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Protesters from White Nationalist Groups Fighting Counter Protesters; President Trump Addressed the Violence in Charlottesville. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired August 12, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This is where an American president has to take a stand.
[16:00:00] And one of the best things he could do at this point in this juncture is ask for a fair, equitable investigation into what took place here today for all people. Both those on the right and those on the left.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: OK.
ALEXANDER: But let's be fair and equitable about it. That's what he should ask his attorney general to do.
CABRERA: Everybody, thank you. Stand by, stay with me as we continue our breaking news coverage of the scene unfolding right now in Charlottesville, Virginia.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[16:00:34] CABRERA: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for staying with us as we continue to follow the breaking news right now.
The sudden and the shocking flare-up of rage and violence in the small American college town. I'm about to show you some very graphic video, a car plowing into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an extreme right protest today descended into chaos and then terror.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
CABRERA: A car smashing into those people many of them sent flying. We are not sure just how many are hurt or how badly. A local hospital spokesperson tells CNN that at least seven people are being treated after this crash.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
CABRERA: There was also this in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier today. Protesters from white nationalist groups and right wing extremists fighting against people who turned out in large numbers to face them and shout them down. The shouting quickly turning to physical violence. Fighting with sticks and bottles and fists and pepper spray.
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Charlottesville right now.
Kaylee, the mayor of that city just tweeted that at least one person is dead as a result of today's violence. Do you know what that fatality is yet from the car crash or from the earlier violence?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have not yet been able to confirm that, Ana. But as we have described the violence that was seen in this town last night, a torch literally through the University of Virginia's campus by the national supremacists who gathered here. Torches, (INAUDIBLE) torches flying through the air and chemicals being dispersed. And then at the violence earlier today within emancipation park on the outskirt at it. That is the park where the statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee stands the center of this controversy.
We saw the poles of flags used as weapon. We saw bottles flying through the air. And smoke bombs going off and pepper spray used by both sides. But that does not compare to the violence that unfolded behind me as you have seen the video of that car plowing into a group of counter-protesters.
We do not yet know the result of that collision. As you said the mayor has tweeted there has been one life lost. As he said I'm heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of goodwill to go home.
We are awaiting for confirmation from the Virginia police to learn of the scenario there. I spoke with one eyewitness who saw a woman in very serious condition being given CPR. The ACLU shared some photos with us of other victims being treated at the scene. Very heartbreaking day here in Charlottesville for many people of this community who I have seen shout at protesters on both sides to go home to let this city be.
CABRERA: And Kaylee, are people going home? What is the scene there right now? Looks much calmer behind you.
HARTUNG: Much calmer behind me. You can see some of the Charlottesville police force behind me, but just to my left some counter-protesters that would not be appropriate to show on television based on their lack of clothing but otherwise, a very quiet group here on the downtown mall. As it was declared an unlawful assembly in Emancipation Park earlier, the police dispersed the protesters and counter-protesters, we saw people marching through town. But now it seems as though - and this is just from my vantage point on the downtown mall in the middle of Charlottesville that things have quieted. That being said, Jason Kessler the man who organized and unite the right rally, he said on his twitter feed, just after leaving the park. That this is not over. That he and the people who he brought together from his point of view today would be here in Charlottesville all weekend.
CABRERA: All right, Kaylee Hartung in Charlottesville, Virginia staying on top of the latest developments there as the evening draws on here. Thank you very much.
President Trump addressed the violence protests in Charlottesville just moments ago. Disturbing images of the violence had been coming in to CNN all afternoon.
Let's bring in CNN's White House correspondent Athena Jones joining us from Bridgewater, New Jersey nearby where the President is spending his time this weekend.
Athena, how long did the President address the unrest there in Charlottesville?
[16:05:15] ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana.
Well, he has spent a few minutes talking about what has been going on in Charlottesville. But then he went on to talk about the economy and the success of the country. Let's play again for our audience some of what he had to say specifically about Charlottesville.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Now that last phrase you heard him say, on many sides, the hatred, violence and bigotry on many sides is getting a lot of attention. What is he talking about there? Who is he referring to?
I have asked several White House officials for some clarity on that. We know that the reporters in the room for that bill signing tried to ask him questions, as he left the room. They asked him explicitly does he want the support of white nationalists? And I think that is what is so important here, Ana, is what the President did not say.
He did not talk about race or racism. He did not mentioned white nationalists. He did not mentioned white supremacy. He did not address the facts on the ground. He didn't talk about the fatality that has been reported or about that car plowing through the crowd. And he didn't talk about the images we saw last night of white nationalists carrying torches through the streets of Charlottesville, which evokes and harkens back to the kinds of images that were seen in America especially the American south in the post reconstruction era.
This is something that is going to get a lot of attention and people want to hear more from the President. The President Trump has not found himself much -- very often in this position where he is called upon to act as consoler in chief, if you will, where he is called upon to try to calm and soothe the concerns. And so I think that there are many people who are not going to be satisfied with what they heard the President say with regard to Charlottesville especially this phrase about how there is violence and bigotry on all sides. And him not calling out the very organizers, the white nationalist organizers of these demonstrations that have led to all the violence -- Ana.
