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Suspect in Car Ramming Identified; Deadly Clashes at Racist Rally; Trump Blasted for His Response; Aired 9-10p ET
Aired August 12, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- people who turned out to counter their message of hate. Several people were hurt in these brawls. Then this.
Awful, jarring, horrific images. One woman died in this crowd when that car accelerated into the group of people. They were protesting against the white nationalists. Several others were hurt, some of their injuries believe tonight to be life-threatening.
An awful day for Charlottesville, a trying day for America, and what some commentators have even called the worst day for President Donald Trump, not for what he said but what he did not say.
In a statement from his resort in New Jersey, the president condemned what he called an egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence from many sides. Many sides, he said.
As of now he has not mentioned the words white supremacists, neo-Nazi or Ku Klux Klan, none of those words, not out loud, not on Twitter. The question is why.
We will discuss all of that, but first let's get out to the streets. Let's get to Charlottesville and get a sense of what's going on. CNN correspondent Brian Todd is there.
Brian, what are you seeing?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're near the scene of that car strike this afternoon. Some rain and lightning occurring now outside as nightfall has come here in Charlottesville, but we have some late information.
You mentioned about a suspect being named. CNN just got this information a short time ago. The suspect we are told is 20-year-old James Alex Fields. He is from Maumee, Ohio. He was booked into the Albemarle Regional Jail this afternoon. He, authorities believed, was the driver of that gray Dodge sedan that plowed into the crowd just behind me here on 4th Street here in Charlottesville this afternoon.
Again this is according to Martin Kumer, the superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville County Regional Jail. This young man, James Alex Fields, 20-year-old James from Maumee, Ohio, he was booked into the jail. He faces a charge of one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failure to stop in an accident which resulted in a death. So he is booked in the jail. Witness accounts of what happened behind me are just horrific. I'm
going to ask our photojournalist Jeremy Harland to zoom in on the accident scene. The two vehicles that this car struck are still there, that dark Honda van that is just over my left shoulder, we're zooming in on it now, and there's a white -- excuse me, a silver sedan right behind it. Those two vehicles were struck in this incident.
You see a police barricade here, lots of police tape and debris there. This is still an active crime scene. Police are still processing some evidence from that scene this evening.
Also, John, we have learned tonight according to the Virginia State Police the identities of two people killed in a helicopter crash. They are identified as Virginia State Police Officers H. Jay Cullen, 48 years old, and 40-year-old Berke Bates, he was the trooper pilot. This helicopter, a 407 Bell model, went down on Old Farm Road away from the city center. They're investigating the cause of that crash, but they are saying that this helicopter operated in relation to supporting the operations dealing with the protest today.
So Governor Terry McAuliffe earlier today counted those two men with the casualty earlier, the death earlier of the 32-year-old female pedestrian. So in the governor's eyes that makes three people dead in this horrible day here in Charlottesville.
We also have an update for you on injuries according to local police and other authorities, five people remain in critical condition in local hospitals, four people in serious condition, six in fair condition, and four in good condition. That's a total of 19 injured. However, we were told earlier that some 35 people were treated for various injuries throughout the course of the day, John.
So, again, you know, nightfall has come. The weather has turned not so good. There's lightning and rain now here, so we're going to see what all of this brings for later on this evening -- John.
BERMAN: You know, rain and bad weather can often help law enforcement in situations like this.
Brian, it looks quiet thankfully behind you. Any sense if these hate groups that were out in force last night and this morning, if they have plans for tonight?
TODD: We don't have a sense of that, John, but what we do have a sense of is the police deployments out here. I talked to the city manager, Maurice Jones, not too long ago. He said that they've got more than 700 law enforcement officers including Charlottesville Police, state police and others deployed out in the city tonight. He says they're very, very ready if something else happens.
We don't have any word of any marches or anything like that but, again, as you know these things can percolate very quickly and something can spark something else and you can have some violence just, you know, start up very quickly here. So what we also are told is that the police chief of Charlottesville, Al Thomas, has been granted the authority to institute a curfew tonight. As of now he has not decided to do that yet, so we'll see if that occurs.
[21:05:04] So again, everyone from the police to the city managers to us here in the media monitoring what is going to happen in the coming hours.
BERMAN: A curfew available as an option should it be necessary.
Brian Todd, stand by. Thank you so much for your reporting.
We got a statement a short time ago from former president Barack Obama. He responded as we said to the clashes in Virginia. This is what he wrote. It was a quote from Nelson Mandela.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, because love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Now, as we mentioned, President Trump has been criticized heavily for his response to this today. He responded first on Twitter and then he made a statement, a public statement from his resort in New Jersey. I want to play you a short part of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, it's been going on for a long, long time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: "On many sides, on many sides," he said. Athena Jones is near the president's New Jersey resort.
