President Trump on Friday defended his reference to “very fine people” on both sides of the riots in Charlottesville in 2017, saying he was referring to people who wanted to preserve a statute of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
“I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and white nationalists because they should be condemned totally,” Mr. Trump told White House reporters.
“I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee — a great general, whether you like it or not,” he said.
Mr. Trump was widely condemned for suggesting there was equivalence between right-wing combatants, who shouted antisemitic slogans and wielded Nazi symbols, and protesters who confronted them in the streets of the Virginia city on Aug. 11 and 12.
One of the counter-protesters, Heather D. Heyer, was killed when a car by rammed into a crowd during the rallies.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden evoked Charlottesville in launching his campaign for president this week, calling it a defining moment in his bid to wrest the White House from Mr. Trump.
Organizers of the “United the Right” rally said their main intent was protesting the removal of a statute of Lee from a Charlottesville’s park.
“People were there protesting the taking down of the monuments,” Mr. Trump said.
The president noted that today’s generals still compliment Lee’s ability as a military leader.
There is wide debate about whether it is appropriate to adorn cities across the South with monuments to the Confederacy, which fought to preserve slavery.