CABRERA: Do we know if the President has spoken with officials in Charlottesville about the violence?
JONES: Well, we know that the President did speak to the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe and that they agreed that they need to work together to unite people and stop this sort of -- this sort of violence from taking place.
We also know that the White House in general has been in touch with the officials in the state and on the ground. What's interesting is you have seen the President not only just now but also in his earlier tweet, his first tweet about this several hours ago talking about the need to unite and to come together. And that is why you have a lot of folks who were waiting to hear the President acknowledge the facts on the ground, acknowledge what led to the conflict and the violence we have been seeing on the streets of Charlottesville. He did not do that. Many would say that this would have been an opportunity for him as a commander in-chief, as the President, to try to begin bringing people together and part of that has to do with naming what is going on.
You had guests speaking about this for some time. The President for years condemned President Obama and others for not using phrases like radical Islamic terrorism. Well, a lot of folks are asking why the President isn't using phrases like white nationalists considering those are the people organizing these demonstrations -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Athena Jones, reporting for us in New Jersey, thank you.
Joining us now, Charles Ramsey, CNN law enforcement analyst and a former Philadelphia police commissioner.
Charles, first, your take on the images that we are seeing and how the President has responded.
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, obviously, it is very troubling to see what's going on in Charlottesville. I mean, the President devoted a couple of minutes in a press conference to address the issue. Quite frankly, I believe this is something that needed a standalone press conference.
But you have to go beyond press conferences and a string of politicians tweeting. This is a complicated problem. It's been around a long time. It's not going to get better on its own. It had to be seriously addressed. And I just don't have much confidence that's going to happen.
CABRERA: What message did the President send in that press conference?
RAMSEY: Well, I have no idea. I mean, I listened to him say that he monitored what was going on but that the economy is strong. And he went into the other part of the press conference around the veterans. So there was no real clear message as far as I was concerned. I mean, he made a statement saying he condemns violence and certainly
that was appropriate. But this is not an issue that's going away with a single statement. I mean, we have to be able to really sit down and seriously address this. I listened to others earlier talking about hate crimes being enforced and so forth, domestic terrorism. I agree with all of that. We have to take a real tough stand against people who do these kinds of things.
[16:10:14] CABRERA: Why do you think the President did not call this domestic terrorism and what he didn't say by not calling out white supremacists specifically or other hate groups?
RAMSEY: I don't know. I mean, listen. You know, when I was looking at this I was looking at it more from the perspective of the police, their response. How they can get control of the very volatile situation right now. That's what I was really focused on. The politics of this whole thing is going to go back and forth and you have a lot of people who are more than willing to talk about that.
CABRERA: Let me ask you about the law enforcement response there in Charlottesville. We have not heard from anybody come out and speak of exactly what they are investigating and how they plan to move forward into the upcoming hours as the afternoon and then early evening gets closer and closer. What do you think they should be doing right now and how they should be addressing this situation?
Well, I think it should be in the process now of figuring out what they are going to do overnight. I hope if they have a memorandum of agreement in place with other jurisdictions or other officers in reserve they have to think of getting a relief factor. Getting the officers who have been on their feet all day dealing with this get them some relief. Because they are going to be at it all night long. You will have small groups of people roaming around the street, the small clashes that take place. That normally is what happens. Hopefully they have imposed an overnight curfew because they need to lock this city down and get everyone off the streets and let this settle down a little bit.
CABRERA: All right. Stay with me, Charles Ramsey. I want to bring in Cornell Brooks. He is a former CEO and President of the NAACP.
Cornell, some of the President's supporters have said that other people are being too critical of the President's words. Your thoughts?
CORNELL BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, let's look at who we are dealing with here. We have a group of white nationalists who organized a Unite the Right rally with Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen. The Ku Klux Klan going back to the days of reconstruction and before were and are a white terrorist organization. The Nazis had a violent history like the Klan. And so when the President asserts that there is violence on all sides, the protesters and the counter-protesters stand on a plane of moral equality, this frankly, flies in the face of the obvious facts on the ground.
We have a group of white nationalists attacking, preying upon, violating -- against American citizens and we have a President engaged in the apologetics of white nationalists. That is quite simply unacceptable. The President's remarks constitute a kind of set of CYA, cover your naked political bottom remarks instead of calling it out. Calling them by name. White nationalists, Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and then speaking of the use of prosecutorial resources.
And in addition to that being very clear that he as President is going to lead, not follow on this issue. In other words, not follow the first lady. Not follow other members of -- members of Congress, not follow the rest of the country in condemning this for what it is which is to say an act of domestic terrorism in a wonderful community of Charlottesville, Virginia.