Athena, what is the president doing tonight and how does the White House explain the president's statements?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, the press pool that was assigned to follow the president closely today got a lid, what's called a lid sometime ago. And so we have no new information on how he's spending the night other than to say that it's at his Bedminster golf club. But that phrase you heard at the end of that sound byte you just played from the president, on many sides, on many sides, this idea that there are many sides to blame for the violence that took place in Charlottesville, that has raised a lot of concern and gotten a lot of criticism.
I asked several White House officials what he meant when he said that. This is what the official told me. They said the president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.
Certainly there was violence between protesters and counter protesters today, but many people argue that the president is equating those who were marching with confederate flags with Nazi emblems, some wearing Nazi arm bands, some carrying Trump signs and wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. There's concern that the president was equating those people with the people who were protesting that sort of racial -- that sort of racism and white supremacy.
And what is so interesting here is what the president did not say. We've been focusing on that a lot the last several hours, but we can't overstate the fact that this is a president who has passionately criticized a long list of people on Twitter and off while president and as a candidate. He has criticized his former rival, Hillary Clinton, fellow Republicans from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to Senator John McCain, to his own attorney general Jeff Sessions, not to mention the former FBI director James Comey, and the current special counsel Bob Mueller and, of course, the news media sometimes by name, calling the media the enemy of the people.
And yet not on that list, John, is Nazis or neo-Nazis or white supremacists or white nationalists. In fact, he didn't even use those phrases in his remarks today.
This is bipartisan criticism we are seeing, a condemnation I could say of the president's lack of condemnation. From the likes of Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch who wrote on Twitter, "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."
Another Republican of Colorado, Senator Cory Gardner, said something similar on Twitter, saying, "Mr. President, we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."
Those are just two examples of several Republicans including John McCain and others like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio who have used the terms white supremacy or white nationalist to talk about this.
And so you have a president who's calling for unity, but a lot of folks questioning how can you begin to bring people together if you won't use this terminology, call it by its name. This from a man who often criticized folks like Obama and others for not using the term radical Islamic terrorism, now refusing to use the phrase white nationalist or white nationalism.
And one more thing, John, I have asked several White House officials where the president stands on white nationalists and white nationalism and whether he plans to make any sort of statement condemning these groups at any point. I haven't gotten an answer from them. And we should note that the president was asked about this as he was leaving that brief appearance before the press today, asked if he wants the support of white nationalists, he ignored those shouted questions -- John.
[21:10:08] BERMAN: All right. Athena Jones for us near Bedminster, New Jersey.
Notable, the president's statement was at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. He's had five-and-a-half hours now to amend them and say something about white supremist or neo-Nazis or the clan if he wanted to respond to the criticism -- to respond to the criticism of the likes of Senator Cory Gardner. He has chosen not to do so. We will talk about why maybe later on.
I want to bring in the vice mayor of Charlottesville, in the meantime. Wes Bellamy joins me now.
Mr. Vice Mayor, thank you so much for being with us right now. We appreciate you being here. Give me a sense of the situation in Charlottesville right now.
VICE MAYOR WES BELLAMY, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA: Thank you. Thanks again for having me. And before I address the situation in Charlottesville I just want our entire community, our city as well as the country to know that the images which you saw today do not define nor reflect who we are as a city or a community or a commonwealth for that matter.
And we will be stronger after these actions. We will continue to rise and rally together, and I have the utmost confidence that the people that I know of the city of Charlottesville will lock arms, will rally together, will support each other and we will come out stronger because of this.
Now to your question. In regards to the feelings around the city, I think people are obviously very sad. And I would also like to express my sincere condolences to those who lost their lives. I'm extremely disappointed and my heart and our gratitude goes out to them. But I think there's also a tale of two cities.
Earlier today even while the protests and counter protest were going on I was at (INAUDIBLE) park here in our city in which a group of young people gave away nearly 150 book bags and school supplies to kids in the communities.
So I think that represents Charlottesville. Even in the midst of adversity, we still find a way to take care of our own and give back.
BERMAN: Do you expect there to be any more flare ups of violence tonight? Any sense there will be more marches, counter-marches, things like that?
BELLAMY: Well, one thing I have learned is that in this kind of scenarios and situations you have to expect the unexpected. I am praying to God and I'm, hoping that the community, the country, everyone else will also pray that everyone will remain safe, people stay home and the violence ceases. But I'm also putting our faith in our police department as well as my faith in God and hoping that cooler heads will prevail.
