NEW YORK — Hundreds of protesters gathered along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower on Monday evening, shouting angry slogans and holding signs with crossed-out swastikas and Confederate imagery.
The crowd was part of the continuing backlash against President Donald Trump for his tepid response to the deadly violence sparked by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend.
“You have blood on your hands,” protesters shouted, calling the president a white supremacist, before launching into a chant calling for his removal from office.
Demonstrators who spoke with NBC News said they took to New York's streets to condemn the president —moments before his first official visit to his hometown since his inauguration — for his initial lackluster remarks condemning the violence in Charlottesville, which left 19 injured and one dead.
“I wanted to put my body where my heart is,” said Barbara Gates, 71, a writer and editor from California visiting New York. “What better place than the heart of it — Trump Tower.”
Gates, who attended the protest with her sister Julie Spriggs, said she was “horrified” by the events that unfolded in Charlottesville, particularly the death of Heather Heyer, who died after a vehicle mowed down a group of counter-protesters at the white supremacist rally.
“He set this up all the lettering of his campaign put this in motion,” Gates said, who had a sign stapled to her blouse that said “Unfit” with the text of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which allows for the president's removal from office.
She called his response to the violence “wishy-washy,” which was condemned by those on both sides of the political aisle as not forceful enough following the tumult in Charlottesville.
“Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead our country,” read a sign held by Morgan Halberg, 30, who lives in New York's Financial District and works as a recruiter for a financial company.
She lifted the words from a speech then-candidate Trump gave on the campaign trail, where he was referring to calling out Islamic terrorism.
Halberg said she, too, placed the violence that ensued over the weekend on Trump. She said he emboldened the so-called alt-right, a wing of the conservative movement the blends racism, populism and white nationalism.
“He gave them a platform,” she said. “He knows this is his base. He knows they’re acting in his name.”
During the campaign and into his presidency, Trump has struggled with questions about his support among some white nationalist-affiliated groups.
On Monday afternoon, President Trump called hate groups by name and racism “evil” following the widespread criticism of his initial speech, in which he blamed “many sides.”
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said in prepared remarks at the White House.
“His response today was obviously pressured and weakly-worded,” Halberg said. “It’s sad that we have a president that can’t condemn one of the easiest groups in history to condemn. It took until today to say the words KKK, neo-Nazi.”
“We live in 2017 and racism is still prevalent enough that this is the talking places on a college campus,” she added.
A stone’s throw away from the gilded walls of Trump Tower, an anti-Trump protester also installed a giant inflatable balloon depicting the president as a rat. John Post Lee, the artist who created the balloon, told NBC New York the idea came to him several months ago and he raised $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to create it.
Dante Plush, a 24-year-old public school teacher from the Bronx, said the events in Charlottesville were the catalyst for him to come out to Monday's protest. He said the only point of reference he had for white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan marching in public was in an AP History course in high school.
“Now we have white supremacists walking in the daylight,” Plush said. “That illusion of a post-racial America was shattered this weekend.”
“He [Trump] emboldened these people,” Plush added. “It’s another opportunity for groups like the KKK to be mainstream again.”