So the point being, his remarks were abysmal because he tried to engage in compromise. He tried to equivocate, he tried to make peace with his base and try to make peace with Steve Bannon, instead of being concerned about John and James in public where they concerned about the American citizens being preyed upon by the white nationalists in their midst. He had an opportunity to step up, to speak up, to man up. He in fact engaged in an act of moral cowardice in for which he should apologize. The way he can make amends is by addressing this issue squarely and calling it out for what it is. You --
CABRERA: Cornell, let me ask you this because what I hear from you is you're getting really worked up. I can tell. This is personal. This means a lot to you. It almost sounds to me like you took offense to what the President said.
BROOKS: Absolutely. A few years ago, I stood in Charleston at the nine students of scripture were slain in Mother Emanuel church by Dylan Roof who carried a confederate flag who has tied to this white nationalist ideology. We called for the flag to come down.
Here we have a group of citizens in Charlottesville who stood for taking down an emblem of the confederacy. For this they are rewarded by a group of white nationalists who assemble large, one of the largest assemblies white nationalists and they are in fact preyed upon. And we have a feckless, a feckless, cowardly President who refuses to speak to the moment. Who refuses to call it out and call it for what it is which is to say this is an act of racialized violence. This is an act of anti-Semitism. These are white nationalists and he needs to call them out. All along, going back to his campaign, over and over again he has missed -- not missed. He has avoided the occasion and the opportunity to address what is an ugly stain on the American soil, namely this.
CABRERA: He did say that this go back long before him. That is true. When you look at the history of this country.
BROOKS: Yes, absolutely. It did not start with President Obama or start with President Trump. But what he cannot be contested is that it has been made worse by his actions and inaction. His acts of commission and omission. The fact of the matter is we saw a spike in hate crime during the course of his campaign and in the months afterwards. We have seen Muslims victimized. We have seen Jews and Jewish journalists called out by name. We have seen black people preyed upon and we have seen the entire country see this rise in the spectacle of the white nationalism and over and over again. This President has refused to speak out over and over again. He has tried to make peace. And so the facts are the facts. And where we have someone who is lost their life, where we had people who have been sent to the hospital and we have a President who issues this -- this milquetoast, apologist, apologetic kind of speech it's simply unacceptable and in-excuse.
He is the President of the United States. Take a walk around the White House. And have -- get some sense of moral gravitas. He talks about wanting to make America great America. Well, to make America great again, first of all we don't need to be made great again, but to ensure that we continue to be great. he has to rise to the level of the office and that means calling wrong wrong. You can't make peace with this. You can't make Steve Bannon happy. You have to call these white nationalists out. When you say --
HARTUNG: Cornell, let me get Brian Stelter in and as well as Ben Ferguson.
To you first, Ben Ferguson, because I think it's important that we hear your side as you have been defending what the President has said. Now that you have heard from a number of other people in terms of their reaction to the President's remarks I'm wondering if that changes your assessment of what the President said.
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What I know is that the President of the United States of America said something that was in reality. There was violence today on both sides and it needs to stop. And he condemned the racists, the bigots, and those that did the violence today. I think it's sad that we are sitting here and with due respect to Mr. Brooks he is doing nothing but using political talking points to target the president and to divide this country. That's not what we need right now.
BROOKS: The white nationalists are dividing the country.
FERGUSON: Let me finish. You have done nothing but attack the President personally and for political reasons because you don't like the President. Instead of bringing us together. And we should try to come together -- let me finish. I listened to what you had to say.
CABRERA: Hold on Cornell. Let's let Ben finish. But we will come back to you.
FERGUSON: There is nothing that the President that Mr. Brooks would have said, thank you Mr. President, that's what we need. I think there always people who wants to find something wrong even when the President comes down and uses the word he used to condemned this very clearly and said there's no place for this.
The other thing is we need to actually ratchet down the rhetoric right now and not divide. It is going to be a long night tonight in Charlottesville. If you have ever been in the city where there's turmoil and violence, I grew up born and race in Memphis, Tennessee. I have seen it firsthand. The last thing we need is what Mr. Brooks is doing right now which is literally dividing us even more as a country.
If you don't like what the President said, look at the good parts of what he said and maybe giving the benefit of the doubt that he actually condemn these people and stop trying to say, well, he didn't do x, y and z sot therefore let's divide us as a country even more so.
I condemn David Duke. I condemn those that committed violence today on both sides. I think people need to go home and cool off. But the last thing we need to do is throw fuel on the fire to say that somehow imply that you think that the President is some sort of racist and that people around him are racists when he just condemned the racists who committed these acts today.
So why don't we calm it down and maybe not just make this about a political statement for whatever reason you are trying to do that. I don't understand it. The President condemned it. That should be a good starting point as a nation. And let's remember tonight that they're going to be men and women in uniform, black and white who are going to put their lives on the line and there could be people that could die tonight because of more violence and the last thing we need to do is to literally motivate them with more hatred.
[16:20:07] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Ben, I think that the problem that you run into here is that we know that the President knows exactly what to say and how to say it.