BERMAN: Mr. Vice Mayor, do you have any information about the suspect now in custody, the man believe to have been behind the wheel of that car that plowed into the crowd of counter protesters? We are told his identity is James Alex Fields, 20 years old, a white male from Ohio. Do you have any more information about him?
BELLAMY: No, sir, I do not at this time.
BERMAN: We also understand -- we know that one person, a 32-year-old woman has been killed, many others, more than a dozen others injured. Any updates of the condition of the people who have been hurt?
BELLAMY: No, sir, not at liberty to speak on that at this time. But, again, my condolences goes out to the family of those who lost their lives, and we're praying for a speedy recovery of those who were injured. And I also think it's important to notate that this white supremacy. We're not going to call it white nationalism or just pretend that these are just guys who wanted to come down here and protest a statue removal.
This white supremacy will not be tolerated and our community now has the opportunity to continue to stand together, denounce these supremacist acts and domestic terrorist acts and call it for what it is. And I hope that if we can come together now, if we can't come together after seeing all of these people come here and try to violate our community, if we can't come together now I don't know when we will.
But my belief is that we will. I know that we will. Not only will we win, but we will stand together and do it together.
BERMAN: How important is it for you to say those words and to hear those words? We heard it from Governor Terry McAuliffe. We did not hear it from the president of the United States.
BELLAMY: Did the president say it?
BERMAN: He did not say white supremacist.
BELLAMY: He didn't.
BERMAN: He did not say neo-Nazi.
BERMAN: He did not say Ku Klux Klan. Those were words he did not speak. How important do you think it is for him to say that?
BELLAMY: Well, I think that tells you what we need to know about 45. Furthermore, I think it is important again for us to call these individuals what they are. Your heard Governor McAuliffe as well as our mayor, Mayor Mike Signer, say exactly those words. And we all have been using those terms.
These individuals are white supremacists. These individuals, they claim that they're patriots or they claim that they're defending, quote-unquote, "our land," their land. They believe that no one who was not of the pure white race or no one who doesn't look like them deserves to have a stake or a say in our community, and it's just not true. And we're not going to have it.
Listen, I'm going to be very blunt and very honest with you here. I stand here as only the seventh African-American ever elected in our city's history, the only African-American on our city council and the youngest person ever elected.
[21:15:05] I want our community to know, even with all those things we will not be intimidated. My mayor, who is a Jewish man, he will not be intimidated. My fellow colleagues on city council, Miss Kristin Szakos, Miss Kathy Galvin, Mr. Bob Fenwick, all people who will not be intimidated.
These individuals will not deter us from accomplishing our goal of bringing equity throughout the city. And that is the message that we will send. Stronger together, civil. Stand up.
BERMAN: Wes Bellamy, there, the vice mayor of Charlottesville. Have a calm and peaceful night.
BELLAMY: Dr. Bellamy. Dr. Bellamy.
BERMAN: Dr. Bellamy.
BELLAMY: I've just finished my dissertation. Yes, Dr. Bellamy. Shout out to VSU.
BERMAN: Anyone who finishes a dissertation deserves that respect.
Dr. Bellamy, congratulations for that. Thank you very much for being with us tonight. And again, we wish you a calm and peaceful night.
All right. We are watching the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, where one person died, at least 19 more injured in flares of violence sparked by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Stay with CNN's special live coverage. We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: You came here today to hurt people. And you did hurt people. But my message is clear. We are stronger than you. You have made our commonwealth stronger. You will not succeed. There is no place for you here, there is no place for you in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That was Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe there, calling out by name the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan members who were on the streets as of last night and throughout the day, sparking the violence that claimed the lives of one 32-year-old woman plus two people on a helicopter later on today.
Joining me now to discuss this, CNN editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, political commentator and former Obama official Van Jones, Joshua Green, author of "A Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency," and Scott Jennings, former special assistant in the Bush White House. [21:20:01] Van, I want to start with you. We are sitting here now
after dark in Charlottesville. What has been going on there has been going on now for more than 24 hours. I want you to reflect for a moment on what we have seen.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the one thing that we've seen is we've seen an American citizen lose her life because she decided that she wanted to stand against hatred.
The idea that Nazis are marching in American streets with torches would be shocking to our grandparents who did all they could to stop Nazis. You know, Dr. King gave his life to stop the Klan. Every parent raises their kid -- every responsible parent -- not to hate people based on the color of their skin.
So you have people marching against everything this country stood for. And somebody gets up this morning and says, I want to go and bear witness, and they lost their life. An American citizen killed today apparently by a Nazi, and the president of the United States does not honor her, does not mention the fact that she was killed and, unfortunately, missed a tremendously important opportunity to send a clear signal that America is not a safe haven for Nazis, for klansters, for all of that.
