President Trump belatedly denounced violence specifically by white nationalist groups Monday under enormous pressure, singling out the KKK and neo-Nazis by name after a weekend of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Racism is evil,” Mr. Trump said at the White House after meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Noting that the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into a deadly car attack, the president said, “To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.”
The president’s comments, after he initially blamed “many sides” for racially motivated violence, were a do-over attempt after three days of criticism from across the political spectrum that he did not speak out forcefully enough last weekend against white supremacist ideology.
The president’s allies said his latest effort to address the violence should allow him to put the earlier misstep behind him.
“President Trump’s condemnation today of racism, bigotry and hatred should satisfy even his harshest critics,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
However, Mr. Trump tweeted Monday night that his critics in the media will never be appeased.
“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!” the president said.
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s earlier remarks had done little to quell the furor and seemed to embolden his critics on the left, who renewed their calls for the president to fire White House adviser Steve Bannon, whom some view as Mr. Trump’s link to the white nationalist movement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called Mr. Bannon “an alt-right white supremacist sympathizer and a shameless enforcer of those un-American beliefs.”
“If the president is sincere about rejecting white supremacists, he should remove all doubt by firing Steve Bannon and the other alt-right white supremacist sympathizers in the White House,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “It shouldn’t take the president of the United States two days to summon the basic decency to condemn murder and violence by Nazis and white supremacists.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, said Mr. Trump “gets no credit for finally, under duress, meeting a very low bar of denouncing Nazis. Actions speak louder than words.”
Earlier Monday, Merck CEO Ken Frazier quit the president’s manufacturing council, citing Mr. Trump’s initial reaction to the Charlottesville protests.
“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Mr. Frazier said.
The president hit back at Mr. Frazier.
“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
On the far right of the political divide, David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who attended the Charlottesville rally, accused Mr. Trump of caving to media pressure. He said white Americans got Mr. Trump elected.
“It’s amazing to see how the media is able to bully the President of the United States into going along with their FAKE NEWS narrative,” he said on Twitter.
Richard Spencer, the white nationalist figure who promoted the Charlottesville event, called the president’s remarks Monday “kumbaya nonsense.”
“I don’t take him seriously,” Mr. Spencer said during a press conference. “It sounded so hollow.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also blamed white supremacists for another West Wing intrigue. He said the “alt-right” is behind a push to oust National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, a lieutenant general in the Army.
News reports have speculated about a fierce internal battle between Mr. Bannon and Mr. McMaster.
Mr. McCain called pressure to oust the national security adviser disgraceful and said Mr. Trump should put an end to it.
“I hope the president will once again stand up for his national security adviser and denounce these repugnant attacks, which arise from the same purveyors of hatred and ignorance who precipitated the recent violence in Charlottesville,” Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Trump last week called Mr. McMaster a friend and said he respected him.
The testiness over Mr. Trump’s response to white nationalism continued at a White House event in which the president was signing executive actions targeting China’s trade practices. CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Mr. Trump why he didn’t condemn hate groups by name over the weekend.
“I did condemn,” Mr. Trump replied. “They have been condemned.”
Mr. Acosta asked the president if reporters could question him at length because a promised press conference had not been scheduled.
“It doesn’t bother me at all, but, you know, I like real news. Not fake news,” Mr. Trump told the CNN reporter. “You’re fake news.”
The president then left the room.
Mr. Trump seemed determined in his follow-up statement about the violence to remind Americans that he had already spoken out against hate groups.
“As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” Mr. Trump said. “It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws. We all salute the same great flag. And we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence.”
The president paid tribute to Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed in the car attack, and to two Virginia state troopers who died when their police helicopter crashed nearby.
“Her death fills us with grief, and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers and our love,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Heyer.
Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates were aboard the Bell 407 helicopter when it crashed 7 miles from downtown Charlottesville. They were helping to monitor the white nationalist rally.
The president said the troopers “exemplified the very best of America. Our hearts go out to their families, their friends and every member of American law enforcement.”
“These three fallen Americans embody the goodness and decency of our nation,” Mr. Trump said.
The president said he promised as a candidate to restore law and order.
“Our federal law enforcement agencies are following through on that pledge,” he said. “We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear. We will defend and protect the sacred rights of all Americans.”
• Stephen Dinan and Sally Persons contributed to this report.