CABRERA: Brian Stelter -- go ahead.
STELTER: Just, you know, this President is really effective in insults and attacks against his enemies. (INAUDIBLE), asked James Comey, asked senator Richard Blumenthal, he knows how to attack someone personally or attack something very personally. And because the President didn't do that today, I think that's where the frustrations come in, Ben. I think it is because the President didn't talk about white nationalists or white supremacists, racists who were in Charlottesville. He knows exactly how to address the specific diseases that he might see and for some reason he tends to pick on, you know, cable news anchors. Something like that. Instead of this. He could have called out Richard Spencer by name. He could have called out David Duke by name.
The President is making choices. Let's recognize he is making choices. What he's not saying -- when he gave that speech an hour ago.
FERGUSON: Brian, here is what I will say about the President. When the President doesn't call --
CABRERA: Hey, Ben, just a second. Cornell waited until you finished. I do want to give him a chance to respond to your remarks earlier. Go ahead, Cornell. BROOKS: I'll say this, Ben. I'm not questioning the sincerity of
your perspective. But I want to be clear here. As President of the NAACP and well before that as a civil rights lawyer, I have been in more than a few cities in the middle of a racial crisis. More than a few. And been on the back end of more than a few death threats, me and my colleagues at the NAACP. So we understand the dangers of violence. We understand the danger of overheated rhetoric.
The fact of the matter is, we and my colleagues and I certainly stood for nonviolence in both the gun instance in as a Christian as a fourth generation minister for years on end. But there's a difference between elevating the temperature of the debate today and speaking with moral indignation where you have a President who literally puts on the same moral plane the people who are being tacked, attacked, and those who are attacking. Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan are not the same plane and --
FERGUSON: Sir, we are going to have an honest conversation today. If we are going to have an honest conversation, you have to be honest. There was violence on both sides today. There is nothing wrong with condemning that.
CABRERA: One at a time. Cornell, finish your thought and then Ben go ahead.
BROOKS: Yes, certainly you can condemn violence. I have done that. Many Americans around the country have done that. But we need to be very clear. Where we have the -- going to Charlottesville to terrorize, where we have white nationalists and white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis going to terrorize, to victimize, to spread hate. They are not the same moral plane. And where you have the President -- this is not political. It's in fact moral. When --
FERGUSON: Cornell, let me say this.
CABRERA: OK, go ahead, Ben.
FERGUSON: Let me say this. Tonight you have got a real issue in the city where you are going to ask men and women to go out there and protect the city and many of them are going to be black. Many -- let me finish. Let me finish.
Having a father that is in law enforcement, growing up in a family of law enforcement and knowing partners he has had that are of every different race, here's the point I'm making. Both sides today were violent. Both sides tonight can become more violent than they were today. We already have someone who is dead right now. I don't think now is the time to up the rhetoric on this and you complain and to be angry and to divide.
CABRERA: Ben, it's not just about violence. It's about hate crimes and terrorists happening here in this country.
FERGUSON: Ana, let me just say this. We have no idea what the person who did this, man or woman, is going to be charged with. I bet you, if you and I come back next weekend, they are probably going to be charged with a hate crime. We are jumping so far ahead of even where the police are at right now because we want the President to say something to check a box off so that we then think that somehow he was serious. The President was clear in condemning the violence.
CABRERA: Hold on, guys. Hold on. Let me -- it's easy to say that this is becoming a partisan discussion, but I don't think that is the case. We have seen strong condemnation of today's events and of the white supremacists groups who were there, who were really leading the charge in this violent clash.
And I want to bring in Ana Navarro to get her opinion as well because as a Republican, Ana, I know you have been very critical of this President. But when you look at this situation as objectively as you can, I wonder if you felt like the President's words were strong enough?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course I didn't. Look, I don't like this President. Let me start with that. I do not like him. But when he does things well, I like to clap for him and I like to say he does something well. Like yesterday the White House put out a statement on Venezuela. I thought it was a good and strong statement.
Now, this speech today was shameful. Here is the bottom line. This was not many sides. This is one side. It is white supremacists trying to install terror in America. It was a bunch of white supremacists holding torches and chanting out against the Jewish religion, chanting out, you know, about supremacy and the President of the United States, because he does not want to antagonize anybody in his base, let us be clear, does not have the spine, does not have the courage, does not have the leadership to call this out by name. And that is shameful.
No, no, no. Ben, let me tell you this. He is -- Ben, I let you talk. Let me tell you this. He is more capable of calling out Mitch McConnell --
[16:26:05] CABRERA: Ben, hold on.
NAVARRO: Ben, let me tell you something. He is more capable of calling out his own attorney general. He is a lot more capable in the last 24 hours he has been calling out Mitch McConnell. But he doesn't have the spine or the guts to call out the white supremacists in America today and I'm not going to defend that. I don't care what party he is.
FERGUSON: I didn't ask you to defend that. I asked you one question. Should the person who is driving the car into the crowd killing people or attempting to killing people, should that person also be condemned?
