UK and Germany criticise Trump for failing to oppose neo-Nazis

People protest outside Trump Tower New York, 14 August. [Alba Vigaray/EPA]

Of all the EU capitals, London and Berlin have reacted most strongly to Donald Trump’s reluctance to forcefully condemn white supremacists after a woman was killed during a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville last Saturday  (12 August).

On Saturday,  violence broke out ahead of the Unite the Right rally called by white supremacists to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee,  a leader of the pro-slavery Confederate army,  a symbol considered an affront to African-Americans.

After the melee,  as counterprotesters were dispersing, a 20-year-old man who friends say admired Adolf Hitler smashed his car into the crowd,  killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

As images of rising tensions and the deadly car rampage filled TV screens nationwide, Trump was criticised first for waiting too long to address the violence and then, when he did so, failing to explicitly condemn the white supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.

Both as a candidate and as president, Trump has met with charges that he has courted the support of white supremacists and nationalists, the so-called “alt-right,” as a key part of his passionate voter base.

Trump had to disband on Wednesday (16 August) two high-profile business advisory councils, the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum, after several chief executives quit in protest over his ambiguous remarks.

Along with the snubs from business leaders, Trump was rebuked by a string of Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senator Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, a Republican senator who was Trump’s rival for the presidential nomination, and former US presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Military chiefs also reacted.

A tweet by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, reading “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…” became in 24 hours the most liked tweet in history, gathering over 2,4 million “likes”.

In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a rare rebuke of Trump from so close a US ally.

“I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them and I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them,” May told reporters.

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, called on the government to rethink the invitation for a visit by Trump to the UK. The invitation to Trump was extended by the government on behalf of the Queen earlier this year.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, also joined the criticism of Trump’s initial response to Charlottesville, saying it was “not enough”.

“What happened in Charlottesville was the KKK and its supporters, white supremacists, arrived in Charlottesville in order to cause trouble,” he said. “Surely every president of every country in the world … should be able to condemn that.”

Politicians in Germany, which has tough laws against hate speech and any symbols linked to the Nazis who murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust, expressed shock at the images of people in Charlottesville carrying swastikas and chanting anti-Jewish slurs.

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said he was shocked President Trump had failed to condemn the white supremacist rally, adding that it was full of “neo-Nazis, the KKK, and people that helped Trump get elected”.

“I was shocked that the American president did not call out the perpetrators in Charlottesville,” Gabriel said. “We can never trivialise those people. You have to call things by their names and that was right-wing terrorism.”

Governments could only win the fight against hatred, racism and anti-Semitism by rejecting such ideology and the willingness to use violence, said Martin Schulz, the centre-left candidate for chancellor, adding that this applies to Germany and the United States.

“The trivialisation of Nazi violence by the confused utterances of Donald Trump is highly dangerous,” said Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD).

“We should not tolerate the monstrosities coming out of the president’s mouth,” he told the RND newspaper group in an interview.

Schulz tweeted: “Nazis must be decisively opposed. What Trump is doing is dangerous.”

Schulz is the main challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in the 24 September election. The SPD, junior partner in Merkel’s grand coalition, is trailing Merkel’s conservatives in the polls.

Schulz’s comments were echoed by Justice Minister Heiko Maas, another senior member of the SPD.

“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,” said Maas, senior member of the co-governing SPD.

No reactions in France

Strangely, no similar reactions were recorded in France, although President Emmanuel Macron “liked” Obama’s tweet. It is hard to say if this is due to the sacrosanct holidays, or is part of Macron’s special efforts to engage with Trump.

Asked to comment, Commission spokesperson Annika Breidthardt said on Wednesday that the EU executive “has no view on the US President or his comments that we would like to share in the pressroom”. She added, however, that the EU opposes and condemns all forms of racism, hatred and violence around the world, and quoted from the EU treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted on Tuesday (15 August): “Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism & Islamophobia are poisoning our societies. We must stand up against them. Every time. Everywhere.”

After the publication of this article Macron tweeted: “Together with those who fight racism and xenophobia. Our commant struggle, yesterday as well as today. #Charlottesville”.

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