And I just want to say one more thing. The idea that someone would take someone's life to save a statue -- let's just be clear, it is all over the decision of a city to remove a statue of someone who, whatever historical role he played, he was a traitor to his country, he was a traitor to America. They want that statue down.
And to save a statue, someone took a human life. That's where we are in America, and the president has a tremendous responsibility to do more than he did today.
BERMAN: What Van Jones is talking about is this is all based around the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee that is in Charlottesville. The legislature there called for the removal of that statue. It has not been removed yet. These were protests staged by these white supremacists groups to keep the statue there.
Let me also note, this man in custody, James Alex Fields, the 20-year- old while male from Ohio, has been charged with murder. We don't know more about him. We don't know yet, for instance, if he is a white supremacist. We're waiting to learn more about the motivations there.
Chris Cillizza, to Van Jones' point, you wrote a piece this evening about the response which you feel fell well short from the president of the United States.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. I mean we look to presidents -- not every day, sometimes not every week, maybe once a year at times, in moments like these to lead, to be the best of us, to say we mourn this loss, we speak out against this hate-filled bigotry. But we -- I know we're better than this.
What Donald Trump did was -- and you played the clip earlier. I mean, to me it is stunning. Essentially what he did and say, hey, look, both sides -- you know, both sides do this. No, there isn't another side here. There's hate-filled bigots who, as Van said, discriminate against people based on how they look or what they believe, and then there's people that say, "We don't believe in that."
There's not -- he is trying to fit it on to -- he, Trump, is trying to fit it on to some sort of political continuum. Well, conservatives say this and liberals say that and who knows who is right. That's not -- we have a lot of conversations like that on our airwaves, and that's fine, but this is not that thing.
When you do that you give cover. You say -- you equate them quite literally, while the counter protesters and protests were both bad, there's no evidence to suggest that that's true. I think it is really dangerous. I think the whole not Donald Trump to blame, not Barack Obama to blame, that's a preemptive attempt to get himself away from being blamed for creating this culture in which people -- with these abhorrent views feel comfortable airing them in public and gathering to air them.
You know, all that stuff, it just misses the mark by so much. Then going into, we've had a lot of good things happen. I'm renegotiating our trade deals. This is not the moment to talk about trade deals, right? I understand he probably had a speech prepared. You scrap that, you give a short speech that says essentially this is not who we are, this is white supremacists, these are intolerant, hate-filled bigots, and we -- this is not us, period, the end, and you leave.
The fact that he went through a whole other speech -- I mean it's the least of the bad things he did in that address, but it is not good. I just thought it was a total failure of presidential leadership candidly, at a moment when you need it, John.
BERMAN: And we should note that that speech was about 3:30, which is about six hours ago right now. He's had six hours to revise and extend his remarks, while he's probably been watching cable TV because we know he does that, listening to this criticism, looking at the statements from Republican senators --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
[21:25:11] BERMAN: -- including John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Cory Gardner, Scott Jennings, who came out and flat out said, he flat-out said, Mr. President, you have to call this what it is, you have to say white supremacists should not have the platform to do what they did.
Scott Jennings, you know, why and how did this happen? Did the president fall short here, Scott?
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I was disappointed with the president today. You know, there are moments in the last seven months since he's been the president that he's actually risen to the occasion. I think back to the Scalise shooting after the congressional baseball practice.
BERMAN: Sure. JENNINGS: He hit the right tone, he hit the right mark in that speech
following that shooting. And I was hoping he would do that today. I think they made a mistake today by trying to cram the Charlottesville statement inside of another event. They were planning to sign a bill on the VA, which is a good thing and they need to do it.
I think I would have scrapped that, move it to tomorrow, and made today only about Charlottesville. I think I would waited about 30 minutes, gathered more facts on the person who had just lost their life and I would certainly included that in the speech.
One thing I think Republicans, and you're seeing this in a lot of the Republican Senate statements and House statements as well. Republicans want Donald Trump to feel the mantle of Lincoln. The Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln. Historically, we need to get this right as a GOP, as a Republican Party. He's a Republican president. He's got to get this right.
I think tomorrow, the next day, whatever happens in the aftermath here, he's got to come back and condemn the people -- if you're marching around the streets of United States of America, and you're carrying a Nazi flag, you're not on a political continuum that I recognize as American. You're not a patriot. Your views do not matter to me.
JONES: Amen, brother.
JENNINGS: That's what the president needs to say. I think that's what everybody wants him to say and I know he's got it in him to do it. And I hope he gets there.
BERMAN: It is the lowest of low bars to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It is not generally something you have to call on politicians to do.
Stand by, everyone, because I just believe that we got the mug shot in of the suspect believed to have driven that car that killed the 32- year-old counter protester, the woman on the streets there. This is James Alex Fields, 20 years old from Maumee, Ohio. We really don't know anything else about him other than the fact he is being held and charged with murder right now for the death of this woman.