NAVARRO: Absolutely. And he --
FERGUSON: OK. Then that should be considering both sides.
CABRERA: Ben -- Ben --
CABRERA: Hold on, Ana. Let me just make sure the facts are out there. Hold on.
NAVARRO: Not happened with the plowing of the car.
CABRERA: Hold on. Hold on. Regarding that car event, we are still waiting to find out exactly who may be under arrest in that incident, exactly who the victims were but we do know that the crowd of people who were plowed into were the counter-protesters. The people who had come to speak out against the white supremacists who were holding --
FERGUSON: Both sides today. The person driving the car should be condemned, the other people who were involved in the violence as well. Both sides today became violent. We see it on the video.
NAVARRO: No, no. No no, no.
CABRERA: That's the issue here.
CABRERA: Go ahead.
NAVARRO: It's so -- you can't say that this is both sides of violence. What we saw was white supremacists and then what we saw were some brave people risking their lives and putting themselves in between white supremacists and that -- you know, what they were doing. So we saw white supremacists initiate this action. Try to bully the people --
FERGUSON: I agree with you.
NAVARRO: Try to instill fear. And we saw brave people stare and shout, standing against them. That is -- you cannot equate both sides. This was not many sides. Today, it was not many sides. Today, it was white supremacists and what the President of the United States said by trying to deflate it as many sides what he's trying to do is send a dog whistle to his base.
NAVARRO: To his supporters.
FERGUSON: Not true.
NAVARRO: Some of whom were in --
FERGUSON: Not true.
CABRERA: Ben, I give you the last word. And then we have to get in a quick break, guys. Let me let Ben react --
FERGUSON: The politics of this has got into the point where it is disgusting. The people's hatred of the President, some people hate the President has gotten to the point where they want to turn everything into the worst case scenario instead of looking at what the President actually said. To go look at what he said, con -- let me finish. Go look at the words of what the President said when he condemned it today and tell me that it wasn't very clear that he was condemning the violence of the white supremacists --
NAVARRO: It was not very clear.
FERGUSON: The threat to the United States of the America --
NAVARRO: It wasn't very clear. He didn't say white supremacists, it was not clear.
CABRERA: I have to leave there. We have to get in a quick break, guys. And Ben, I want you to know we did get some confirmation now on the number of people who were injured and one fatality involved in the crash there in Charlottesville. I'm just getting this urgent crossing my email here. It says it happened during the rallies this afternoon. This was a statement from the city of Charlottesville and they are verified twitter account. The crash took place 15 other injuries were reported related to the rally downtown as well. We are working to stay on top of the latest developments coming from Charlottesville, Virginia. The fighting, and the deadly crash that also happened on the streets in that small college town.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[16:33:34] CABRERA: We are following the breaking news in Charlottesville, Virginia. One person is dead, 34 total injured in the violent white nationalist clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia. The person killed died when a car plowed into a crowd. We have a video. What we are about to show you, it's very graphic. If there are children in the room you may want them to leave.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
CABRERA: And there you see that terrifying scene there. A trail of bloodied and horrified people. President Trump just spoke out, condemning the hatred and bigotry on display in Charlottesville. Here's what he said, just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.
I just got off the phone with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe. And we agreed that the hate and the division must stop. And must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affective -- really, I say this so strongly, true affection for each other. Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record -- just absolute record employment. We have unemployment the lowest it's been in almost 17 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[16:35:26] CABRERA: That was the President moments ago.
Meantime we are now hearing from people on the scene in Charlottesville. Let's listen to this witness.
BRENNAN GILMORE, EYE WITNESS: Immediate reaction from the crowd and then the car reversed very fast. Back up the street as you can see in the video. So we were still, you know, sort of in the scene and jumped out to get around the corner, this barrier of this building. And the car flew by and immediately, you know, there was victims started to come out. My friend ran after the car. I gave first aid to a lady that had come out from the scene. And yes, that's basically what happened. The car disappeared after that.
HARTUNG: Were you able to get a look at the driver as he sped by you?
CHRIS MAHONY, EYEWITNESS: No, the car had tinted windows so it was difficult to see in. So I was difficult to see him. So I was more looking is this person going to come directly towards me. So I was looking to get out of the car as it came back when it came passed us. I didn't see. I just saw it plow like Brennan said into the group of protesters and I thought, well, this is clearly like a terrorist incident.
GILMORE: I got a glimpse of the driver. I was standing about, you know, just a few feet from him to came back, a white male. Appeared to have close cropped hair. But it was tinted windows so I didn't get a good look of him.
HARTUNG: And Chris, could you share what you saw in the moments just before Brennan's video started rolling?
MAHONY: So we were walking down the road as Brennan mentioned. But we came around the corner. And you can see the car just over the other side of the road. Just sat there, looking down the road. And as he said, the protesters were coming -- were coming down fourth street. So I don't -- I thought that a bit strange there didn't seem to be any other cars stopping him from going. And then of course months later, we heard a car going incredibly fast. You know? Down the road and saw it plow into the crowd and then it reversed back and then we were -- some of us ran after the car to take a photo and then followed it -- ran down the road alerting the police to chase it.
