idolized other mass shooters and created a “hit list” of people he wanted to kill or rape in high school.