But we do not know if he was marching in any way, if he was connected to the groups that were there over the last 24 hours. That is one of the key questions we will be looking into over the next several hours.
Josh Green, back to this conversation we're having because you have a remarkable perspective that might shine some light on what was said and not said by the president of the United States today, because I think we have to assume this was a choice. This wasn't an omission, oh, I forgot to mention white supremacists or neo-Nazis. It seems it was a deliberate omission.
And you just wrote a book which is getting a lot of attention right now about the campaign and the role of Steve Bannon in this campaign. Obviously Steve Bannon, you know, formerly ran Breitbart.com and also someone who admitted that he was giving a platform to the alt-right.
I'm going to try to read this off the screen right now. Steve Bannon in your book, you quoted him as talking about the various racist dog whistles that critics have accused Donald Trump of using and the racial politics that he played perhaps with the birther movement.
Can we put that back on the screen so I can read it? Again, right there, Steve Bannon basically said, "We polled the race stuff and it doesn't matter."
JOSHUA GREEN, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S BARGAIN": That's right.
BERMAN: What did it tell you?
GREEN: Well, to give you the context here, the passage I'm talking about in the book, this was a scene from October 2016 right after Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, gave a speech condemning the alt-right. It was the first time I think a lot of Americans heard the term, and Clinton in her speech connected it to Steve Bannon, to neo- Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites, and expected this to have a negative effect on Trump because obviously these are abhorrent views.
What Bannon was saying in the book was that the campaign polled this and it turned out that Clinton's speech really didn't hurt Trump's poll numbers. And as I say I think in the next paragraph, in fact Clinton's lead narrowed after she gave that speech.
So I think two points to make here in regard to Charlottesville. Number one, Trump is just loath to criticize his supporters. We saw that throughout the campaign when his supporters were beating up protesters and doing things like that. Only grudgingly would Trump say anything negative about them and often he didn't say anything negative at all.
The other point here is that the alt-right white supremacists and neo- Nazis like we saw in Charlottesville today are a part of Trump's supporters.
[21:30:10] They just are. And most of the people at that rally who were marching with Klan flags and Confederate flags and Nazi flags were Trump supporters. And I think that's why we saw such a morally deficient statement from Trump today.
BERMAN: Let's be clear, you know, Josh is not suggesting here for a second that all Donald Trump supporters are those things, any one of those things.
But, Scott Jennings, do you think that the president and the White House has made that calculation that there are these groups who do support him? And I'm not going to read it because I don't have it with me, but "The Daily Stormer," which of course is the publication put out by some of these white supremacists group, they were praising the statement of the president of the United States today because they felt it hit all the marks that they wanted to see hit, which was to equate the violence, to put it all on the same plane today, Scott. So is this something that you think the White House is actively playing with?
JENNINGS: Well, I think it's something the White House needs to understand, is that there are people in this country -- and we saw them today -- who are trading on Donald Trump's name, and that's a very bad thing for this White House and they ought not to let it continue. I vacillated today on whether I thought the president should call them out personally or if he should maybe have one of his senior advisers do it, but at some point this White House needs to make clear if you are at this rally and you are carrying around a Nazi flag and you're out there saying, I'm coming in the name of Donald Trump, we're coming to fill the promises of Donald Trump, you're not one of my people, I don't represent you, you don't represent me. The White House absolutely needs to make that clear.
JONES: Let me add to that.
JENNINGS: I don't know if the president should elevate it by saying their names because I don't want them to get any more publicity than they've already gotten, but I want this White House to make it clear, you don't speak for me, you don't speak for the Republican Party and you don't speak for the president -- the office of the president of the United States.
BERMAN: Van Jones?
JONES: I would just add to that. I think that's exactly right and amen to that. Also, I think you have to remember, when you take someone's life, when you use violence in pursuit of a political agenda, there's a word for that. The word for that is terrorism.
This was an act of terrorism in the United States today that took the life of an American citizen who as best we can tell was just expressing herself in opposition to hatred. And that person was killed. That person's life was taken. As best we can tell, this was an act of terrorism.
Can you imagine if after Ft. Hood when a Muslim shot up a bunch of Americans a president came out and says, well, there's violence on many sides? I mean, you would have had complete pandemonium in this country because we don't tolerate these false equivalences when there's an act of terrorism, or, for instance, when there was a Black Lives Matter and some nut job went and shot up a bunch of people.
The president came out -- we weren't debating whether the President Obama was for that or against that. And these are those moments, not just about hatred but about terrorism, that you need the president of the United States to be absolutely crystal clear because you've got to send a signal throughout the body politic that this kind of violence cannot become normalized and he failed to do that. And this is a guy who says he hates terrorism, except not today.
