Louisiana leaders condemn hate group
Congressman Graves' statement in full: “The driver in Charlottesville is a murderer. There is no other way to defend, reclassify, temper or justify his actions. When radical people do despicable acts, the behaviors and the hate-filled mindsets that motivate them must be condemned unequivocally. What happened in Charlottesville this weekend is completely disgusting, and I’ve got zero tolerance for white supremacists and for any group or ideology that champions discrimination, racism and violence. Those who hold such views are in the minority in this country. They feed off of hatred and they live to stir up controversy – but we can’t let them hijack the narrative of who we are as Americans or redefine what kind of country this is. The overwhelming majority of the countless people I interact with on a weekly basis here in Louisiana and from across the nation want unity. They want to come together and work toward real solutions to the challenges we face. They believe in America, they believe in each other and they believe in the dignity of individuals. And so do I. While there certainly are differences in opinion among our citizens, there is much more that we have in common and share. While once again citing my own imperfections, I urge our political leaders, community leaders, bloggers, social media users, the media and others to think carefully about the role we all may play in lifting up others, offering constructive input, and improving our community or indirectly contributing to the violence. We are all Americans first.”
As President Donald Trump faced a barrage of criticism over his comments on deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Republicans representing Louisiana in Washington condemned racism and violence while largely sidestepping the controversy around the president.
Louisiana's congressmen and senators blasted the hate groups who marched in the Virginia town as "reprehensible," "completely disgusting" and "beneath real Americans" in written statements Wednesday. But most declined to address directly Trump's assertions on Tuesday that "there is blame on both sides" for attacks in Charlottesville, comments a chorus of critics have blasted for appearing to equate demonstrators like Klu Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis with those protesting them.
"I was clear about this bigotry & violence over the weekend and I'll repeat it today: We must defeat white supremacy and all forms of hatred," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, tweeted Tuesday afternoon, not long after the president wrapped up his press conference at Trump Tower in New York. Scalise is recovering at a Washington-area hospital after being shot by a gunman who'd raged against Republicans.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican from Richland Parish, denounced "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and all forms of racism" as against the fundamental American belief in equality.
"However, as horrible as racist views are, they are not a license for protesters to destroy public property," Abraham said Wednesday. "I think the president attempted to communicate those same feelings yesterday in his own way."
But Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Louisiana delegation's lone Democrat, blasted Trump over his response to the Charlottesville violence and took aim at a pair of Trump's senior aides, including White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who previously ran the right-wing news organization Breitbart.
Trump "welcomes the support of white supremacists, which is why he has at least two of them working for him in the White House, and sees them as morally equivalent to anti-racist protesters," Richmond said late Tuesday evening. "I never thought I would see the day when the president of the United States would openly defend white supremacy."
Richmond and the leaders of three other Congressional minority caucuses on Tuesday called for the firing of Bannon, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka, calling them "white supremacists."
The president was already facing harsh criticism, including from some in his own party, over his initial response Saturday to news that a woman — later identified as 32-year-old Heather Heyer — had been killed when a white nationalist from Ohio smashed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Trump said blame rested "on many sides" for the violence.
Trump on Monday answered critics by disavowing racist groups and declaring that white supremacist groups who take part in violence are "criminals and thugs." Whatever effect Trump's comments on Monday in tamping down criticism was largely undone at his Tuesday press conference, where he declared there were "some very bad people" in the ranks of white supremacists in Charlotte before adding that "you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."
"What happened in Charlottesville this weekend is completely disgusting, and I’ve got zero tolerance for white supremacists and for any group or ideology that champions discrimination, racism and violence," said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge.
Graves didn't address Trump directly in a three-paragraph statement on Wednesday. But he did warn against letting fringe racists with "hate-filled mindsets" feed off controversy and hatred — "we can't let them hijack the narrative of who we are as Americans or redefine what kind of country this is."
"While once again citing my own imperfections, I urge our political leaders, community leaders, bloggers, social media users, the media and others to think carefully about the role we all may play in lifting up others, offering constructive input, and improving our community or indirectly contributing to the violence," Graves said.
Speaking to reporters at the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday, Sen. Bill Cassidy — who called the hate groups who marched in Charlottesville "reprehensible" — welcomed Trump's denouncement of white supremacists but added, according to the Times-Picayune, that the president "could have pushed faster and harder" to disavow the groups.
"As my earlier statements made clear, white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who provoked this incident are reprehensible," Cassidy said in a statement Wednesday when asked about Trump's most recent remarks. "Anything which prolongs or increases the attention they receive should be avoided."
The "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville had attracted a number of leading racists and white supremacists, including David Duke, the failed Louisiana political candidate and ex-Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. The far-right demonstrators marched by tiki-torch light across the University of Virginia's campus Friday night while chanting Nazi slogans and attempted to rally Saturday around a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that's slated for removal.
"In America, people who erroneously believe that one race is superior to another have the right to speak freely and nonviolently about their racist views," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana. "But I also have the right to freely and nonviolently condemn their views. And I do."
Kennedy also attacked Duke by name in his statement Wednesday, saying Duke has "no credibility" and noting the ex-Klansman has a federal felony conviction (for fraud) on his record — "his federal prison number is 28213034." Duke collected 3 percent of the vote — about 58,000 votes — while running as a Republican against Kennedy and 20 others in last fall's senate primary.
Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, meanwhile, turned to the Bible when asked about the violence in Charlottesville and Trump's remarks, quoting a verse from the book of Philippians to call for an end to "strife or vainglory."
"Color does not define us. Ethnicity does not define us. Race does not define us. All of mankind was created in God's own image," Higgins said. "We are one, bonded by spirit."
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