HARTUNG: Yes. What transpired in those minutes after the car left this block and left view? What was the scene like here? GILMORE: Well, there was almost an immediate response from first
responders. There were state police here on the mall. I don't know if they actually witnessed it and we alerted them and said you need to get down there immediately. First aid crews came in. An armored vehicle came down to block the scene so the response was quick. But, you know, obviously I understand one person lost their life and, you know, it was a very, very violent attack.
HARTUNG: And Brenna, you said that you helped to administer first aid to a woman. What else did you observe in terms of victims of that crash?
GILMORE: They were a lot of -- there were a lot of victims around the scene of the actual crash and then people coming up bloodied, shaken, obviously people hyperventilating. And then, yes, again, let the professionals take over. Then we got out of the scene. It was obviously increasingly violent day in Charlottesville. You know, certainly I agree with the mayor's recommendation that people should stay home.
HARTUNG: Now, you travel -- Chris, I'm sorry, you travelled from Washington, D.C. to be a part of the counter-protest to the Unite the Right rally. How do you describe the emotions you felt as you saw this attack on other counter-protesters like yourself?
MAHONY: I can't honestly say it was an emotion of surprise because up around the center of the protest from both sides, you had a high level of antagonism. Right? It wasn't necessarily a peaceful -- you had people literally in military fatigues with arms walking around. So of course that's an incredibly intimidating environment. So then naturally when that happened, I thought this is someone deliberately attacking these people because of their beliefs. And, yes, like Brennan said, yes, it's a little bit traumatizing of course, you know, to witness these people go flying. You know? And later, you know, the carnage. Everybody lying around. Because I walked with the police officer back from around the corner after we had said look, one of these cars has to follow and they were fantastic, you know. The first officer I came into contact with, I said that car just plowed into a whole load of people, you know, as I'm sprinting down the road as it tried to get away and maneuver through all of the other vehicles and he immediately got on the mike, you know, and got in contact with another police car who kind of pulled out behind. I think because it was suspicious, right, because the car -- the front of the car was all smashed up. And they had the helicopter overhead. Yes, we are on it quickly take me to where this is happening. Of course, by the time I got back like Brennan said, you know, the response was in full swing.
[16:40:32] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Chris, I was watching the protest in Emancipation Park earlier today from a safe distance. How do you describe what that experience was like?
GILMORE: I mean, look, it's shocking to see this kind of disgusting hatred on the streets of a town as beautiful as Charlottesville. And there was an attempt to separate the crowds but it got violent very quickly. And so yes, certainly I agree with the decision to declare a state of emergency and try to shut it down. Just it's a terrible thing we are witnessing.
HARTUNG: Where do you both anticipate today going from here? When protesters and counter-protesters have been separated but when as you both just witnessed such a horrific act of violence as that car plowed through the streets.
MAHONY: Well, the sentiments certainly expressed by those, that you probably heard when you were observing those people that consider themselves the alternative right movement were certainly not inclusive. They were divisive. And, you know, it's quite scary, right, to live in such an environment. And of course this is why we came to participate in a protest. You know, whose core message is a rejection of that, you know, and support for inclusion, social cohesion in society where, you know, everyone no matter what their race, religious belief, ethnic background, you know, has -- should have an equal opportunity and an equal role in society. And, yes, the level of discourse, you know, that everyone sees perhaps needs some significant steps forward to be taken.
HARTUNG: What did you learn today as you saw these two factions at war with one another?
GILMORE: I mean, look, we saw an incident of domestic terrorism. I would not describe it as a war by any means. You had a group of nonviolent, peaceful protesters demonstrating their constitutional right to march against racism and they were plowed down by a terrorist, you know, from the alt-right or Nazis or whatever you want to call them. That's what I witnessed. And so I don't think there's a war between different sides.
HARTUNG: For people who couldn't be here in Charlottesville today --
CABRERA: Our reporting Kaylee Hartung, our reporter, on the scene there interviewing a couple of eyewitnesses to the car crash that led to a fatality and at least 19 people being injured on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. That was one incident that happened after some rallies in which we saw the video of the fistfights and the batons and people clashing with each other. We learned there were 15 more injuries involved in this earlier today.
And meantime, the social media has been all over this story. Reaction coming in strong and swift. I want to bring back our senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter among those who been reacted. We just had a tweet from Jeb Bush on twitter saying this. The white supremacist and their bigotry do not represent our great country. All Americans should condemn this vile hate red, #Charlottesville.