CILLIZZA: Well, John --
BERMAN: And Chris Cillizza, to remind people here. CILLIZZA: Yes.
BERMAN: You know, President Trump was very critical -- is to this day very critical of former President Obama for not using the words "radical Islamic terrorist."
BERMAN: It's not as if he has not laid down a marker and say that words matter when you're talking about these types of things.
CILLIZZA: There's no question. Look, it is difficult for me to think that there was a decision -- that there was not a decision rather made not to say white supremacists, not to say KKK, not to say neo-Nazis. To me it's the easiest thing in the world. I mean, it's a wide open layout to say -- I mean, clearly when you're holding a Nazi flag, I don't need to interview you about your views. It seems pretty clear what they are. So he didn't do that, and I think that was purposeful.
The fact that, you play that statement, he says, "On many sides, on many sides." The repetition of it, that's something he clearly believes, that this is -- well, on the one hand there were protesters, on that hand there were protests, who could know who is in the right or who's on the wrong. I mean, that's the problem.
Josh used the word -- put the world "moral" in there. I think that's important. I mean, this is not about -- I'm a political reporter, I spend most of my time talking about politics, I get that. This is not right and wrong. Right?
And let's go back. Remember, context matters, too. Remember the four or five days during the campaign where Donald Trump refused to disassociate himself from David Duke who, by the way, was at that rally today and, by the way, claimed he was doing so in the name of fulfilling Donald Trump's agenda.
You have to understand that there is not -- there's not sort of like, well, a lot of people disagree about white supremacists. No, we don't, right?
[21:35:03] I mean, like it's not -- that is not a -- people can disagree about many things, tax policy, you know, whatever you like. This is not that. And I think the problem for him is he just doesn't like -- doesn't like to be told what to do and then sort of just freelances and says things or chooses not to say things, and he's the president.
We always wondered this during the campaign. He is the president of the United States. People look to him -- Van mentioned this. People will look to the president in moments of crisis, in moments in which we feel like we need leadership. And when you do what he did in that speech -- and to your point, John, for six plus hours say nothing else, and the reason he said nothing else is because that's what he wanted to say. You know, you send a very dangerous and chilling message, you just do. BERMAN: One point here, what Chris was talking there is Jake Tapper
of course interviewed President Trump, then candidate Donald Trump, early on in the campaign and Donald Trump refused to condemn David Duke or chose not to in the interview with Jake, and then took several days to clean it up.
CILLIZZA: That's right.
BERMAN: David Duke has been playing a high level of footsy. With this administration and with Donald Trump, for months if not years, requited or unrequited. Even if it unrequited, David Duke is playing this game. I believe we have sound from David Duke from today. Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID DUKE, FORMER KKK GRAND WIZARD: This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promise also of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. Again, Josh Green, you know, I don't think David -- you know, I don't think David Duke speaks, you know, for the president of the United States, but he speaks of the president of the United States. And it's something to see over the course of a day.
GREEN: Well, and the president could be a lot clearer about who David Duke speaks for by coming out and condemning the fact that he's at his rally and condemning the fact that David Duke says that he is there to carry out Trump's agenda.
I mean, I think that's the problem. And it's worth pointing out furthermore that this is a Trump problem. It's not a Republican problem.
GREEN: You have seen very strong statements that specifically condemn white supremacy from people like Orrin Hatch. You had New Jersey Governor Chris Christie even before the violence today condemning these kind of white supremacist views. So it's not as though he didn't have plenty of cover from his own party to come out and say, this is wrong, there's no place in our party or in my movement for white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and yet Trump hasn't managed to do that.
BERMAN: And, of course, again just to point out that Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner, you know, Republican senators, not just used those words.
BERMAN: But they've been critical of the president directly for not using those words.
Van, I cut you off. Sorry.
JONES: I just think that sometimes we act as if the only thing that matters here are the words and the language when you say something, that's very, very important. But there's a policy implication that we haven't talked about enough, which is that you have an administration that when it comes to counterterrorism has been reported as moving its resources away from these white supremacist hate groups and focusing solely or almost exclusively on radical Islam.
So it's not just that you have a president who kind of forgets to point out terrorism when it's white nationalist groups, you have him at a policy level taking his eyes off of these haters, taking his eyes off of these murderers, taking his eyes off of the oldest terrorist groups in the country.
The oldest terrorist group is not ISIS, they're brand-new. The oldest terrorist group in the world, certainly in the United States, is the Ku Klux Klan. And there's a policy now to take the eyes of the federal government off of these people. So that's part of what -- why you have so much concern.
