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White Nationalists Praise Trump as 'Most Honest President' Since Washington

Many white nationalists are rejoicing after President Trump reverted back to blaming "both sides" in the deadly Charlottesville protests over the weekend.
Image: President Trump answers questions about his response to the events in Charlottesville in New York
President Donald Trump answers questions about Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Aug. 15, 2017.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Many white nationalists have been praising President Trump after he doubled-down on blaming "both sides" in the deadly Charlottesville protests.

"What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump asked reporters in an explosive press conference Tuesday. "What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do."

The remarks were widely panned as an endorsement of white supremacy following the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, but were embraced by some racist hate groups.

"Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists," tweeted former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Baked Alaska, another far-right-wing activist, thanked Trump for "condemning the alt-left antifa [anti-fascist] thugs who attacked us in Charlottesville."

Members of Trump's staff told NBC News they were stunned by the direction the president took at the press conference, which was supposed to focus on infrastructure, a day after the White House had quelled the controversy over Trump's initial response to the protests.

After reacting to critics on Monday who argued he didn't take a strong enough stance the first time, Trump doubled down a day later on his insistence that both the white nationalists and the counter-protesters shared responsibility for the violence over the weekend.

One of those counter-protesters, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car rammed into the crowd.

Related: Democratic, Republican Lawmakers Decry Trump’s Latest Charlottesville Remarks

While one senior White House official told NBC News that Trump “went rogue” on Tuesday, his impromptu comments were welcomed by alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who told the Atlantic he felt they were "fair" and "down to earth."

And William Johnson, a white nationalist, told NBC News' Jacob Soboroff on Wednesday he was thrilled by what Trump said.

"I think that America needs to take a different direction," Johnson said. "We have a festering racial problem that's only going to get worse. I think the only solution is separation ... and Donald Trump is going to, I think, help us overcome the racial divide."

He added that he felt Trump is emboldening Americans “to be proud of their heritage — whether it is white, whether it is Confederacy, whatever it is.”

Johnson called Trump "honest" for reiterating that he thinks there is "blame on both sides."

"He is the most honest president since George Washington and the cherry tree," Johnson said. "That is an honest man saying what he believes in his heart."

This is not the first time Trump has flirted with white supremacists. Last year, he ignited a firestorm when he declined to renounce support from KKK leader Duke before eventually being forced to disavow him.

Another time, his presidential campaign tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with a Jewish star that originated from an extremist, then claimed it was a sheriff’s badge, drawing ire. And Trump has tweeted fake, racist crime statistics saying black people are more violent, while defending their credibility.

All these moves, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, embolden white nationalists.

"This is nothing new. President Trump's disastrous statements yesterday are just the latest example of an unbroken series of green lights to the white nationalist movement," Levin said.

Related: Trump’s Latest Charlottesville Remarks Are Condemned Abroad

That's cause for alarm, given the effect that past statements from Trump have had, he added.

"We saw a dramatic spike in hate crimes, anti-Muslim hate crimes, in the five days after President Trump's Muslim ban proposal, and we've had more of these mega-large, white nationalist rallies in the last two years than we've had in the previous 10 or 20," he said. "Words matter."

Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist who has renounced his racist past, told MSNBC the Trump administration speaks "the same kind of language" as hate groups.

"I think it's very emboldening for hate groups to see a policy that reflects things that they've been saying for a long time. Hate groups exist on fear, they cultivate fear. That's their bread and butter. And when we have an administration that also deals in fear, they're all speaking the same kind of language," Michaelis said.

Members of Trump's own party seared him after Tuesday's remarks.

"Pathetic," Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the TODAY Show on Wednesday. "What are we doing to our children? To not condemn these people who went there to carry out violence and to somehow draw some kind of equivalency to somebody else reduces the ability to totally condemn these hate groups."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also refuted Trump's insistence that both sides were to blame.

"No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes," he tweeted.