The President has received criticism for the remarks he made without calling out the white supremacists specifically. And I want to put up a tweet but Glenn Thrush. He is a reporter from "The New York Times." And he put it this way. He said it's neither unfair nor inaccurate to point out that the President has been tougher on Mitch McConnell than Putin or Nazis in the last 24 hours. STELTER: And we have been through this cycle before. A cycle where
the President whether on the campaign trial or now as President doesn't initially express the kind of condemnation that analysts, critics on both sides of the partisan divide are expecting. Today, it's about the President not using the words white nationalists or white supremacists, not acknowledging the explicit racism seen last night on the campus of UVA and today in the streets of Charlottesville. And this is ongoing. Let's be clear. We are seeing pictures from earlier but there are helicopters overhead in Charlottesville. Protesters still milling about downtown. And there were concerns about what is going to happen tonight which is why there's a state of emergency.
CABRERA: Kaylee Hartung said the organizer of the rally on the white supremacists side said specifically this is not over.
STELTER: And as a result, what the President says matters even more because it's an ongoing situation. To be fair, there's a lot we do not know, especially about the man who rammed that car into the group of counter-protesters. There is a history of these clashes this year. You have covered some of them. There was a neo-Nazi confrontation in Kentucky. They were brawls in Berkeley, California. Some of the violence in Berkeley was stoked by leftists who were trying to stop the right wing speakers --
[16:45:21] CABRERA: And Brian, there was an incident in this same town earlier this year, back in May.
STELTER: That's right. They want to fight. You can see it in the pictures. They want to brawl. But the point is that this began as a Unite the Right rally. It began as a far right wing event. That is the prominent cause for the violence today, for the injuries and the fatalities today. And so the President to say many times, many sides that is going to continue to be a focal point, there is going to be more question ask about what he meant. And he has scheduled a press conference for Monday. Remember, the President promised a press conference on Monday. So as a result of what's happening in Charlottesville it is going to be continued pressure on the President to say more.
I would just remind our viewers about what happened last November. The President was -- the President elect at the time, he was getting ready to take over. And in November, there was a man inspired by ISIS on the campus of Ohio State who drove his car, plowing down people in the news and using a knife to attack. The President elect at the time spoke out quickly. Issued comments on twitter. He then went to the scene of the crime. He went to visit the victims and spoke about the importance of an immigration and national security.
So we have seen the President in the past speak out about incidents of vehicular attacks and that's what that was in the campus of Ohio State. It's interesting to see what more he may or may not see in this case. We know 19 injured as a result of this vehicular attack, one dead. There will be a debate about whether it's terrorism. But it clearly --
CABRERA: Yes. There will be eyewitnesses on the scene calling it a terrorist attack.
STELTER: Terrorized them. The video certainly is terrorizing. It's going to be seen all over the place on social media and on television. I think the President said one really important thing toward the end today. He said we want to study this. We want to see what we are doing wrong as a country when things like this can happen. I think those are words everybody can agree with. That we should study what this is about. Why these racist and anti-Semites feel they need to come out and protest, why they feel their country is being taken away from them. Those kinds of sickening views need to be confronted head on. And that's what we saw a lot of counter-protesters doing today. These hundreds of people that were trying to speak out against the white nationalists at Charlottesville.
CABRERA: A deep divide happening in our country right now.
Brian Stelter, standby. We have to squeeze in a quick break. We will be right back.
[16:52:06] CABRERA: If you are just joining us, we continue to follow breaking news right now out of Charlottesville, Virginia, small college town that's become the scene of a domestic terrorist incident this afternoon with a car plowing into the crowd of people following clashes that happened between two groups of protesters. There was initially a rally called Unite the Right which was a group of white supremacists gathering at Emancipation Park and they were near a statue -- a confederate statue that's supposed to be removed from the town.
Now, there were a group of other people who also gathered to stand up to those white nationalists, those white supremacists on the scene there. Once that initial crowd was dispersed was when the car incident happened. We now have learned one person was killed when that car rammed into the crowd of people. The crowd of people who were the counter-protesters standing up to the white nationalists. And we have learned a driver is in custody. We do not have an identity of that driver just yet as we work to continue to get more information on all of this.
I want to bring in former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings. A Trump supporter. And Brian Fallon, a former press secretary for the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign.
And Brian, I will start with you because you had a tweet that you put out just after the President made his remarks today saying the President is all lays mattering a Nazi fueled incident of domestic terrorism. Explain what you mean by that.
BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there's an old adage that goes along the lines to be silent or neutral in the face of oppression is to side with the oppressors. And here in refusing to reserve his harshest words of condemnations for the white supremacists, the President is essentially letting them off the hook. I mean, there was only one group that instigated these events last night with those horrible images of holding torches and chanting anti- Semitic (INAUDIBLE). That was the white supremacists. And today, there was only one group that was on the receiving end of that speeding vehicle into the crowd of people and that was the counter- protesters.