If you say, look, I'm not going to call you a terrorist, I'm not going to say white supremacist, I'm not going to say neo-Nazi, I'm not going to mention your name, I'm not going to call you a thug, I'm not going to do anything and I'm going to move the eyes of law enforcement off of you, you are beginning to send signals that this kind of stuff is OK at a policy level as well as a rhetorical level, and that is dangerous in America.
I am very proud that Republicans have done an extraordinary job today of coming out. Donald Trump is actually away from his party with now Putin apparently, with white supremacists. These are the kind of things that begin to worry people. And I think Donald Trump's White House needs to take a strong look at his positioning and get him back with his party and his country.
BERMAN: All right, guys. Stick around. Stand by, if you will. There's a lot more to discuss. We're having a political discussion right now. Don't want to ignore the tragedy that's taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman killed, 32 years old, plowed down on the streets during these clashes parked by white supremacists, and then two people also killed responding in a helicopter.
So three people dead. Well over a dozen injured and we have our eyes on Charlottesville tonight to see if there's a new flare-up of violence.
[21:40:03] CNN's special live coverage continues right after this.
BERMAN: All right. John Berman here. This is CNN special live coverage of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, events that left three people dead including one 32-year-old woman killed at the scene you're looking at right now.
Those are live pictures from the streets of Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was mowed down by a vehicle. There is a suspect now in custody charged with second degree murder. That is the man now in custody, James Alex Fields, 20 years old, from Maumee, Ohio. We do not know if he was connected to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who sparked the violence over the last 24 hours in Charlottesville, violence that has been condemned from all over the country, all over the world, from every political spectrum by name, for most parts, though not all parts, and we'll talk about that.
We did hear from Democratic Congressman Donald McEachin of Virginia, who wrote, "No place for hate in Virginia. All must be welcomed here because our diversity is why we thrive."
Congressman McEachin joins me now by phone right now. Again we're looking at pictures from the day, the violence that did flare up in Charlottesville.
Congressman, your reaction tonight, to the last 24 hours?
[21:45:05] REP. DONALD MCEACHIN (D), VIRGINIA: Well, it's been a nightmare. You know, I went to school in Charlottesville. That's where I met my wife in law school, and to see that wonderful city and our state in this light is just horrifying. These folks come from out of the state with their hatred and their bigotry and left a very bad taste in the mouth of all Virginians.
BERMAN: "A very bad taste in the mouth of all Virginians." We are watching these pictures. Again this took place over the course of the day, and I believe these pictures were even before the car plowed into that crowd, killing that woman. President Trump did come out today in a statement condemning hatred, condemning violence, though he condemned it for what he called many, many sides.
Do you believe it is important for the president of the United States to use the words white supremacists, neo-Nazis?
MCEACHIN: Absolutely. You know, the president of the United States has to be crystal clear on this. There can be no ambiguity. Just like in the your segment, you said that the president was critical of President Obama for not saying the words radical Islamic terrorist, well, these are white supremacists. They need to be called out by name. They need to be repudiated by name. And for him to give this sort of bland statement does no good.
BERMAN: You know, it is interesting because one of the discussions leading into these protests were, do they have a right, should they be allowed to march and protest. And our Constitution does protect free speech. There have been many people who fought for the rights of these hate groups to say what they want to say out loud.
Do you believe they should have the right to march? Now the right to march and to speak is very different than the right to violence.
MCEACHIN: Yes, you know, my father was an Army veteran and he raised me to believe in the First Amendment. That's why he put his life on the line for this country and, yes, everyone has the right to speak. Even though I may not want to hear what you have to say, you have the right to speak. What you don't have the right to do is incite violence and that's what these people did.
BERMAN: All right. Congressman Donald McEachin of Virginia, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
Again, we are watching the streets of Charlottesville tonight. So far peaceful, but we're waiting to see what the reaction will be from some of these hate groups who have been there over the last 24 hours. Will they march again? CNN's special live coverage continues right after this.
[21:50:56] BERMAN: All right. Police in Charlottesville, Virginia, have identified the man who plowed a car into a crowd of people, protesting a white nationalist rally. The car killed one person and critically injured several more. Officials say the driver is James Alex Fields Junior, 20 years old. He is from Ohio, and tonight he is charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, one count of failure to stop at an accident resulting in death.
All right. Let us discuss this and the events of the day. The tragic events of the day.
Cedric Alexander is deputy mayor of Rochester, New York, and the former president of the National Organization of Black Law Executives. James Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI supervisory agent.
Cedric, let me start with you. Let's talk about the charges. What do the charges tell us right now? Second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding. We know the identity of the man, we don't know if he's tied to a white supremacist group. But the fact that he's charged with second-degree and counts of malicious wounding, what does that mean?
