German Justice Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday condemned US President Donald Trump’s latest comments on the violence stemming from a white supremacist rally in Virginia, saying no one should play down anti-Semitism or neo-Nazi racism. On Tuesday Trump provoked further controversy when he said that those who had been protesting against the right-wing activists were partly responsible for the violence.
Trump’s comments came a day after he had bowed to pressure to explicitly condemn the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other white supremacist groups. “It is unbearable how Trump is now glossing over the violence of the right-wing hordes from Charlottesville,” Maas said in a statement, reflecting concern across the German political spectrum about the Trump presidency. “No one should trivialise anti-Semitism and racism by neo-Nazis,” Maas said. Maas – a Social Democrat member of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition – is the highest-ranking German politician to address the latest switch in Trump’s rhetoric about the violence.
Germany has tough laws against hate speech and any symbols linked to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who ruled from 1933 until their defeat in 1945. Merkel had told broadcaster Phoenix on Monday that clear and forceful action was required to combat right-wing extremism, noting that Germans had also seen a rise in anti-Semitism and had “quite a lot to do at home ourselves”. Trump has come under increasing pressure over his stance on the violence, with many members of his own Republican party and U.S. business executives distancing themselves from him.
Trump on Tuesday maintained that his original reaction was based on the facts he had at the time, and insisted that both sides were to blame. The violence erupted in Charlottesville on Saturday during a protest by white nationalists against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the American Civil War. Protesters and counter-protesters clashed in scattered street brawls before a car ploughed into the rally’s opponents, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people. A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harboured Nazi sympathies, was charged with murder.