Virginia gov: 'Alt-right' was not ‘here about a statue’

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Thursday said white supremacist groups did not converge on Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removal of a statue, but rather to make a show of their racist and bigoted views. 

“This is not just about monuments. This was a big issue that happened in this country on Saturday. These people who came to Charlottesville — the neo-Nazis, the alt-right, they weren’t here for a statue," McAuliffe said on CBS's "This Morning."

"Alt-right" is a term that refers to groups with views that often mix white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism.

"They went to the University of Virginia on Friday night with their torches, that had nothing to do with a statue. There was hatred, there was bigotry that has been unleashed in this country and we need to understand how it has happened — most importantly what we can do moving forward as a nation," the Virginia governor added.

On Tuesday, Trump defended people attending the rally organized by white supremacists, saying some were there simply to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Although McAuliffe did not answer whether Trump is unfit to lead the nation after failing to directly condemn the hate groups, he expressed strong disagreement with the president's statements regarding the weekend events.

"I disagree with the president that this was all about the Lee statue," he said, adding that he just "lost three great citizens."

The demonstrations over the weekend took a deadly turn when a man with ties to the white supremacist groups allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman and injuring others. Two state law enforcement officers also died when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near the city.

The president has come under fire from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers after aggressively defending his initial remarks about the violence at an impromptu press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday in which he failed to directly denounce hate groups and condemn racism.

On Saturday, Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence before directly condemning the hate groups on Monday. He then said "both sides" share the blame on Tuesday.

The reversal sparked a firestorm among his critics, who said the president was failing to take a stand so he can please extremist supporters within his base.