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, DEPUTY MAYOR, ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: Well, in this particular case, you had people who were severely injured. So I can only imagined -- not being a legal counsel, I can only imagine under Virginia law, there were some law that would cover of course those who were injured as a result of that.
BERMAN: Second-degree murder, though. Does that require some level of intent?
ALEXANDER: It requires some level of intent but here again it varies from state to state. So in terms -- in the state of Virginia, clearly there was intent to do harm. Why it's not a first-degree murder charge is probably a question more appropriate for a legal counsel. But nevertheless, that is a serious charge under these circumstances.
BERMAN: So, James, I don't mean to throw this on you right now but we're getting statements from all across the political spectrum right now. Politicians weighing in on what happened and what they think should happen.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, one-time opponent of President Trump, though has been supportive of him in the White House, he wrote that "I urge the Department of Justice to the immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism right now."
What would be the significance of a DOJ investigation?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: John, I always want to caution politicians or anybody. You know, they take a look at an incident from a law enforcement perspective and they jump to conclusions. And it's very dangerous to do. You got to wait until the facts come in.
I think with what we know right now, I think Cedric would agree with me on this, the definition of terrorism, violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political or social goals or aims, this clearly could fall into that.
Now was this a deranged man, an outlier, somebody who showed up? And we have problems all the time with copycats, folks that show up and just want to, you know, get into some kind of business? Or was this somebody, as you pointed out earlier, that this was premeditated, was part of that organization whether or not he was a white nationalist or whether or not he was part of the neo-Nazi movement that decided to do that? That's how they make the determination of what type of charges.
BERMAN: What would you want, you know, as a former law enforcement officer? When would you want the federal government to step in?
ALEXANDER: Well, you know, here's the situation. I stated this earlier and I've been stating this throughout the day. If we look at what occurred out there and we look at the video, we look at the individuals that were involved, it was very violent in nature. It was premeditated. We knew that the night before. There was very negative, violent rhetoric going on that led to today's episode.
And what I would strongly suggest to the governor and to the local representatives there in Charlottesville is that they request from the president and from the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, that an investigation be opened because you have some very evident hate crimes that took place here today in number regardless of what side it may have occurred on. You had that take place.
But here's what we do know. We had hate groups, KKK, alt-right, neo- Nazi groups that were there and very openly and bitterly and angrily attacked people.
[21:55:03] BERMAN: Self-proclaimed. Self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and white supremacist.
ALEXANDER: Yes, absolutely.
BERMAN: It's not like there's a mystery as to who those people were.
BERMAN: What we don't know is if this individual, James Alex Fields, was one of them. And that will be investigated, no doubt.
Ted Cruz calling for a DOJ investigation. Interesting what Ted Cruz's motivations are there. We'll talk about that perhaps later.
James Gagliano, we got another interesting statement today. This one from Admiral James Richardson. This came in just a few minutes ago. He's the chief of Naval Operations. What makes this interesting is this is a military officer, someone in the chain of command. Not someone who makes political statements. He called the events in Charlottesville shameful and acceptable. And he said the Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred.
You know, again, you're someone who worked for the federal government. Again, you wouldn't make a political statement, but I suppose calling these crimes hateful and shameful should be political.
GAGLIANO: I mean, John, you have to look at it from this perspective. Calling it white nationalism, that is a benign euphemism. And this is group that was -- its origins are in hate. You know, in racial supremacy. So we start with that. What disturbed me was noticing how this group decided to conduct their -- you know, their parade. They were wearing ballistic shields. They had on Kevlar. Some of them were dressed like military folks.
I was in Afghanistan in 2002. They were dressed like folks that were over there in Afghanistan, folks that are the real snake eaters, the folks that are out there working on behalf of the United States government. And I thought it was shameful.
That makes it a little disconcerting because you've got an area like Virginia where you can have a weapon in public that you can carry a weapon legally if it's exposed in public like that. And when you get people like that clashing with the counter protesters, if this is indicative of where we're going, if there's going more of these, I see bad things coming.
BERMAN: James Gagliano, Cedric Alexander, thank you for being with us. Stand by, guys.
Again, we are watching the streets of Charlottesville. You were here tonight to help analyze with us the law enforcement response. This is from earlier today. Obviously you see daylight there. It is dark now. It is nighttime. The weather has turned perhaps a little ugly on the streets there. We do not know if there are any demonstrations or marches planned for the later hours. We are hoping for a peaceful night.
Our special live coverage of the violence in Virginia continues right after this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BERMAN: All right. John Berman here. You're watching CNN's special
live coverage of the violence in Virginia. Police have now been given the authority to institute a --