So for the President to say both sides are at fault I think is really a way of letting the white supremacists off the hook. And you have to consider the chronology that led to the President's comments this afternoon. You know, he said nothing last night, he said nothing for all this morning. And then David Duke was caught on camera and a he was asked, you know, what's the purpose of this rally? Why are you guys organizing? And he said we are doing it on behalf of Donald Trump to fulfill his campaign promises. That forced the President to come out and issue a pretty mild tweet that in general terms expressed -- urged people not to give in to hate. And just based off that, David Duke came out and said, hold on, Mr. President. We are the white Americans that elected you, remember your base. And so then the President comes say, well, actually, both sides are at fault. There is no other way to interpret that other than it was a retreat from his earlier words. It's giving in to elements like David Duke and the white supremacists.
CABRERA: Scott, your thoughts?
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I don't think this was the President's best effort today. The President has risen to the occasion before in his short presidency. I think back to the congressional softball - baseball practice shooting, and the aftermath of that, he did a terrific job. I was hoping to see him rise to that level today.
Although the speech and the statement did have some elements that needed to be in there, it did lack the absolute moral clarity that we need from the President of the United States at times like this. It's absolutely correct to say we condemn things in the strongest possible terms. It's correct to condemn violence. But failure to acknowledge the racism, failure to acknowledge the white supremacy, failure to acknowledge the people marching around with Nazi flags on American soil.
We need absolute unambiguous, moral clarity from the President. So my sense is he will have to come back and say more about Charlottesville. I also think it struck me that perhaps he wasn't aware that someone had been killed when the car rammed the crowd at the time he made the statement.
I will add just one more thing as a former White House staffer. I think it was very difficult for them to put the President out there to try to cram a statement on a serious issue like Charlottesville with a pre-existing event to sign something on a policy issue. And he was trying to put those two things together which caused him to ad lib to some degree which I don't think this was a time for ad-libbing. So for a number of reasons, I think this statement fell a little bit short. And I hope the President and the White House come back later and condemn the racists who caused today's tragic events. [16:56:26] CABRERA: You know, Scott, on top of that, President Trump
also pivoted his comments on Charlottesville to his own accomplishments. His record, low unemployment, bringing businesses back to the country. What do you think was the political strategy there?
JENNINGS: I don't know that there was a strategy. It sounded like he was ad-libbing a bit to me. Remember, the President was supposed to appear today to sign a bill dealing with the VA. And then at the last minute, they had to respond to the Charlottesville incident which I think perhaps led to a statement that was written and some ad-libbing on behalf of the President.
There are times that you cannot ad-lib. You just have to go out there and deliver the statement in the clearest and the most specific and possible terms that is required of the office of the presidency.
So I think if I were advising the President and the White House today, I would have put back the VA signing. I would have pushed that off perhaps until tomorrow. I would have made sure I had a full handle on the facts on the ground and I would made sure the President did what he did after the congressional shooting which is to read a statement that was powerful and morally unambiguous.
The President of the United States is the person who has to speak on behalf of all of us when it comes to American values. You can't walk away from the podium, leaving people scratching their heads about well, what are the values that we hold dear as Americans. And so they have to come back tonight or tomorrow and get this right in my opinion.
CABRERA: And let's remind everybody that candidate Trump mocked President Obama for not using the phrase Islamic terrorism and again, the fact as president was not specific in going after white supremacists, the KKK and people who are racist that lack of calling them out speaks volumes, does it not, Brian?
STELTER: Absolutely. I mean, let's not kid ourselves. Donald Trump's tepidness today was on purpose. He knows that words matter for the very reason that you cited. We also know that as Scott knows he used to work for Mitch McConnell I think, he has been on the receiving end of some taunts from Donald Trump this week. So when Donald Trump wants to make his comments clearly, he is clearly capable of it.
We also know from other reactions that you have seen come in from other Republicans today that it need not to be a partisan issue for white supremacy to be called for what it is you have seen. I believe Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, and other Republicans calling it out by name.
So if the President making a very deliberate decision to try to make it a murky gray area. And we are seeing already evidence today Richard Spencer, one of the neo-Nazi organizers of today's rally, reacted on twitter to the President's comment and said I think he is talking about the counter-protesters. So clearly, the President's muddled message is having its intended effect of not properly chiding the white supremacists. So we are not going to see any chilling effect on these white supremacists activities based on the president's words.
CABRERA: Scott, could you argue that this is the President's first major domestic issue that he is now having to respond to. And I'm wondering if he -- if your former boss, George W. Bush, would have reacted or responded differently.
JENNINGS: Well, George W. Bush time and again responded to events internationally and domestically with what I think was always absolute moral clarity. And sometimes he was criticized for it. There were people who criticized his stances that laid out in black and white terms. Here is where we stand as Americans. And he took that on his shoulders and he plowed forward with being morally unambiguous.
But that's the job of the President. You can't walk away from the podium leaving people wondering, what do you mean by that? I want to see him embrace the party of Lincoln. I want to see him embrace what it means to be a Republican.
We are the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln is the godfather of the Republican Party. I want to feel that he understands what it means to embrace that mantel.
And so, tonight, tomorrow and the days in the aftermath of Charlottesville, I want to see him embrace that. He has brought up Lincoln before.