Some local legislators defend Trump response to Charlottesville violence

Ledyard — Following the violence in Charlottesville, Va., local legislators condemned the violence and the actions of hate groups but a few legislators have defended President Donald Trump's remarks that both sides should share in the blame.

Among those was state Rep. Mike France, a Ledyard Republican who also represents Preston and Montville. France wrote a wide-ranging Facebook post on his personal account, calling the Charlottesville violence the result of "the tragedy of #IdentityPolitics," criticizing both sides of the conflict and writing that he preferred President Trump's response, which some have criticized as too little, too late, to remarks given by former President Barack Obama during protests in Ferguson and Baltimore.

France's comments were in response to an editorial by the Wall Street Journal, which said the violence of Charlottesville was driven by the "poison of identity politics." France shared the link to the Facebook account he uses as a state representative.

Trump is "calm and waits for the facts following an investigation" while Obama "play(ed) judge, jury and executioner with his statements," France wrote.

France said in an interview that he condemns the violence and far-right organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. He shared statements criticizing white supremacists by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, on his Twitter account as well as by the Anglican Church in North America.

The criticism of Trump's remarks wasn't necessarily unfair, France said, but "no matter what Trump did would it be accepted as OK, it's just his nature. He's not a polished speaker ... he doesn't help himself in making contradictory statements and parsing the language."

France was critical of both sides of the conflict, including left-wing counter-protesters who came to demonstrate against the white supremacists.

"You have two groups that were highly-charged emotionally that were willing to be violent ... As my mother said, 'it takes two to fight,'" he said.

"If the original protesters arrived at the Robert E. Lee statue and nobody else showed up, there would be no news today. Instead, both sides escalated the confrontation and those that could have reduced the tension or minimized the interaction between the two groups," France wrote in a comment on his original Facebook post.

"Someone lost their life as part of this protest who was not engaged in the physical confrontation, that is the tragedy of this," he added.

France's criticism of both sides of the conflict was shared by state Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Canterbury Republican who also represents Chaplin, Franklin, Hampton, Lebanon, Lisbon, Norwich, Scotland and Sprague.

"When I see Nazis tramping around, spewing hate all over the place, although they have a right to march and say what they want because we are in America ... it certainly makes me sick whenever I see them," he said.

"Certainly I'm sure there were people in the counter-protest trying to peacefully assemble and opposed the slime-bag Nazis but there's no doubt they were infiltrated by violent leftist anarchists," Dubitsky said.

They are the "same people creating violence in Baltimore and Berkeley: there is an organized group of violent anarchists that are infiltrating legitimate protests and counter-protests and I think they took advantage of a protest by a dirt-bag Nazis (and) turned it into a political or violent situation," he said. "Certainly (there is) blame to go around on both sides."

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said he "hasn't followed the news specifically about what actually took place" but "any hate activity is not and should not be tolerated in our society."

Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, did not respond to requests for comment.

The march on Friday, Aug. 11, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statute of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park, Charlottesville, grew to include several neo-Nazi organizations, white supremacists and white nationalists.

Those far-right organizations came to blows with leftist and anti-fascist organizations, known as "antifa," the following day, and James Fields, a 20-year-old with purported white supremacist ties, allegedly drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather D. Heyer, 32.

In his initial comments, Trump said "many sides" were to blame for the violence, drawing criticism from many, including some Republicans in Congress.

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano told The Connecticut Mirror that Trump missed the mark with his statement. He issued his own statement on behalf of the party shortly after the violence ended, noting that "those who espouse the values of white supremacy, racism and bigotry are not American values" and included a link to the GoFundMe webpage raising funds for those who were injured in the protest.

However, he also blamed both sides in remarks to The Connecticut Mirror.

"The only way I can explain this, in the grand scheme of things, this white supremacy Nazism, on a scale of evil, that's a 10. But the antifa guys are like at an 8," he said of the radical leftist group.

In a news release, Connecticut Democratic Party spokesman Leigh Appleby called Romano's comments "troubling."

"Connecticut Republicans deserve no quarter. Every politician in Connecticut must disavow Donald Trump after his defense of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Silence and tacit endorsement of Trump equals complicity. Unfortunately, Republicans from J.R. Romano, to Len Fasano, to every GOP gubernatorial candidate, refuse to take a stand and disavow Trump by name. Racism, hatred, and white supremacy have no place in Connecticut. Our GOP leaders are failing us," he said.

During a news conference Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had criticism for elected officials who didn't speak out, according to the Connecticut Mirror.

"If you are silent, you are complacent," Malloy said. "And if you are complacent, you are complicit. Any elected official who says they are focusing only on Connecticut issues is abdicating their responsibility as an elected official. This is a Connecticut issue. And even if it were not, does anyone seriously believe we are incapable of working on our state budget while also standing united against bigotry?"

n.lynch@theday.com

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